August 30, 2007

A Finger Here, a Finger There

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to note the chutzpa of retired state employee Robert Davis's recent letter to the Providence Journal:

Why is The Journal so preoccupied with the money that state workers make?

Recent articles have explored who is the highest-paid state worker and how much overtime is being paid, as if the state workers were the ones at fault for Rhode Island’s financial trouble.

Here’s a suggestion: Why not look into how much the bond issues that voters approve every election are costing the taxpayers?

Last election, they approved about $200 million in bond issues without blinking an eye. Most voters didn’t even know what they were approving. They just looked at that title in big letters and said, “That sounds good; I’ll approve that!”

We've had this discussion before (in part in the comments to the posts linked here), but the bond issues do so well because they often are good ideas and often seem to be the sorts of things that government ought to do (such as road infrastructure work). The reason I refuse to vote for them out of principle is that I get the impression that the government gives away all of its revenue to special interests — notably unions and the poverty industry — and then comes back to the taxpayers for more in order to pay for things that ought to be central to its budget.

By contrast, the pill of public labor has the distinct flavor of utter waste, as Arlene Violet described a few weeks ago:

Another contributor to overtime is the staffing minimums in contracts. When there's a call for a rescue, many firefighters' contracts require a fire engine to accompany the call complete with four firefighters. Think about that for a moment. Why is a fire truck going to a call? ...

At the Adult Correctional Institutions, a guard cannot be called from another building to compensate for staff shortages in a facility. Other guards have to be called in, even if they haven't put in their full work week yet. The "call in" triggers overtime. So on Monday, a correctional officer not scheduled to begin work until Tuesday night gets time and a half if he goes in on Monday. The warden can't jigger schedules to avoid more than 35 hours per week. ...

Out in the private sector if you are a boss you are management. Your salary already reflects your responsibilities and the fact that you work extra hours. Allen LeBeau makes $88,537.72 in base pay as a supervising nurse at Eleanor Slater Hospital. He piled on $126,000-plus in overtime, apparently because he's on call! Psychiatrists earning six figures get overtime. Their counterparts in the real world get peanuts for answering calls outside of working hours. Quite plainly, if someone is in management or professional staff there should be no overtime. Period.

Another poor practice is employees getting called in for overtime based on seniority. Politicians have dealt away management rights. When overtime is necessary, the boss cannot call in workers at the lower pay levels but must call in the higher paid people. Even a rotation of overtime among employees would help stem costs.

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I have never heard an intelligent person complain that too much help arrived at their emergency rather than too little.

Your heart stops. CPR is begun by the two "ambulance drivers." Who drives the truck?

"Hey! anybody out there know CPR?"
"Well, can somebody start an IV and administer oxygen, and while you're at it draw up 1 mg of Epinephirine and push it. We're kind of busy back here, can somebody intubate this patient so he has half a chance of survival. Anybody know how to run this Lifepac 10? I need to shock him at 200. Nobody? Nobody! Call the coroner, this ones gone, but we didn't fleece the taxpayer at least."

I could go on in great detail on how and why the fire department sends a first responder to an emergency scene but I will spare you the details.

It is not a contractual issue at all, it is an emergency response plan, formulated to keep the most people alive as possible. Our response is not dictated by contracts. Arlene should have her typewriter revoked after that one, and Justin should stick to writing his own stuff rather than paraphrasing poorly thought out commentary.

Posted by: michael at August 30, 2007 9:58 AM


My parents responded to THOUSANDS of emergency calls with just a full ambulance crew. NEVER did they roll fire apparatus to a laceration, seizure, fall, etc...

WHY do union shops do it? Because now you've got EIGHT guys out of the house so you have an excuse for why you'd need a whole lot MORE guys sitting around waiting for the next call.

While we're on the subject, I'm still trying to figure out why the Cranston Fire Department finds it necessary to roll a fire truck to the GROCERY STORE to buy food. How about saving the fuel and taking a POV?

Posted by: Greg at August 30, 2007 10:11 AM

I believe (could be wrong) that in many municipalities fire personnel get extra pay each time they "respond" - so that the "sending a fire truck along with the ambulance" is primarily intended to boost pay beyond the media-reported base / contractual salary figures.

Posted by: Tom W at August 30, 2007 11:26 AM

I am looking forward to explaining the process in more detail when time allows, for now I have to let you know it is encouraging to me to know how little is known about what we do and why there is such animosity because of it. We get paid the same if we have no calls or 1000. Taking a fire truck to a grocery store allows the crew to stay together as a firefighting and ems crew and respond from whereever they are, inspections, training, lunch or dinner shopping etc. People used to enjoy seeing their firefighters in the community, now it's just another exuse to point fingers. And I had a guy die in my truck last week from an aparent seizure, three guys from the firetruck and two from the rescue and I still could have used an extra set of hands. 911 calls are for emergencies, not rides to the hospital. We assume the person on the other end of the phone is having an EMERGENCY, If not, they should arrange other transport to the hospital, friend, cab, bus, private ambulance whatever.

