Providence Protesters Join National Call for Higher State Minimum Wage

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — More than a hundred protesters marched through downtown Wednesday, calling for a higher state minimum wage and calling on the city to do more to enforce the hiring and community service requirements of the tax break agreements it grants developers in the city.

Jesse Strecker, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of Jobs With Justice, which helped organized the event, said the march was part of the national “Fight for 15” campaign that is calling for a $15-an-hour national minimum wage.

“Big corporations need to be paying their workers a living wage,” Strecker said.

To make that point locally, the marchers stopped at Gourmet Heaven on Weybosset Street, whose owners have been investigated on wage theft charges in Rhode Island and Connecticut; the Hilton Hotel, where the union UNITE HERE is trying to get a contract; and Cilantro Mexican Grill, whose corporate owner was ordered last month by the U.S. Department of Labor to pay $100,000 for unpaid overtime to employees at seven of its locations in the state.

Strecker said the groups in the march also wanted to see more stringent enforcement of tax stabilization agreements granted to developers in the city. He said the city needed to be especially vigilant about requirements that Providence residents, especially those in low-income areas, get first priority in hiring.

Many of the developers have not lived up to hiring and other obligations under their agreements, he said, and should be made to pay back their tax breaks if they haven’t lived up to those promises.

They also called for the establishment of a community board that would be able to review tax-break projects and have the power to reject proposed ones and set up ways the developers could provide benefits that would suit the specific neighborhoods where they are building.

The groups that participated in the march included the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Rhode Island, Fuerza Laboral/Power of Workers, Carpenters Local 94, Rhode Island Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE Local 217, Direct Action for Rights and Equality and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 195.