August 28, 2010

Some Sacrifice

Justin Katz

Sometimes people have to say what they have to say, I suppose, but this comment out of Cumberland really points to the different world in which some Rhode Islanders live:

School Supt. Donna A. Morelle stated that the committee and the administration "are greatly appreciative of the sacrifice made by the teachers."

So what "sacrifice" are the teachers making? Giving up a vacation week or two? Higher health insurance payments? More realistic retirement expectations? Not quite (emphasis added):

Teachers this year will defer half of a 2.5-percent salary increase, half of an increase that comes with a new salary step and half of the payment teachers with credits or degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree receive, according to Roderick McGarry, president of the Cumberland Teachers Association. ...

Also in the agreement, announced Monday after the Cumberland Teachers Association and School Committee approved it Wednesday, is waiving a 2.5-percent salary raise in the academic year that begins September 2011.

The new accord adds another year to the contract, which the union president stated would give teachers additional security through the 2012-2013. Teachers will get a 1-percent salary increase in the first half of that year and an additional 1.5-percent salary increase in the second half, McGarry said.

So payments expected during the coming school year will be deferred until the future (when, the school committee inexplicably assumes, finances will have improved), raises next year will be eliminated (although the teachers will presumably see an actual increase because the deferral will end), and their guaranteed raise in the subsequent year will be less than expected. In effect, the contract uses accounting gimmicks to downplay the fact that union members will be receiving 1.25% raises (on top of step increases and other remunerative opportunities) during an era of crippling government deficits, high unemployment, and general economic malaise.

That, in the public sector, is called "sacrifice."

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Raises that have been "deferred"??

How is this a.) a sacrifice or b.) a negotiating achievement by Cumberland elected officials?

Posted by: Monique at August 28, 2010 7:59 AM

JUSTIN AND MONIQUE, the two of you would never be happy with any type of proposal put forth by the teachers of any town. What is it that you would want them to give up and better yet want have the two of you given up voluntarily? Did you walk into your bosses office and back some cash or give up some other benefit that is important to you and your family. Again don't tell me what was forced on you but what you volunteered to give up without any struggle.

Posted by: triplerichard at August 28, 2010 8:09 AM

"How is this a.) a sacrifice or b.) a negotiating achievement by Cumberland elected officials?"

Of which, one of them is Ryan Pearson, now a candidate for Senate District 19, the seat formerly held by Dan Connors, of the video fame in an earlier post.

So if Pearson already can't stand up to the union in his own town, what's he going to do when he has the entire delegation coming after him?

Luckily there is an alternative, Beth Moura has pledged to stand up to these people.

Posted by: Patrick at August 28, 2010 8:29 AM

As opposed to what Woonsocket's teachers recently ratified. From the Woonsocket Call of July 6th. Copay to 20% for all, deferred raises dropped, and a pay cut for the current year. A whole lot better than their brothers in Cumberland I'd say.

"The most far-reaching provision of the not-yet-ratified agreement would be across-the-board health care co-pays of 20 percent for all teachers, according to Guild President Richard DiPardo. Most of the union's roughly 600 members are already making co-pays of 15 percent, but about a sixth of the union's most veteran teachers who currently make no contribution to health care would also take the hit, going from zero to 20 percent in one fell swoop, he said.
DiPardo said the agreement is essentially a reopener of previously ratified provisions that were set to take effect during the fiscal year that began July 1, plus a wage freeze during the following two years.
The agreement would roll back wages for union members to fiscal 2009 levels by imposing a wage cut of 1 percent during the current year.
Teachers also agreed to give up two previously negotiated wage deferrals — 1.5 percent they were due to collect this fiscal year plus a 1 percent payout in 2014. DiPardo said those deferrals represent about $800,000 of the total concession.
Also, DiPardo said, the proposal shifts all health care coverage to a less costly Blue Cross & Blue Shield program with a $500 deductible.

Posted by: John at August 28, 2010 9:38 AM

"As opposed to what Woonsocket's teachers recently ratified. From the Woonsocket Call of July 6th. Copay to 20% for all, deferred raises dropped, and a pay cut for the current year. A whole lot better than their brothers in Cumberland I'd say."

