June 8, 2008

Thank You, Erin Blackman!

Justin Katz

Much of the criticism (and all of the hatemail) related to my op-ed regarding Lt. Michael Morse and unionization in RI has only served to exacerbate my reservations. Namely, when I say "unionization," they hear "firefighters." When I say, "I've concluded that public-sector unionization is among the villains in Rhode Island," they hear, "you get paid too much."

The bottom line is that, every time I've made a complaint about public-sector unions, even if my target is, say, the National Education Association, the firefighters step forward as poster children for the union cause. Consider the picture associated with Charles Bakst's latest column. Or better yet, consider the comment section to this post in which Michael links to my op-ed:

The worry I have is, don't they feel all you out there that provide this valuable service are deserving of every penny you earn? It angers me when people begin to look at the rescuers and search for ways to help the community money pot by asking the rescuers to sacrifice for the common good, because sacrifice they do already (you do).

The problem is that, as long as there's a unified union front, it's impossible to assess firefighters distinctly from the rest. As long as public safety officers stand shoulder to shoulder with social workers under the union banner, they force reformists to battle them in order to battle the unions.

And into this wrangle, in which the sides have worn veritable trenches beneath their feet as they've stood their immovable ground, comes Erin Blackman, who is currently working on a documentary about the Providence Fire Department, writing to the above-linked post on Michael's blog:

... unions would not be an issue if the friggin' cities and the state would quit paying ridiculous salaries to file clerks, data entry clerks and janitors and start paying firefighters, cops and correctional officers for keeping us safe every day.

You'll note that one rarely hears the office-chair jockeys in the public sector stepping forward to defend the necessity of union practices. Indeed, it seems increasingly that, as public school teachers tumble through the boundaries of reasonable action that they've been pushing for years, the emergency workers are slipping toward the spotlight to be the Face of the Union.

Yeah, it gets our hackles up when union business begins to overlap with the business of protecting citizens. But it would serve both the public and the emergency workers for such actions to be seen as distinguishable from the rest of the rotten mess in this state.

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No so fast.

As you noted, the PFD's face of the Union is none other than Lazy-ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty. His entitlement Union attitude has been well chronicled. No need to rehash, but for one comment. Do you think you'd survive very long in your day job if you believed there should be no correlation between what you customers can afford to pay and what you demand to be paid?

Also, take a look at the earnings figures accross the state. Police & Fire are always at the top, with many earning over $100k. That does NOT include the gold-plated benefits ...free to near free healthcare and retirements in their 40s & 50s ...Col. Steve Pare, age 46. 'Nuff said?

Let's not forget the hours. The old "you take a sick day, I'll pull overtime and then I'll take a sick day next week and you pull overtime" game they play.

Or the fact that 90% of the FD members hold second jobs as Electricians, Carpenters, Plumbers due to the cushy schedules they keep. These people get the healthcare and pensions and then undercut guys like you for work 'cuz they don't have the overhead.

But my biggest gripe is the "sacrifice" crap they love to peddal. They do a job they are well paid to do and they want everyone to believe they sacrificing, or as Tom Kenney would say "giving selflessly".

We all go to work everyday. But we don't all run around saying we "sacrificed" and "gave selflessly".

That is not to say the job they do is not important and deserving of respect. It is. But "Rescue Me" crap gets old and the reality is that everyone one of them could be replaced at lower cost if we let the free market determine their worth.

Ask yourself one simple question: when did a FF or Police Officer with 5 years of experience lose their job due to a recession? Then ask yourself how many people you know outside the Private Sector that lose their jobs due to recessions or difficult economic times.

Bottom line: they have it pretty good when you add it all up. Yet they piss and moan with "no contract" signs in front of their building.

Posted by: George Elbow at June 8, 2008 8:56 PM

Divide and conquer? We are on to that tactic - united we stand, divided we fall. Good try though . . .

Posted by: Bob Walsh at June 8, 2008 9:11 PM

There's no intention to conquer, Bob, and I'm not a tactician. I'm merely trying to divide the heroes from the leeches, because the dire circumstances of our state require no less.

Surely you've already witnessed it dawning on some of your chattel that the "united we stand" rhetoric serves your six-figure salary and left-wing advocacy more than it does the bottom line of the working families on whose side you proclaim to be.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 8, 2008 10:01 PM

Thanks for the nod, Justin.

Hey, George... I hate to burst your bubble, but my father worked for the Gas Company for 35 years and HE is one of my heroes, too. He also happens to be a master plumber. I also feel that utility workers, plumbers, electricians and the like operate daily in highly dangerous situations. They, too, deserve to be well compensated for the work that they do.

However...(and this is why I say I hate to burst your bubble...)

