Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stand with workers, save Rhode Island

Fight for 15 011In an email to RI Future editor Bob Plain, Providence City Councillor Sam Zurier, said that it is The Procaccianti Group’s position  that “that any changes [in the multi-million, $4000 a day tax breaks TPG currently enjoys] would result in a lawsuit that the City would lose, and I have not yet heard a legal opinion from the City that disagrees.” In other words, The Procaccianti Group’s policy of treating its employees with risible contempt is not a deal breaker in the eyes of the law.
Does it follows from this, then, that the City Council’s hands are tied? Do employees of certain hotels downtown have no choice but to work themselves ragged for meager pay with no hope for relief? Will our tax dollars will continue to subsidize certain hotels, not just in the form of tax breaks that reek of offerings to the Gods of Commerce, but in the form of public services to the families that can’t earn enough to provide adequate food and shelter for their children?

We are being told that we have no other options. We need to get used to the fact that the ability of the rapidly dwindling middle class to enjoy the the finer things in life is only possible because of the suffering of the working poor, a class of people with no real rights, no real options and no one in positions of power to speak up for them. These people serve our food, clean our rooms, park our cars and lead lives of quiet desperation and grinding poverty. They work everyday in businesses they could never, in their wildest dreams, afford to frequent.

DSC_7478The rest of us live like vampires: our joys are steeped in worker’s pain.

If these workers dare to speak out about their lives, if they dare to demand their share of the economic bounty that grows and expands everyday to the benefit of only the very fewest who are fortunate enough to sit at the very apex of the economic pyramid, then these workers are ignored, lied to, fired or doubly abused. Our elected representatives, such as the mayor and certain members of the city council, treat these workers with impatient disdain or outright contempt, canceling meetings at the eleventh hour and offering platitudes of support even as they kowtow to corporate interests.

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If these elected officials wanted to help, they could. They could pass the proposal presently before them to raise the minimum wage to $15 for hotel workers, which would immediately lift hundreds of families out of the lowest levels of poverty. These elected officials could refuse any future tax breaks and sweetheart deals for the Procaccianti Group until working conditions at the hotel improved and management started working with the union. There’s no reason to fast track yet another TPG hotel and a huge LA Fitness that will only result in more workers being underpaid and exploited. It’s not like these new businesses will bring in tax revenue, after all, as TPG will be asking for tax breaks on both these ventures. Our best bet for economic return on these businesses is a fairly paid workforce.

In an election year, you would think politicians seeking public office would be jumping at the chance to stand with hard working, organized and involved community members. Instead, these women and men are treated as toxic commodities, better left invisible and ignored.

“Progressive” is an easy label to appropriate, but it is much harder to walk the walk than to talk the talk. Providence can either be the city that sets the example for the world to follow or just another post industrial wasteland bottom feeding for corporate handouts.

Whether or not to stand with these hotel workers is the beginning or the end of Rhode Island’s future.

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