Why Did Fidelity Come to Rhode Island? Because a Famous Bulldog Backed Down
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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Why Did Fidelity Come to Rhode Island? Because a Famous Bulldog Backed Down

There's a classic lesson about compromise in the tale of how Ned Johnson and Fidelity [profile] came to Rhode Island. That tale recently came back to light in the wake of the death of a high-profile Ocean State power player.

The Boston Behemoth's big presence in Smithfield, Rhode Island dates back to the mid 1990s, when a Republican governor and a Democratic labor leader agreed to a last-minute request from none other than Johnson himself. Scott Mackay of Rhode Island Public Radio tells the story, with help from former Governor Lincoln Almond.

Here's how it went down, according to Almond. His predecessor, then-Governor Bruce Sundlun, approved a financial-services-friendly tax break still being debated in Massachusetts. After Almond took office in 1995, he tried to lure Fidelity to Rhode Island. In the end, Johnson demanded that construction be opened to bidding from union and non-union companies. So Almond brought John Harwood (then Speaker of Rhode Island's House), Bill Irons (then Majority Leader in Rhode Island's Senate), William Gilbane (whom the radio station describes as a "construction magnate"), and labor leaders Frank Montanaro Sr. (then head of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO) and George Nee (Montanaro's successor, then his chief lieutenant) to the Statehouse for a meeting.

Montanaro, who died on August 22, 2017 at the age of 83, was infamous in Rhode Island as a bulldog for the unions according to the Providence Journal. Yet in this case, Montanaro compromised, agreeing that the construction for Fidelity would be open to union and non-union bidders alike.

"We came to an agreement to do the Fidelity job by bids," Almond tells the radio station. "Frank was very helpful with all the unions."

The station notes that "more than 75 percent of the jobs ended up going to union building trades members anyway." And two decades later, Fidelity still has a big presence in the state.

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