Two years ago, the Fire Department of the City of New York laid off 80 firefighters when they closed 12 firehouses in the City of New York because of budget cuts. Last year, 12 firefighters in Tuscaloosa, AL lost their jobs due to budget cuts. The Los Angeles County Fire Department in California has laid off firefighters. Cops in New York were cut, as well and it has been done in the past right here in Rhode Island, as well. Correctional Officers have been let go. So please don't sit there and bad mouth the ones that will save your butt when it's in dire straights because you think that they are "untouchable". They are NOT untouchable.

By the way... firefighters may be "replacable", as you say, but you will find it rather difficult to get the people to "replace" them to actually make it through a fire academy. Once they get into that 1800 degree burning building, they tend to begin feeling that the job isn't worth it. THAT, sir, is what separates them from others... they keep on running in.

But that's just my opinion. I'm sure I'll take heat for it, but I will not get into it with anyone. My main purpose for visiting was to thank Justin for backing me up on the idea that file clerks DO NOT DESERVE $45,000/year plus fully paid medical and dental from the State. Check out the job postings for the ACI sometime. It's pathetic.

Posted by: Erin L. Blackman at June 8, 2008 10:16 PM

>>Divide and conquer? We are on to that tactic - united we stand, divided we fall. Good try though . . .

If cuts both ways.

The police / firefigthers / EMT's reflexively refrain concerning the dangerous jobs they perform. In large part I agree with them - they do deserve "points" for the job they do - e.g., the police have to deal with the scum of the earth on a daily basis; the firefighters have to rush into dangerous situations; the EMT's have to deal with blood and other pathogen filled material.

That said, they often play this card to excess.

In any case, there's no denying that their jobs are very distinguishable from 9 month a year / 6.5 hour day teachers and 35 hour a week clerks at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

If they insist that "we're all union brothers and sisters" and "union solidarity" then stop with the "we deserve a premium because of our jobs" stuff, i.e., we're all the same - then they rightly must be lumped in with the aforesaid teachers and clerks - including as to pay and benefits.

This isn't divide and conquer, it's common sense.

Posted by: Tom W at June 8, 2008 10:36 PM

I can't stand listening to the emotion laden crap that people laud all over our public safety workers. Everybody makes decisions in life. If you make the decision to be a firefighter or a cop, then you have to understand that you will be running into burning buildings and people will be shooting at you. Don't like that idea? - then DON"T TAKE THE JOB! Because there are plenty of people behind you who will take the job for less money and less whining.

To get onto any police or fire department, these people play every game in the book to get the job, they are so coveted. Then, when they get their jobs, they turn around and tell me how f#@&ing lucky I am to have them??? Nice try!

These groups that perpetuate this nonsense have but one goal in mind - to justify stealing more of my money through some phony emotional plea.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at June 9, 2008 10:06 AM


Firefighters in general, and Prov FF's in particular, seem to have become the "Face of the Union" by no choice of our own.

Prov FF's have been vilified by Cicilline, John Simmons, Chief George Farrell, AND the Providence Journal. We (Prov FF's) had not been complaining publicly regarding our wages or benefits. Those things, we figured, were give and takes between our union and the City during contract negotiations. The same could be said for our health care benefits and the issue of co-shares.

These issues were brought to the realm of public discussion by the aforementioned cast of characters and the Providence Journal lead the charge with a host of Editorials and news stories portraying us as enemies of Prov taxpayers. Naturally, some of us began to fight back.

The general public's understanding of our many complex issues (health care, pension, wages, retroactive payments, contract negotiations, arbitration, etc.) is extremely limited, relying on the sometimes biased media to report an accurate picture. They don't. You need to look no further than this forum (i.e. George Elbow) to see that the public takes the reports from the media as gospel and holds sometimes inaccurate and sometimes outdated "facts" against us.

Our vocal public debate on these issues have been an attempt to bring the real "facts" to light. If you look at our (Prov FF's) previous public complaints you will see that the majority of them have been health and safety issues - both FF and public safety.

We have complained about staffing on our fire apparatus - our present short staffing situation and the additional proposed cuts to this already dangerous situation. We have complained about the over taxed EMS system in Providence which causes great delays in getting an Advanced Life Support Rescue vehicle to a patient in a timely manner due to our over-reliance on out-of-town vehicles. We have complained about broken down apparatus and equipment. We have complained about our members sticken with cancer being unfairly treated by the pension system.

I know that I don't enjoy browsing the ProJo and the state's political blogs on a daily basis to see who is calling us (Prov FF's) overpaid public servants who are leeches on the system. I am forced (by my dedication to my profession and my loyalty to and pride in my fellow FF's) to defend FF's every single day against attacks from one source or another.

Attacks from the City's Administration, PFD HQ's, and the Providence Journal are outright lies. These people know that they are painting a one-sided picture. Attacks by individual taxpayers are largely the result of inaccurate or only partial (headlines and soundbites) information. Many of these individuals will listen to our rebuttals with an open mind. This is all we want in any public discussion - open-mindedness.

