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Labor, the pension case, and the gubernatorial race

My new cover story, sizing up the 2014 gubernatorial race, discusses the early jockeying for labor's support, among other topics. And my basic conclusion is this: public employee unions have no "fair-haired child" in the race, as one Chafee aide put it.

All the leading contenders have ticked off union leaders in one way or another in the last couple of years. And the governor and another potential candidate, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, both have a reasonable shot at healing rifts and winning them over in the run-up to the election.

Still, I quote Patrick Crowley, the government relations director for the National Education Association - Rhode Island teachers union, suggesting that Chafee is "in the catbird's seat" by dint of his position - able, for instance, to influence important state employee contract negotiations.

But he offered an addendum I found interesting - a little nugget that didn't make it into my cover story.

I assumed that the governor's willingness to negotiate a settlement to a union lawsuit aimed at overturning pension reform was a significant step toward getting back in labor's good graces. After all, union leaders have called for such a settlement and Chafee was alone among the major state players in suggesting that the two sides should talk before going to trial; Treasurer Gina Raimondo, architect of pension reform, and Speaker of the House Gordon Fox insisted the time to talk was last year, when the bill was making its way through the legislature. (A Superior Court judge has since ordered talks between the two sides.)

But Crowley downplayed the significance of the gesture, calling it a necessary but hardly sufficient condition for Chafee winning over union leaders in advance of his re-election bid.

It is, of course, in labor's interest to keep the contest for its affections open as long as possible - or, at least, keep up the appearance of an open contest. But early indications are that the contest is, indeed, quite open for now. 

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