Providence is struggling. In spite of the wealth of talent in our communities, inequality, racist exclusion from opportunities and other forms of injustice are wreaking havoc on our city. Far too many poor people and people of color have been denied access to jobs. Far too many women are working at restaurants and other hospitality jobs where sexual harassment runs rampant, and are not earning the minimum wage because of laws excluding tipped workers. Far too many immigrant workers are stuck in poverty wages jobs that do not respect their rights.
The best solution city officials come up with is offering tax breaks to any company that promises jobs without measuring the extent of these jobs, or evaluating the benefit these projects bring to the community. Too often, companies getting tax incentives do not follow the First Source local hiring ordinance, which leads to a situation in which more affluent people from the suburbs are hired instead of unemployed residents of the city. If people from Providence’s low-income communities do get jobs, they are usually the jobs that leave workers living in poverty. For instance, the building that houses Gourmet Heaven, where workers were paid as little as $4/hour, received low-interest loans of over $200,000 from various state funds for the recent renovation, allowing the developed to keep rent low for Gourmet Heaven.
Through our PROVidence 1st campaign, our members are saying no more: no more exclusion from opportunities, no more poverty wage jobs being subsidized by our hard earned money, no more exclusion from the decisions that determine who prospers in our city. To make this a reality, we are confronting the power structure together in order to transform the injustices our members are experiencing. We are bringing together leaders from key working class communities and organizations to develop a shared strategy to hold companies accountable when they get tax breaks in the city of Providence. At committee meetings unemployed community members, workers from building trades unions, restaurants, hotels and other and service sector industries, and environmental advocates work together to develop a unified call for uniform standards that companies receiving public subsidies in the city of Providence should have to abide by. Our main demands are that they must hire local residents from the communities most in need, treat workers fairly, and negotiate community benefits agreements when we give them our tax dollars. We believe that public money should be used to benefit the public good—to increase access to opportunities for marginalized communities, and improve the quality of life for workers—and we are using our shared power to make it happen.