Posted by: michael at August 30, 2007 12:04 PM

So take an ambulance and a chase car to an emergency scene. Why take the one gallon to the mile firetruck?

Honestly Michael, you are so far in the union cloud that you don't even know when they're blowing sunshine up your arse.

Posted by: Greg at August 30, 2007 12:12 PM

I remember when I used to hold firemen in high esteem. However, as I have gotten to understand the issues, I have become very cynical about your profession and it is the fault of people like Frank Montanaro and Paul Valetta in Cranston. They want to talk a good game about how tough they are and what a tough job they have, but let's get something straight - nobody made you take the job. In fact, we know how it works; these jobs are highly coveted for the cushy lifestyle they provide along with the fabulous benefits. So don't tell me how tough your job is. If we advertised for firefighters at HALF the pay and benefits, there would be a line a mile long for the jobs with candidates at least as qualified and a lot less fat than those now on the force. If the job is so damn hard then get another one. But you don't do you? Why might that be.
I am so sick of hearing what "heros" you are, only to see what a bunch of fairies you are when it comes to doing a "tough" job. And you have got to love the goons in Cranston that show up in packs at the council meetings. Yeah, real tough guys - when they are together like a pack of dogs. But, when I see them alone around the city the little fairies can't even look you in the eye.
If you guys want some respect, get rid of the fairy union punks that give you a bad name. Until that happens you look like a bunch of little cby girlymen.

Posted by: George Conti at August 30, 2007 1:54 PM

Unions have nothing to do with any of this. In Providence we send a rescue to BLS (basic life support) calls only. Those calls include minor lacerations, minor falls, back pain, assaches, nightmares, things of that nature. ALS (advanced life support) falls under a different criteria, symptoms that could include cardiac arrest, stroke, diabetic emergencies, major trauma, electrocution etc. The union has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with our response. State protocols must be followed.

I feel taxpayer money is wasted on half of the 911 calls that we respond to. The union doesn't have a campaign telling people to call 911 for rides to the hospital! That is absurd. Society has become dependant on government services, much to the chagrin of me and a lot of other emergency responders. To think the fire department is in on some bizarre plot to pad our numbers so guys can get overtime is naive at best and moronic at worse. People call. We respond. When appropriate, we send the fire engines as first responders, they are more strategically placed and can respond to an emergency faster. Most are trained EMT's and in Providence have ALS capabilities but can't transport.

Pensions, pay, overtime, benefits; all fair game and legitamate gripes. I try to explain my side of things on those issues, sometimes sucessfully, mostly on deaf ears and that is fine, I don't know a lot about a lot of things in the private sector, But this argument is barely worthy of a response.

Like it or not, we are the good guys here, not the money grubbing manipulators some like to portray us as.

Posted by: Michael at August 30, 2007 2:04 PM

George Conti,

Tell that to the girliemen's families who died fighting a fire at a Chinese restaraunt in Boston last night.

Posted by: michael at August 30, 2007 2:12 PM

"State protocols must be followed."

Protocols written by union operatives in the General Assembly.

Posted by: Greg at August 30, 2007 2:39 PM

It's not rocket science to have fire and police work to 55 before retirement (on their 401k's!). This, plus 20% no loophole health care payments, would end the financial problems of these pensions.

Posted by: Mike at August 31, 2007 9:20 AM

Every spending question put before the voters should be accompanied by an estimate of how much it would cost in taxes per individual.

A store would never be able to sell an to a customer without disclosing the item's price and neither should the state.

Posted by: Anthony at August 31, 2007 12:23 PM

If you can't accept the risks that come with the job - GET ANOTHER JOB.
Nobody made them take that job.
I laugh at your sniveling response - right out of the union playbook. It's really, really tiring, michael.
We've all heard these lame responses many times before. Come up with some new material.
The fact remains, michael, if we advertised for these jobs at half of the pay and benefits, there would be a mile long line to fill the jobs, with more competent and less fat people to fill them.
What do you think, we don't see how out of shape so many of these people are.
You have got to take your head out of the sand. We are on to your game.

Posted by: George Conti at September 1, 2007 6:50 AM

Take the time to read prior posts on similar subjucts. This has been done before.

Posted by: michael at September 1, 2007 9:27 AM

On second thought, don't bother, you already have everything figured out.

Posted by: michael at September 1, 2007 9:37 AM
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