Sometimes members ask why our union is so deeply involved in politics in Rhode Island. The key reason is that all our professions – classroom teachers, education support professionals, state and municipal workers, higher educational workers – can be deeply impacted by the laws passed by politicians. Everything from school funding to certification requirements, to the cost of health care and retirement eligibility rules are impacted by the political process, both here in Rhode Island at the State House and in Congress in Washington, DC. If NEARI is going to be successful in supporting its members, it must have a strong and robust political program.

And that program must go beyond the bread-and-butter issues affecting our members’ pocketbooks and wallets. Our members are not just workers, but citizens of this state and this country. When politicians try to impose voting restrictions – that is a challenge to our members’ rights. When politicians try to limit the bodily autonomy of women – that is an attack on our members’ freedom. When politicians try to tell our classroom professionals at any level of education what they can and cannot teach based upon their own narrow sense of what it means to be a Rhode Islander and an American – that is an assault on our profession and our democracy.

One need not look far at how our members are under attack by forces intent on ruining public education. Politicians from states like Florida, Iowa, Texas, and others have all passed draconian laws restricting teachers’ rights to teach the truth while simultaneously defunding public education and reducing the salaries and benefits of education workers. And there are some even in Rhode Island who would like to follow this same dystopian path. Nearly every day we receive reports of some other group that is trying to decide on their own what our members teach, how they ought to do it, and impose severe punishments on us if we don’t comply.

It is for these reasons that NEARI has its political action program. As union members, we have the right to speak our minds and defend ourselves and our professions from those who would like to see us disappear. But our success depends on our members being involved in the process. This means it is of vital importance to the union for every NEARI local union to take part in NEARI-PACE (or RIPACE for short) – the NEARI political action committee. RIPACE is the coordinating body for all of our legislative and political activity. It is through RIPACE that our annual legislative agenda is formed and when members can have a say in what should be priorities for the union.

If you are not part of RIPACE but would like to be, please contact your local union president and ask them to appoint you are as representative to RIPACE. Also, if you would like help with getting more involved in politics at any level – local, state, or federal – please contact your UniServ staff person or the NEARI Government Relations Department.

Patrick Crowley served with NEARI for 20 years before moving in 2023 to be the Secretary-Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.