Ciccone, a powerful State House Democrat who works as a field representative for the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council union, has asked all unionized school employees in Westerly to attend a School Committee meeting Wednesday night at Town Hall.
“Passiveness by public sector members to engage in fighting for their rights has been a problem,” Ciccone wrote in a letter obtained by WPRI.com. “You too are residents, taxpayers and voters in Westerly – LET’S SHOW THEM THAT WE ARE A UNITED FORCE.”
“Them,” in this case, are apparently allies of Mario Celico and Jay Goodman, two school committee members who resigned this month from the subcommittee negotiating a new contract with Local 808. They said they were protesting School Committee Chairman David Patten’s successful creation of a separate negotiation team to deal with the teachers union.
Ciccone, a state senator since 2003, is business manager for Local 808, which represents school employees other than teachers as well as general government workers in Westerly. He did not return a phone call from WPRI.com requesting comment. Local 808’s old contract for school clerical personnel expired June 30.
“You should be aware that the reason we do not have a contract yet is based upon the way that these two (2) School Committee members have engaged in negotiations,” Ciccone wrote. He added: “I along with other members of our negotiating team feel that we should now be able to reach a tentative agreement in a few meetings.”
Ciccone said he expects supporters of Celico and Goodman will try at Wednesday’s meeting “to coerce the School Committee to reverse the previous vote that was taken on this matter.” Their allies include the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition.
Patten described criticism of the contract vote as “ludicrous” in a Westerly Sun op-ed. “Yes, the four people listed as Democrats made the motion and voted in the affirmative,” he wrote. “The two people listed as independent and one as Republican voted against it. My decisions have always been made on the issue and not by party politics.”
Asked whether he agrees with Ciccone that public-sector employees have been passive, Patten told WPRI.com: “My view is that people in Westerly have been realistic. … Everyone understands that the economy is in tough shape and that concessions have to be made.”
“My view on the upcoming contract negotiations is that they be innovative, fair and reflect the current economic climate,” Patten said.
Education spending made up 62% of Westerly’s $91.2 million budget in 2010-11, financial documents show. The school department had 547 employees, including 202 pupil support staff and 37 administrative workers.
Ciccone, a vocal union advocate for decades, was one of two senators who voted against the landmark pension overhaul last November along with Sen. John Tassoni, D-Smithfield. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed made Ciccone chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee last year.
(photo: Rhode Island Senate)