Convention Center Sues over Worker Protection Ordinance

Unsurprisingly, the anti-union, Carcieri-led Rhode Island Convention Center Authority has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to declare a recently-passed worker retention and protection ordinance as unconstitutional.

The ordinance, styled on model legislation from other cities, seeks to protect hotel workers from arbitrary layoffs and to ensure stability in the important city-based tourism economy.  The ordinance is more important than ever with Rhode Island’s unemployment rate inching north of 13%.   It was introduced by Councilman Michael Solomon and received near unanimous support from other Providence City Council members. The Council passed the ordinance twice and the measure became law when Providence Mayor David Cicilline neither signed it or vetoed it.

The lawsuit, filed by Adler, Pollock and Sheehan, argues that the ordinance is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act as well as state labor law.  In addition, the corporation argues that the ordinance violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause by including some employers and not others and that the city overreached its authority in attempting to regulate state-owned facilities.

The Court will likely uphold the constitutionality of the ordinance since ordinances such as this have been litigated in many other cities and they have passed constitutional muster.  See e.g. Washington Service Contractors Coalition v. District of Columbia, 54 F.3d 811, 817-818 (D.C.Cir. 1995).  In addition, the General Assembly has never made labor relations a subject of exclusive state preemption, as it has for education, elections, and taxation. See e.g. Providence City Council v. Cianci, 650 A.2d 499 (R.I. 1994)

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