Why would you say that? You're speaking in generalities. What if I told you that Woonsocket teachers are still paid better than Cumberland teachers? What if the Woonsocket cut still pays Cumberland teachers better than they were previously paid, before Cumberland took their cut?

It's a little careless to make those kinds of generalities. I haven't checked the numbers, and I know most teacher contracts around the state are all pretty similar, but last year Cumberland teachers were on the lower end of the scale already. So to just say that one was better because they took a deeper cut, doesn't really tell us much.

Posted by: Patrick at August 28, 2010 10:52 AM

The general population still believes "the unions" are demanding raises, extorting benefits and are simply not cooperating with anybody at any time.

"The Unions" are not demanding anything, and have been giving concessions for years. A little here and a little there. When the economy turns, and it will turn, those concessions will not come back, even a little, here or there.

We know it, the negotiators know it, everybody but the general public knows it.

Nobody bothers to differentiate between Woonsocket, or Cumberland, or teachers, or state workers, or firefighters. We're all the same to most people.

Posted by: michael at August 28, 2010 12:21 PM


I have to disagree, to an extent. It's entirely plausible that teaching in Woonsocket is worth more than teaching in Cumberland; I'm not in a position to judge that. I took a 14% pay cut at the beginning of RI's recession, but I'm still making more than other carpenters with narrower skill sets and/or who undertake less-challenging tasks. It simply isn't appropriate to assume that I wouldn't be "sacrificing" until I earn the carpenter's average salary.



Giving concessions by comparison to what? That's essentially the point of this post: "sacrifice" and "concession" are compared to some hypothetical value almost entirely disconnected from market valuation. (Note, for key example, that part of Gov. Chris Christie's success in NJ has been dividing public sector unions from unions that actually require a vibrant economy in order to make a living.) A "concession" is that the unionist's paycheck is only half as much bigger than it might otherwise have been, this year. A private sector concession is that the kids can't do gymnastics anymore or that cable must be canceled.

It's an old negotiating game to set expectations high and then count it as a loss to fall back to something that's still somewhat north of reasonable. Frankly, I'm disappointed that you either (1) haven't picked up on it, or (2) are playing along.

As for whether unions are "all the same to most people," I'd suggest that your response to this post is a perfect example of why "most people" are reacting in a completely justifiable way. Had your comment been different — "Yeah, that teacher union in Cumberland really needs to acknowledge financial reality and start making real concessions, like my firefighter union has." — you might have grounds to expect the public to differentiate.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 28, 2010 4:12 PM

Here is another tidbit from the Valley Breeze article:

"Looking at teacher pay over the past four years, a first-step teacher who began in September of 2006 without advanced degrees has seen a $15,000 raise or 45 percent, from $34,623 to $50,165 this year.

A top-step teacher has gone from a base of $65,425 plus $3,000 for a masters plus 30 credits in 2006-07 to $71,656 base pay this year plus $4,000 for those advanced credits for a total of $75,656 this year.

That's a 10.5 percent increase over four years."

We can not continue these outrageous salaries. This doesn't even include the health benefits and retirement packages. School Committeeman Ryan Pearson now a candidate for Senate 19 approved this package. If he can't rein in a school department budget, how can we expect him to rein in spending at the GA?

Why would anyone ever vote for another Democrat for any state office?

Posted by: Justanother joe at August 28, 2010 9:04 PM

"Why would anyone ever vote for another Democrat for any state office?"

Well, now, considering how Dem control for the last 70 years has resulted in the trashing of the state, that's a great question.

