A letter from East Greenwich resident Jim McCaughey to 196 members of the has puzzled some and enraged others over perceived threats because of the Chamber’s stand on the recent pension reform legislation.
The Chamber is part of EngageRI, “a nonprofit organization committed to enacting comprehensive pension reform and advocating for sound policy decisions in the Rhode Island General Assembly,” as they describe themselves on their website. EngageRI spent $93,000 in November alone on advertising and other lobbying efforts, according to the R.I. Secretary of State’s website.
McCaughey followed the pension reform debate. He testified as a retired Providence teacher and pension holder. After the bill passed in the General Assembly in November and Gov. Chafee signed it into law, McCaughey said he waited to see what actions his “side” would take. When nothing happened, McCaughey decided maybe he was supposed to act.
“I’m sitting back and I have heard nothing from any organization,” McCaughey said. “Maybe I can do something myself.”
That’s when McCaughey sent out his letter (attached as a pdf, right). He wanted members to know that the EG Chamber had joined EngageRI to fight for pension reform. And since his pension was cut — by his own calculations — 42 percent, he thought business owners should know that he and others affected might not want to patronize them anymore. (Editor's Note: Patch is a member of the EG Chamber. We did not receive the letter because it went to the wrong address.)
“The big thing is, I think the vast majority of the businesses in East Greenwich did not know that they were members of EngageRI,” said McCaughey late last week.
“I’m just trying to bring attention to the members of the Chamber: do you want all those people to know that the businesses in East Greenwich are part of the organization that lobbied for them to get the 42 percent decrease in their pension?
“My goal, what I’m looking for, is for the Chamber to get out of EngageRI,” said McCaughey. “The fewer businesses and organizations that are in EngageRI, the less clout it will have. And I’m just doing what I can do in my hometown.”
Gary Anderson, owner of , is one of those who wasn’t aware of the Chamber’s EngageRI connection before he received McCaughey’s letter. But he’s not upset at the Chamber: “Why should I be? It’s about time we start to straighten the state out.”
Instead, he’s furious at McCaughey. “To threaten somebody I think is idiotic,” Anderson said.
He was responding to the final sentence of McCaughey’s letter: “Before I make it known to [other state retirees that Chamber members supported EngageRI], I want to give you a chance to leave the East Greenwich Chamber and/or EngageRI.”
In fact, Anderson said he was so disturbed by the letter that he might leave the Chamber if it doesn’t take action against McCaughey.
"If the Chamber doesn’t go after this guy, I’m going to go after this guy," he said.
The letter also angered Steve deLisle, owner of .
“I am outraged that someone can send such a letter and threaten the East Greenwich business community,” said deLisle.
Both men contacted Steve Lombardi, director of the EG Chamber, to voice their concern. Other members contacted Lombardi as well.
Lombardi said the Chamber had tried hard to inform members about its decision to join the EngageRI coalition in October, including through direct emails and a column that Lombardi wrote that ran in the in November. The Chamber’s governing board voted unanimously to support joining EngageRI, according to Lombardi.
Some who contacted him expressed initial fears about the letter, Lombardi said, “not knowing what it was.
“Other people felt from the very beginning that the Chamber did the right thing and they’re upset that about receiving the letter,” he said. While unhappy about the letter, Lombardi said he understands that pension reform is a difficult issue.
“It’s not lost on us that there are sacrifices that have to be made,” he said, “but overall the state’s future is at stake and that’s the big picture.”
McCaughey, who listed his address on the letter, said he received his first “hate mail” Wednesday, typed and unsigned. In it, he is called a “schmuck” and told that he is “well-versed in ... union thuggery.”
He is undeterred.
Felicia Revens, owner of , said she wasn’t angry at McCaughey, but she didn’t like his method.
“If I had a problem with the teacher, would I go to the students and expect them to not show up for class?” she said. “I would go to the teacher.”
She is sympathetic about the plight of teachers and other pension holders, but doesn’t think that they will hold her responsible for the state’s financial problems.
“I have friends and family who are teachers. I don’t think that they would expect me to quit the Chamber of Commerce,” she said. “[McCaughey] should have tried to get us on his side instead of upsetting us.”