November 29, 2008

It's Always a Matter of "Fairness"

Justin Katz

The title of this post refers to the words of Paul Saccoccia, a national rep for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, who believes that disabled policemen and firefighters in the state pension system should receive pension contributions from their towns when the state doesn't give them the full amount that they want:

Lawyers for the city [of Cranston] and the firefighters' union say the request stems from the fact that the employees' disabilities — which officials would not disclose — have been verified by doctors but were not recognized by the state Retirement Board because they developed over time rather than stemming from one event or injury.

Yet, state law says that a police officer or firefighter who retires because of on-the-job injuries shall receive not less than two-thirds of their pay at the time of retirement — the amount the employees sought through the state system.

The situation has left all three employees on the city payroll, at 100-percent pay.

And union leaders say the only way to get them off the city payroll is to have the City Council adopt two ordinances that would allow the city to make up the difference between the disability pensions the state will grant and the work-related disability pensions the employees want.

Thus is Rhode Island pulled by the heartstrings (purse strings, for some) toward policies that give privileged classes multiple opportunities for benefits. And thus do the unions abuse the communities that their members serve: Somehow (note the passive voice) the three employees have been "left" on the city payroll and cannot be "gotten off" unless the law were to be changed to give them what they want.

Translating into active voice, that means that the employees refuse to officially retire, and the unions have structured contracts such that the city can neither force them out nor fill the positions that they are not currently performing. I'd suggest that, if it isn't a matter of critical public safety for those positions to be filled — that is, if it isn't utterly unconscionable for the union to use their vacancy as a bargaining chip — then they really don't need to be filled, anyway.

(And that's not an excuse to puff up the overtime salaries of other employees.)

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This sounds like a reaction to the city of Providence's demand that firefighters with cancer identify the specific fire in their career that caused it.

Even if you're not crazy about the union, something like that just seems ridiculous.

Posted by: EMT at November 29, 2008 9:24 AM

My fault, EMT: the article is actually about Cranston. I've added that information in the post.

You'll note that the case involves two firefighters and a policeman, so it's not just a multiple-fire argument. The larger point, however, is that, if the state system is unfair, then efforts should focus on that. Instead, in typical Rhode Island fashion, the unions are trying to change municipal law to give all employees two chances for the same result (which could mean two chances to apply political pressure).

Somehow I don't imagine they'd support a law that gave the city the option to take away a state pension, or vice versa.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 29, 2008 9:32 AM

It seems to me that everytime someone from the general public complains about the "unfairness" of a union contract, they are told to pound tar. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the unions want another bite at the apple. Well, he that lives by the contract, dies by the contract

Posted by: bobc at November 29, 2008 10:52 AM

no need for the union to worry....the cranston council is 100% democrat.

this isnt about 3 fire fighters. this is about setting a bad precedent... what about all the other police and fire that have had or will have the same issue in the past and future.

the cranston dems threw the taxpayers under the bus along time ago

Posted by: johnpaycheck at November 29, 2008 1:59 PM

I have represented a number of non-police clients before the state and Providence retirement boards.

Public employees in state service, as well as employees of public school sysems can apply for accidental or reular disability. Accidental is very lucrative, because it is two thirds of salary, tax free. But it requires that there be a documented incident of injury. The law is very clear about that.

Regular disability gives you the amount you'd qualify for under a regular service pension. And it's taxable

Meanwhile, the firefighters in question are no doubt collecting their ful salary per the terms of the state injured on duty. They are trying to blackmail the city into giving them what they want. They are using the IOD status to make it look like they have given the city a deal.

But the RI Supreme Court has previously held that IOD is not a retirement program and that a cop or firefighter who is never coming back must a some point retire.

Posted by: Ken at November 29, 2008 3:45 PM

As pointed out on another thread this is another reason why all workers, state and municipal, must be switched to social security. They can try to meet the social security disabilty standards. If they are scamming (and you better believe that 95% of them are scamming) they get "zip" and an invitation to join the "lucrative private sector".
People talk about "pension reform" till they're blue in the face but unless and until we are willing to END the state/municipal disability scam little will change.

Posted by: Mike at November 29, 2008 4:54 PM

No worries Justin, I knew what you were talking about. I still think it's a reaction to Cicilline though.

Posted by: EMT at November 29, 2008 11:29 PM

"But the RI Supreme Court has previously held that IOD is not a retirement program and that a cop or firefighter who is never coming back must a some point retire."

Interesting. Wouldn't that be a good ruling/precedent to guide the Mayor and City Council of Cranston in this matter?

Posted by: Monique at November 30, 2008 7:12 PM
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