Posted by: Monique at August 29, 2010 9:02 AM

I took a 14% pay cut

That's Justin. He's clever and can almost convince his readers that this is about public policy. It is really about the down and dirty fact that most people want others to suffer as they believe they are suffering. Most people do not examine the choices they have made that have not worked out the way they had expected and quickly find convenient targets for their anger. It is really about that 14 per cent. I was recently at a financial town meeting and listened to this theme during the public comment portion. One woman waving her arms around screeched about who(in the audience, I think , although she may have been addressing people only she could see) had gotten a 3 per cent raise (the amount of the scheduled teacher's raise). I was sitting there thinking that indeed all things are not equal and how ridiculous her question was. It was hard to imagine by her appearance and demeanor that anyone in their right mind would pay this creature for any job let alone a 3 per cent raise. But it was good tea fool theater and she recieved applause. There was more. One young man made a political speech suggesting all we needed was for a take over by Steve Laffey and all would be fine. The school committee and town officials looked tired. They get much more of this than I do. A woman I know stood and went on a rant about the schools and the outrageous salaries, blah, blah blah. She finished her speech with an appeal, "We have no more to give", and "You cannot get blood from a stone". This young woman is a healthy mother of two. Her husband has a well paying job whose family had given them a piece of property with a house and garage and out buildings. Blood from a stone indeed.
What circumstances bring people to economic health or illness. Divorces? Bad business decisions? A fondness for coke or meth or booze? Don't ask those questions. Don't ask why didn't I stay in school or do I really need that huge flat screen or why did I buy that huge house. No. Don't ask those kind of questions.

Posted by: Phil at August 29, 2010 9:42 AM

The public will never differentiate. The circle the wagons approach will stay as long as necessary. We (unions) give contractual concessions all the time, but it is never enough, and won't be until public sector unions are abolished.

That is your goal, and the goal of most who call themselves conservatives, and frankly, it is disappointing to me that you can't understand that I am aware of that, and don't necessarily dislike you or most of your views for thinking that way, but I cannot and will not budge on this one.

I make fair pay and have excellent benefits as a direct result of my union membership. We can argue all day long that the taxpayer can't afford it, and I can point out all day long how I earn my compensation, then point out all of the waste in government spending that if eliminated would lower our taxes, but you and yours will continue to attack the union membership; those who actually work, and ignore the bigger problems.

It things are so difficult, and you must cut out gymnastics, either work more hours or get a job with union representation.

Or do both.

Posted by: michael at August 29, 2010 9:44 AM

Michael, is your job about equal to that of a teacher with an equal number of years on the job? Does an EMT/Firefighter with 10 years experience make more than $70,000 a year? And do you get 3-4 months a year off? And are you only contractually responsible for being on the job 6 3/4 hours a day for 5 days a week?

If I were a firefighter or police officer, I'd probably have a little jealousy with regard to teacher contracts. If we think teachers are paid an appropriate amount, then your job and that of police should probably be getting about $150,000 a year. But that statement began with a big "if".

Posted by: Patrick at August 29, 2010 10:09 AM

I don't compare apples and oranges. The Providence Teachers Union has slammed the firefighters on numerous occasions, doesn't make it right.

A lot of people do better than me who work in the private sector. A lot not as well. These arguments usually go nowhere, with peoples own interests always at the top of the list, negating any useful discourse.

Posted by: michael at August 29, 2010 10:56 AM

If I were a firefighter or police officer, I'd probably have a little jealousy with regard to teacher contracts.

Thanks Patrick

If If If If only I had....or had not.

Posted by: Phil at August 29, 2010 11:06 AM

Justin did you voluntarily and happily accept that pay-cut. HAve you told your boss and clients that you will work for less because times are tough. Did you tell your family that you want to work for less and bring less home because the economy is doing so poorly. Only a fool and someone who does not care about their family would give up something without a fight. It almost sounds as if you want a socialist system where we all work for about the same pay.

How are things going with the ACLU helping out.

Posted by: triplerichard at August 29, 2010 11:59 AM

It's amazing how this general topic gets so turned around. Phil provides an excellent example.

The causes of an individual's difficulties are irrelevant to the point at hand, which is that public sector unions live in a world in which receiving a smaller increase than expected is a "sacrifice," while many of us find ourselves actually, you know, having to give stuff up as our "sacrifice." It's not a jealous complaint; it's a call for perspective and fair, accurate discourse.

Yeah, Phil, I've been to the financial town meetings, too. I've heard people declare that such and such an increase is "only" $300 per year, or whatever. We probably shouldn't have, but last night, we splurged by spending an anniversary gift to take the family out to a very modestly priced restaurant. We do such a thing maybe once a year. So in order to prevent public unions from "sacrificing," maybe we'll avoid even a once-a-year dinner out, and we'll be 1/6th of the way to finding the additional tax money that wealthier townsfolk thought we should be happy to pay in taxes.

