PROVIDENCE — Christopher Callaci never met a necktie he didn't like. He just doesn't like wearing them.
The lawyer for the union that represents nurses and other health care workers at Woonsocket's Landmark Medical Center keeps his ample collection draped over the door of his office, located in a onetime funeral parlor in this city's gritty North End.
With a sliver of crew-neck T-shirt showing through his unbuttoned dress collar, Callaci seems too big for this cluttered workspace, awash in helter-skelter piles of bulging, oxford-brown legal dossiers and loose papers in search of a clip.
In some ways, Callaci is bigger than ever.
Though he had no official role in the sale of Landmark Medical Center, the little-known lawyer is widely credited with keeping the parent corporation of Caritas Christi Health Care interested at a time when negotiations with other suitors were imploding. Boston-based Steward Health Care System's $76 million offer for Landmark has now been approved by the Superior Court and is soon expected to face the scrutiny of state regulators.
“I would tell you his role was critical,” says Pawtucket lawyer Jonathan Savage, who was in charge of selling the hospital. Savage was appointed “special master” to run the hospital's affairs in June 2008 by the Superior Court, after Landmark filed for receivership, saying it was insolvent.
But Callaci says he doesn't want any more credit for bringing Steward into the picture than he deserves.
He acted largely on behalf of UNAP's local members and executive board, who wanted him to engage Steward because the only viable alternative at the time was Tennessee-based RegionalCare Hospital Partners, which had already alienated the membership.
Callaci said he contacted Steward at a time when Savage was under court order to refrain from soliciting any new offers on the hospital.
When that order was lifted a short time later, Savage was free to iron out the basics of a sales agreement with the company.
To portray him as a lone operator who swooped in at the eleventh hour to rescue Landmark from disaster is a vast oversimplification, Callaci says.
“Quite frankly I'm uncomfortable with that,” he says.
The union had established a relationship with Caritas Christi over two years ago, the first time the company considered buying Landmark, only to walk away in a dispute with Blue Cross. One thing UNAP learned from that initial contact, however, was that it could easily reach a collective bargaining agreement with Caritas Christi, eliminating what had proven to be a major stumbling block for RegionalCare.
“The credit we deserve is we kept the relationship with Caritas Christi open after the first round of talks with the company broke down,” said Callaci. “We never really stopped talking to them, and we had them come back.”
Callaci's analysis of UNAP's role squares with that of Savage.
Despite Callaci's critical role, Savage said it's doubtful the deal could have been put together so quickly were it not for all the time and money Caritas had invested in kicking Landmark's tires back in 2009 and 2010.
The open hearings in court on subsequent offers also helped Steward know how to couch a bid that Judge Michael Silverstein would consider worthy of passing along to the regulators.
Ultimately, Savage said the process appears headed for a favorable conclusion largely because of the efforts of many groups, including UNAP.
“I think the fact that trust and confidences and relationships were established, expensive due diligence had been done, made it possible for them to bring Steward to the table at the 11th hour,” said Savage. “This was a team effort. This was about pulling sometimes the worst people together to reach a common goal, and it went on for years.”
Callaci says if there is a sweet part of UNAP story that's been overlooked, it's that the union's role contradicts the negative stereotyping of organized labor, which is so often portrayed as the enemy of economic development or a yoke around the taxpayer's neck.
“I think that's pretty cool,” says Callaci. “I don't see a lot of other stories like that playing out in our economy and I don't know that I'll see something like it in my lifetime.”
Matthew Wojcik, the economic development director for the city of Woonsocket, agrees, saying he was surprised by the union's centrality in the hospital talks. He is also grateful for it, saying Callaci “did the right thing.”
Like it or not, says Wojcik, health care is a growth industry in which the future of the city's economy will be inextricably tied up – as long as Landmark survives. The loss of the hospital would be catastrophic for the city or, as Wojick put it, “the vortex into which all other things get sucked.”
A NATIVE of Long Island, N.Y., Callaci, 48, is the product of what he calls “a union family.” He was still a kid when his parents were discussing grievances and arbitration rulings around the dinner table.
The union mission also rubbed off on his older brother, Jack, a UNAP organizer who works in the same building.
Their parents were both teachers who became active with the American Federation of Teachers in New York. Their mother, now in her 80s, still helps put together a union newsletter.
Their father, who passed away some time ago, was a comedian before he became a teacher and once appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, said Callaci. He might have been funny, but he took no prisoners when it came to sticking up for working people.
“It's easy for me to believe in it,” he says. “The bread and butter on that dinner table came from the fact that my parents made wages at union scale.”
Callaci became a lawyer in 1997, but it wasn't until some three years ago, after he passed the state bar, that he was eligible to practice in Rhode Island. That's when he became UNAP's general counsel.
His timing was impeccable.
“I was admitted to practice law in Rhode Island in May 2008,” says Callaci. “Landmark filed for receivership the following month.”