Advisory Opinion No. 99-129

Re: Artin Coloian, Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Providence, a municipal appointed and municipal employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether the City of Providence’s collective bargaining agreement with the Rhode Island Laborers District Council, Local Union 1033, may include a provision whereby municipal employees may elect to have voluntary contributions to the Rhode Island Public Employees Political Action Committee (RIPEPAC) deducted from their weekly paychecks.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that no violation of the Code of Ethics would arise if the City of Providence enters into a collective bargaining agreement with the Rhode Island Laborers District Council, Local Union 1033, that allows municipal employees to elect to have voluntary contributions to the Rhode Island Public Employees Political Action Committee (RIPEPAC) deducted from their weekly paychecks.

The petitioner represents the City of Providence in its contract negotiations with the Rhode Island Laborers District Council, Local Union 1033. He advises that the Union has proposed the inclusion of contractual language whereby municipal employees may elect to have the sum of two cents ($0.02) per hour worked/paid for deducted from their pay as a voluntary contribution to the Rhode Island Public Employees Political Action Committee (RIPEPAC). He indicates that any employee who wishes to make such a contribution would be required to sign and submit a form to the City authorizing the contribution, and the City automatically would deduct said amount from his or her weekly paycheck. The Union would be responsible for registering with the appropriate authorities and adhering to any relevant statutory requirements. He represents that, at present, the City automatically deducts union dues from employees’ weekly paychecks.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official or employee may not have an interest that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties or employment in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). Commission Regulation 5011 prohibits individuals subject to the Code from soliciting contributions, either directly or through a surrogate, from a subordinate over whom he or she exercises supervisory responsibilities in the course of his or her official duties. See Commission Regulation 36-14-5011. However, that prohibition does not apply where the contribution is initiated by the subordinate, part of a regular commercial business or occupation, or a charitable or fundraising event under the general sponsorship of a municipality or state.

The Commission concludes that the inclusion of the proposed contractual language in the collective bargaining agreement between the City of Providence and Local Union 1033 does not, in and of itself, violate the Code of Ethics. Here, the proposed language would establish a mechanism by which municipal employees may elect to make voluntary contributions to the RIPEPAC, a private entity, via automatic weekly payroll deductions. The petitioner represents that the City, like other municipalities, automatically deducts union membership dues from municipal employees’ paychecks. As such, the proposed mechanism by which the City would automatically deduct voluntary contributions to the RIPEPAC from employees’ paychecks simply amounts to an administrative extension of the procedure presently in place with regard to union dues. While the inclusion of the subject language does not violate any provisions of the Code, it may implicate the prohibitions contained in Commission Regulation 5011, which prohibits transactions with subordinates. The manner in which voluntary contributions are solicited from municipal employees necessarily must conform to the dictates of Regulation 5011.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5011

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-116
99-44
99-20
98-163
98-161
98-155
98-144
98-125

Keywords:

Solicitation
Transactions with Subordinates
Union/Bargaining Unit