Then there are tose who have an open hatred of us (i.e. Mr. Elbow). These people will attack us no matter what. They don't respond to our debate of individual issues but rather re-hash their interpretation of so-called "abuses" of the system. These people, almost without exception, will never go on the record by stating their identity.

FF's do not ask the public to hold us up as heroes. We do not ask the taxpayer (or the Administration) to give us a blank check. We are merely working men and women who want to be dealt with fairly and respectfully. We don't, however, want to be chastised as "leeches" or abusers of the system.

When someone attempts to paint us with this broad brush we will always fight back. Perhaps part of the reason that FF's have been the most vocal to the broad attacks on unions in this state is that, by nature, FF's face dangerous and threatening situations head on. That's just the way we are. We will never back down from a fight or a challenge. This type of trait serves us, and the citizens we are sworn to protect, well.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at June 9, 2008 10:16 AM


Burst my bubble?

Is it not a fact that our Public Employees do NOT have to compete in the Global economy? Last time I checked, we don't have teachers, firefighters and police officers from India, China, Eastern Europe, Mexico, Canada, etc. competing for and replacing such employees right here in RI.

And, if you are going to tell us that in RI (not some other state) that Public Employees (particularly those in Public Safety) suffer job cuts easily or nearly to the extent that Private Sector employees do, then you need to have your head examined.

With respect to replacing those that are currently employed, you trott out the tired old argument that the current employees are the ONLY ones willing and able to do the job. Yet you have NEVER tested the theory by opening the job up to the Free Market.

Lastly, you misunderstand my rant in general. I want our Public Safety employees to earn a fair and decent wage. But I also strongly believe it must have a correlation to what the Taxpayers (i.e. the customers) can afford.

Unfortunately, when you have guys like Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty writing letters and making statements that the customers ability to pay is not relevent, rather, what other North Eastern cities pay is the relevent measure, then I have to protest.

Let Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty go shop his wares elsewhere in one of those other cities if he doesn't like what we can afford to pay him. He'll never do that. Instead, he'll stay home for 3+ years, "giving selflessly" while focusing on ways to screw the taxpayers.

Posted by: George Elbow at June 9, 2008 10:14 PM

Tom Kenney,

Do you actually pay attention to the crap that comes out of your yap?

You have indeed mastered the art of speaking out of both sides of your mouth.

Let's review your 10:16 am post, shall we:

First, you write: "We (Prov FF's) had not been complaining publicly regarding our wages or benefits."

Yet, you later write: "The general public's understanding of our many complex issues (health care, pension, wages, retroactive payments, contract negotiations, arbitration, etc.) is extremely limited".

Tom, EVERYTHING you listed was wages and benfits, with the exception of words "contract negotions, arbitration", which are the means in which you secure those wages and benefits that you purport are not the main issue.

Then, of course, there is my favorite when you have the balls to write: "We have complained about staffing on our fire apparatus - our present short staffing situation and the additional proposed cuts to this already dangerous situation."

Earth to Tom! Where the F' was your concern for staffing when Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty was sitting home on his lazy ass for 3+ years?

You go on to write: "We are merely working men and women who want to be dealt with fairly and respectfully. We don't, however, want to be chastised as "leeches" or abusers of the system."

Tom, is there a better way to describe the very leader of your Union, Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty? How can you define yourself as "working men" when you are not showing up to work for 3+ years?? That my friend is being a LEECH and an ABUSER OF THE SYSTEM that does not RESPECT the hardworking taxpayers.

Indeed, you confuse Taxpayers who are fed up with this culture of entitlement, or as Michael Morse more appropriately described it, "You're a Chump if you don't get yours".

You whine about the Projo and people like me taking their reporting as gosphel. Sorry Tom. I and others don't need the Projo to know what's going on. We need only look at our tax bills.

Is it not true that:

1) RI has one of the highest, if not the highest, per capita cost of fire protection?

2) Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty did NOT show up to work for 3+ years (except to collect o/t) while sitting home on his ass "giving selflessly" taking a paycheck and benefits for a job he wasn't doing while focusing on ways to further screw the taxpayers?

3) Close to half the FFs in Providence earned $100k in 2006, not counting their near free healthcare and Pension benefits?

4) Threatened to boycot the Emergency Training, but then appropriately backed down when the public didn't support you chicken-shit tactics?

5) Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty wrote a letter to the Projo saying PFD's pay should be based on what other North Eastern cities are paying as opposed to what the Taxpayers can afford?

6) The PFD has had a cry-baby sign up for 3+ years (taking up a revenue producing parking space) proclaiming their "plight" with respect to not having a contract, as if people like myself who have never had (nor needed) a contract a day in our lives give a rat's ass whether you have a contract.

Tom, I could go on, but I think you get my point.

