PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Laborers union on Friday endorsed Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos in the Democratic primary to replace former Congressman David Cicilline, giving her the backing of a deep-pocketed group that has often played kingmaker in Rhode Island politics.

The Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) said its endorsement covered seven local unions with over 10,000 members combined.

“Sabina Matos represents the American Dream,” said Donato Bianco Jr., LIUNA’s vice president and New England regional manager. “She is prepared to represent all Rhode Islanders in Washington with a common-sense approach to getting things done while never forgetting the needs of working families.”

Matos — who was appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Dan McKee in 2021 — was widely expected to win the Laborers endorsement for the 1st District seat. The union and its affiliates played an indispensable role in helping McKee survive a hard-fought Democratic primary last year, funding a major TV advertising buy before McKee’s own campaign went on the air.

The lieutenant governor also joined McKee on a visit to the Laborers headquarters in Washington earlier this year to congratulate its long-serving secretary-treasurer, Armand Sabatoni, on his retirement. Sabitoni was succeeded by his cousin, Michael Sabatoni, a prominent building-trades union leader in Rhode Island.

“Over her public service career, Sabina Matos, time after time, has stood with the men and women of LIUNA, never wavering in her support for construction development, pathways to apprenticeship, and support for public employees,” Michael Sabitoni said Friday.

Matos has racked up a series of endorsements from outside groups solidifying her position as the widely acknowledged frontrunner in the congressional primary, including from Emily’s List, the Latino Victory Fund and Elect Democratic Women. She is the only statewide elected official in the race and would be the first Democratic woman to represent Rhode Island in Congress.

Still, an internal poll released by the Matos campaign only showed her with 22% support among primary voters. And her advisers have refused to disclose how much money she raised during the second quarter, fueling speculation she will enter the summer with less cash than well-funded rivals like Jamestown businessman Don Carlson, state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, and former White House official Gabe Amo.

The primary to replace Cicilline has drawn an unusually large number of candidates, with 22 Democrats filing to run in the primary. The deadline for them to submit 500 signatures and qualify for the ballot is Friday, and so far 11 have cleared that threshold, though the list won’t be finalized until Tuesday night.

In addition to Matos, Carlson, Regunberg and Amo, the other 1st District Democrats who’d filed at least 500 signatures by Friday morning were former state official Nick Autiello, state Sen. Sandra Cano, state Rep. Stephen Casey, former state Rep. Spencer Dickinson, Providence City Councilor John Goncalves, state Sen. Ana Quezada and 2022 Republican nominee Allen Waters.

Organized labor has been slow to wield its influence in the primary so far.

Two small left-leaning unions have endorsed Regunberg, and on Thursday the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union backed Cano. But other major labor groups — including the two teachers unions and SEIU — have yet to choose sides.

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is expected to remain neutral in the race due to the divided sympathies of its member unions.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.