A Short History of RI Council 94, AFSCME

RI Council 94 dates back to 1935 when a group of State employees formed an organization appropriately called the Rhode Island State Employees Association.

It was formed partly as a social organization but also as a group of state workers concerned about the policies and laws that affected them.

Throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s the organization grew in membership from a few dozen members to hundreds.

They became increasingly concerned about the lack of job security, benefits that could change at the whim of whatever administration was in office at the time, and the General Assembly that could change the conditions of the State workers by simply legislating the change.

The RI State Employees Association became chiefly a lobbying and political organization.

In 1962, then Democratic Governor John A. Notte Jr. signed what was one of the first collective bargaining agreements in the United States for state employees.

The five page document hangs on a corridor wall at Council 94’s Union Hall.

It contains nothing of what our contracts do today. Noticeably absent was hours of work, arbitration, holidays, disciplinary action, vacations, etc. – but it was a milestone and a beginning of what would become true collective bargaining 6 years later. In 1968 the General Assembly passed a real collection bargaining law giving State workers the absolute right to form unions and bargain collectively.

AFSCME granted a charter to a combination of state and municipal employees who were rapidly organizing under the new statutes and Council 70 was formed. Its offices were on Westminster Street in the Olneyville section of Providence.

The Rhode Island State Employees Association also affiliated with AFSCME and was granted a charter as Council 22 which was on Weybosset Street in downtown Providence and later moved to Davis Street near the Department of Health. Davis Street no longer exists. It was eliminated to develop 1 Capitol Hill.

In the ensuing years Council 70 and Council 22 competed with each other for rights to represent state employees and municipal and school employees.

Former AFSCME President Jerry Wurf realized that councils in Rhode Island and other states were wasting resources in this competition and began a program of merging councils in numerous states. While President Wurf’s approach in merging councils was unpopular at the time, history shows that the concept was a right one for the union and its members.

In 1976 Councils 70 and 22 were merged into Council 94. There followed challenges which were finally resolved, and on November 13, 1976 Council 94 was granted a charter. The Executive Board of Council 94 appointed Giovanni Folcarelli, former Lt. Governor and aide to Senator Theodore Francis Green as Council 94’s first executive director.

In 1980 RI Council 94, AFSCME sold its headquarters at 60 Davis Street to the State and moved to its present headquarters at 1179 Charles Street in North Providence.

RI Council 94’s current president, J. Michael Downey, was first elected in 2006 and won reelection unopposed in 2010. President Downey was also the president of the largest local in RI Council 94, Local 528 which represents workers at the University of Rhode Island. He held that position for over 28 years having been first elected to that position in 1983. In 2011 President Downey opted to focus all his attention on RI Council 94 matters and decided not to seek re-reelection of Local 528.

Under President Downey much progress has been achieved. He created a political action committee with representation from a broad section of the union. Political candidates are interviewed about their positions on key issues for union members.

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