You are a bright, articulate and relatively stand up guy (I say relatively only because you foolishly defend Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty's actions).

You blame the press, you blame the Chief, you blame people like me ...you blame everyone but the people you should.

The reality is that you missed a golden opportunity to stand up and stand tall against the Union persona that has proven so accurate to the taxpayers over and over again.

Had you people called a spade a spade when Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty arrogantly took advantage of the taxpayers, you'd be the heroes you all think you are.

Instead, you went along to get along in the hopes that you could pedal the old "giving selflessly" line to make people forget. Well it ain't happening.

Posted by: George Elbow at June 9, 2008 10:52 PM

I refuse to respond to a$$****$ anymore on this forum.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at June 9, 2008 11:59 PM


Today was 97 degrees. My Mayor sent a notice to the news that he was sending all City employees who worked outside and all employees who worked without A/C home for the rest of the day.

My wife saw the newscast and decided to call City Hall to find out what they were using for criteria. She asked if those being sent home for working outside included the firefighters. No (obviously)

She then asked if all the stations had A/C. She was told that all City buildings had A/C and that if they were in need of repair they would be repaired by the City. She (my wife) said that she was glad to hear that because they (Prov FF's) hadn't had a raise in a while.

When my wife told me what she had done I had to laugh. When she told me what they had told her I was pissed. I then realized that if my own wife wasn't aware of what the City pays for and doesn't, most of the general public doesn't either.

With the exception of the climate controlled Public Safety Complex, the City has provided or paid for or repaired exactly 0(zero) A/C's.

0 stoves
0 refrigerators
0 TV's
0 washers or dryers
0 couches
0 living room chairs

Posted by: Tom Kenney at June 10, 2008 12:34 AM

Tom Kenney,

As former President Reagan used to say "There you go again", whining about not getting a pay raise.

Have you ever gone without a pay raise, either current or retroactive?

And quit your whining about the heat and a/cs. Lot's of us have to work in it and no one is paying for our A/C.

And I liked your response to my earlier post. It was typical. Facts are always difficult things to deal with for people like you. Aren't they?

Posted by: George Elbow at June 10, 2008 7:05 AM

By the way Tom,

What's up with the list of items at the end of your last post?

TVs, couches, living room chairs??? Are you discribing Lazy-Ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty's working conditions, which is his home living room?

Just curious.

Posted by: George Elbow at June 10, 2008 7:24 AM

Every group of workers is different - FF's, police officers, teachers, laborers, etc. Unionized and non-union. Public and governmental. As such, there is no blanket statement that can be made that encompasses all.

In that respect, there is a separation among different unions - and this requires that any discussion regarding a group's pay scale, benefits, demands, proposals, etc. be specific to that group.

I, as an IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) member really have no further insight to a teacher's contract (for instance) than any other taxpayer in RI. That is why I debate mostly FF issues. This is what I know. And, even when it comes to FF issues, I'm not aware of particular issues (local or contractual) of other Fire Depts in the state.

In general, my arguement for the overall union picture is two-fold:

1. Unions protect workers (both unionized and non-unionized). Without unions the employers would quickly return to anti-worker days.

2. When workers are covered under a union contract, politicians have no right to simply cut positions, change benefits, or change any other working conditions that are spelled out in the contract. These things can be changed via negotiations (or arbitration if need be).

I believe in the union movement. I do not have enough information to defend or chastise other union's agreements. I know that many people who think they know the facts about Prov FF's, Mayor Cicilline and our contract squabbles have no idea of the real facts. They get their info from the media. I can't judge another union's agreement using information garnered from the media. That would be a gross disservice on my part.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at June 12, 2008 10:16 AM


There are enough labor laws currently on the books that more than address your concerns.

Unions are NO Longer needed.

If cities and towns underpay, people won't take the jobs.

Don't be afraid to let the Free Market work.

When there are tough economic times, we need the flexibility to reduce the number of employees we are paying for. It happens all the time in the Private sector.

Contrary to what some people believe, Gov't does not exist to be a jobs program and to provide guaranteed employment.

Posted by: George Elbow at June 12, 2008 6:30 PM

Hey Tom & Erin,

I do hope you have a chance to read the Letter-to-Editor in today's (Jun 15, 2008) Projo from Joyce M. Stanczyk about "dangerous jobs."

Perhaps my point will resonate a bit more by hearing it from Joyce rather than me.

Have a safe day and try not to fret too much about NOT making the 10 Most Dangerous Jobs list.

There is still reason to be happy, ...it's called TAKING SELFLESSLY VIA PENSION PARADISE!

Posted by: George Elbow at June 15, 2008 11:33 AM

You prove my point once again, a$....

As discussed here before - that study DID NOT include firefighters!!!!!

Posted by: Tom Kenney at June 15, 2008 2:21 PM
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