Rhode Island sides with fourth-century emperor Constantine

Published 03/17/2020

H7877 will have a demonstratively chilling event on the Rhode Island staffing industry and Rhode Island businesses


Rhode Island sides with fourth-century emperor Constantine.


Constantine, ancient Rome’s first Christian emperor, issued an edict (AD 321) that all citizens must rest on Sunday. Over the next 1700 years (or so), restrictions regarding working on Sundays continued in a fairly haphazard manner. These “Sunday Laws”, often referred to as “blue laws”, were carried to the new world by Puritan colonies. The first mention of them is in Samuel Peter’s 1781 book “General History of Connecticut”.


Sunday Laws, or Blue Laws aside, in a modern, world-wide economy, the rationale for treating Sunday work differently from, say, Monday, or Tuesday work, is weak at best. The U.S. economy is a 24/7 enterprise. Shopping, recreation, and pretty much any other activity are part of the American economic landscape. It is true that manufacturing is more often than not shut down on Sundays. Not only is this practice a blue law holdover, but in today’s service-driven economy, and with the nation’s manufacturing section getting smaller every year, it is unlikely that anyone in the manufacturing sector wants to carry production over to the weekend.


Now, with the recent passage of legislation in Massachusetts, Rhode Island is set to be the last state in the union to champion Sunday Laws with the introduction of H 7877, “Work on Holidays and Sundays”.


The sponsors of this bill, Representatives. Gregg Amore, Jose Serodio, Christopher Blazejewski, Scott Slater, and Katherine Kazarian, are seeking to strengthen archaic work restrictions with unreasonable exemption criteria, while damaging Rhode Island business’ ability to maintain flexibility and competitiveness.


Exemption Criteria:


(b) An employer will not qualify for a class exemption unless it:


(1) Pays its employees at least two hundred percent (200%) of the regular state minimum wage;

(2) Does not use temporary employment agencies to staff operations;

(3) Offers employer-funded health care benefits to employees as set forth in any 14 regulations promulgated by the director;

(4) Offers employer-funded retirement options to employees as set forth in any 16 regulations promulgated by the director;

(5) Has no federal labor law (e.g. NLRA, FLSA, OSHA, Davis Bacon) or state labor law (e.g. wage and hour, prevailing wage) violations within the last ten (10) years as set forth in any regulations promulgated by the director;

(6) Has no environmental law or regulation violations within the last ten (10) years;

(7) Has no violations of anti-discrimination laws (state or federal) within the last ten (10) 4 years;

(8) Has no settlements of alleged violations as set forth in subsections (b)(5), (b)(6) or 6 (b)(7) of this section, within the last ten (10) years. (c) Any employer who qualifies, or who previously qualified, and therefore is approved by the director for said exemption, must maintain compliance with the criteria set forth in 9 subsection (b) of this section in order to maintain such approved status.


As irrefutably explained in RISA’s March 11, 2020 letter to the RI House Labor Committee (see full text here), this bill will have a demonstratively chilling event on the Rhode Island staffing industry and Rhode Island businesses “H. 7877 which would bar certain business from using temporary staffing agencies. Staffing firms significantly contribute to Rhode Island’s economy by providing critical work force flexibility to businesses and valuable job opportunities to thousands of workers in virtually every job category. Staffing firms employ over 40,000 employees in Rhode Island annually, 8,800 each week.  


RISA’s letter goes on to say “… it would make no sense, as a policy matter, to mandate that temporary staffing agencies provide “employer-funded retirement options” for workers whose annual tenure averages, as it does in Rhode Island, 10 weeks. Some staffing agencies voluntarily offer those benefits depending on the nature of their workforce and employee demand. But they should not, and cannot, be required. Such a mandate likely would run afoul of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) which limits states’ power to regulate employee benefit plans, including employer-sponsored health insurance.


Rhode Island, now more than ever, needs to continue to move forward, not backwards. Hamstringing Rhode Island businesses with misguided and onerous legislation only hurts our ability to stay competitive in a hyper-competitive, world-wide economy.