By ALLIE LEWIS Deputy House Speaker Charlene Lima (Dist. 14 - Cranston, Providence) came out in sharp criticism this week of the administration's proposal to provide state employees with a $3,000 vaccine bonus, calling it "a misuse of taxpayer
Deputy House Speaker Charlene Lima (Dist. 14 – Cranston, Providence) came out in sharp criticism this week of the administration’s proposal to provide state employees with a $3,000 vaccine bonus, calling it “a misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Earlier this month, the McKee Administration reached a tentative agreement with the state’s largest union of state employees, which under the contract negotiation would provide two $1,500 bonuses to workers who’ve received their COVID-19 vaccine.
On Monday, Lima announced her plans to pre-file legislation for the upcoming that would prohibit the state and municipalities from negotiating contracts that would give bonuses to vaccine recipients.
“It is unfair to give bonuses to state and municipal employees for getting the COVID vaccine while so many state and municipal workers made the decision to get vaccinated without taxpayer funded financial bonuses,” Lima said. “It is also unfair to the taxpayers who made the decision to get the vaccine because they felt it was the right thing to do for themselves and for the health and safety of the public, and without any financial inducements to have to fund these bonuses.”
Although this would be paid for through available pandemic relief funds, Lima believes “it’s a very dangerous precedent to go down that road.” Other union groups will be going into contract negotiations looking to receive the same kind of bonus, she said, and that it will effectively “pick the taxpayers dry.”
“What happens if we start this precedent and the federal money runs out?”
The state’s Republican Party estimates the cost of the bonuses could run to the tune of $10 million, and was quick to call the tentative agreement “another outrageous giveaway.” The Rhode Island Republican Party also noted that the first bonus would be given out in July, shortly ahead of the state’s primary, calling the move an attempt to buy votes.
Lima stressed that her introduction of this legislation is in no ways an indication that she’ll be supporting another gubernatorial candidate.
“I have not decided who I’m supporting for governor,” she said, going on to share her approval for the ways in which Gov. Dan McKee has used relief funds to aid struggling small businesses.
“I’m doing this because I think it’s a bad precedent to start,” she added. “It has no reflection on anyone, as far as their running for governor.”
Since news of the tentative agreement broke, Lima has spoken with many Rhode Islanders who feel similarly – including state employees who received the vaccine but don’t stand to receive the $3,000.
“There’s people who went out and voluntarily got vaccinated, there’s state retirees who went out and got vaccinated,” Lima said. “Why just pick one group to put it in the contract, and tie it to a COVID vaccine?”
The Deputy Speaker stressed she fully supports state and municipal employees receiving bonuses earned through their unselfish work throughout the pandemic, but believes “a bonus in a contract should be tied to work performance, not to a healthcare issue.”
She also pointed out that in the past, the legislature has precluded certain areas from contract negotiations, “such as workman’s compensation benefits and defined benefits where the state picks the provider and precludes union contracts from choosing their own provider.”
“Money’s tight for everybody, inflation’s high and people are watching out for how taxpayer dollars are being spent,” she said.
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