Look, I don't blame anybody so much as myself for my current circumstances, and there are certainly people who are worse off. That doesn't mean that people who take their raises through political muscle and have minimal accountability on their jobs should get away with calling salary increases a sacrifice.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 29, 2010 12:48 PM

"School Supt. Donna A. Morelle stated that the committee and the administration "are greatly appreciative of the sacrifice made by the teachers."

Here's a pretty good example of things getting turned around. The union never said anything about sacrifice in this instance. It was the School Supt.

Posted by: michael at August 29, 2010 2:39 PM


I'm not suggesting that you blame yourself for your circumstances. I don't know you or your circumstances. Some of the people in my town who voice anger about teachers salaries usually say that they the teachers need to give back something because everyone is hurting. Funny thing is you don't see or hear from these folks when times are good (for them). So is the opposite true? When investments are paying off and the economy is strong are they in line to assure that the educators are paid more too. No.
I would not have liked hearing someone tell me $300 was nothing. The physical effort I need to exert to earn that amount is not insignificant. So I would find a remark like that insulting.
On a personal note I hope you and your family enjoyed your night out. I remember the struggle my wife and I had as we raised a family in the good old days. A day at the beach was running my work skiff up on the sandy area at the Quidnessett Country club where we would picnic and look out over the beautiful bay.

Posted by: Phil at August 29, 2010 7:13 PM

The definition of sacrifice to a teacher means that they keep their step increase and their bi-annual percent raise and the taxpayer be damned. They feel so long as they get their salary and benefits who cares what the taxpayers have to sacrifice. Yes we have to keep cutting sports, music and other activities but don't cut teacher salaries, health or retirement benefits.

People need to realize that they are shareholders and the school committees are the board of directors. If the board can't control costs or maintain quality education, elect a new board this November.

BTW a teacher contract is NOT a suicide pact. We The People can't afford paying $50K plus benefits to new hires. We need to base salary increases on actual performance, not on step increases. Granted most teachers want to teach, but there are some in the system that are dead wood. The union and seniority rules protect them.

We need to improve the quality of education. We are paying a lot of money and getting very poor performance in low reading and math scores, and low graduation rates and a high drop out rate. The money is going out but the results are very disappointing.

It is time we revamped a system stuck in the 1960's and force teachers and their union leadership to be accountable for the poor educational standards. The administration sets the goals but the teachers are not delivering a good product. As shareholders in a business we need to fire the directors and lay off the unproductive workers and start running a more profitable enterprise that educates our children for a new century.

Posted by: justanother joe at August 30, 2010 8:39 AM

"People can't afford paying $50K plus benefits to new hires."

We don't. And it's single statements of either exaggeration or misstatements that people like Crowley will jump all over and ignore the rest, even if everything else is perfect and makes total sense.

Posted by: Patrick at August 30, 2010 12:24 PM

Here's the rub as I see it regarding public sector unions...and yes, I'm a union member. I'm a Providence firefighter.

The firefighter's union is different than the teacher's union. The police union is different than the laborer's union. Unions in Providence are different than unions in Pawtucket or East Greenwich. Our jobs, our responsibilities, our hours and our working conditions are all different.

I, personally, cannot state with any type of certainty that Justin's take on the Cumberland teacher's contract being called a sacrifice is accurate or not. I know first hand how our contractual issues and concessions have been misrepresented over the past several years - including downright lies written in the Journal.

All public sector unions are not robbing the taxpayers. Most (I believe) are providing essential services for reasonable salaries and good benefits (although the benefits are being depleted year after year - "sacrifice"?)

Go to city or town hall and get copies of the contracts. Then compare them with comparable communities - don't compare Lincoln with Providence, for instance.

These blanket statements that "public sector unions are destroying RI" are absurd and tends to turn people awa from your message. You end up preaching to the choir.

I've continually debated our (Prov FF's) stance on these blogs and I've always asked to be confronted by facts, not the same old bullcrap that's thrown around by everyone who hates unions.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at August 31, 2010 8:37 AM
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