March 16, 2012

Chafee Reforms Take on Union Fundamentals

Marc Comtois

Governor Chafee's municipal reform and relief plan (link to a PDF) contains many items that have long been considered in the "good idea" category by those of us around here (as Matt Allen posted on Facebook, "I think the blind squirrel found a nut!"). As Ted Nesi writes, a lot of it was promoted by Governor Carcieri who, while getting hammered for cutting money to cities and towns, doesn't get credit for also trying to persuade the General Assembly that the cuts and reforms went hand in hand. Instead, the General Assembly went with the politically expedient cuts and left the politically difficult reforms--reforms that organized labor opposed--by the wayside.

Just look at how some of Chafee's mandate relief proposals touch upon some union sacred cows:

* Reduce Accidental Disability Pensions for Public Safety Employees to between 50% to 66 2/3%.
* Remove the requirement that expired public safety contracts stay in place throughout arbitration.
* Suspend requirement that school Nurses also be certified Teachers.
* Suspend requirement that school buses carry bus monitors.
* Allows retiree health plans to be aligned with active employee plans. ie; no more Blue Cross Blue Shield classic.
* Suspends teacher step increases for determining pay based on seniority.

According to the ProJo, the RI Federation of Teachers lobbyist James Parisi "said giving certain cities and towns the ability to freeze annual salary increases for teachers and change medical benefits were particularly offensive..." State Association of Fire Fighters lobbyist Paul Valletta Jr. considers these proposals an "insult" and the RI AFL-CIO's George Nee called them a "fundamental assault" on the Rhode Island labor movement.

Then we have the lukewarm statements from Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed and House Leader Gordon Fox, "We look forward to a thorough vetting of Governor Chafee's proposals regarding cities and towns through the committee process. The Senate and House are committed to continue working with the administration to address the financial challenges the cities and towns face." A thorough vetting, huh? Is this an election year?

Finally, just to note, it looks like the Rhode Island labor movement continues to learn that supporting Lincoln Chafee in no way guarantees he'll have your back when push comes to shove. Just ask John McCain and the national Republican Party.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

"The Rhode Island labor movement continues to learn that supporting Lincoln Chafee in no way guarantees he'll have your back when push comes to shove."

Trust Chafee

Posted by: Patrick at March 16, 2012 10:48 AM

I cannot see this passing. The GA is still ducking for cover from the pension reform bill. I would be shocked if this bill comes out of committee even close to intact and if it did, the vote won't even be close.

Posted by: Max D at March 16, 2012 11:16 AM

Common sense reforms, all of them. At least somebody on his staff in tune with reality and he has enough sense to listen to them from time to time.

Posted by: Dan at March 16, 2012 11:16 AM

I agree, Max...the GA will never pass this...they'd rather let the state die a slow painful death. I'm surprisingly happy with the Gov on this one.

Posted by: JTR at March 16, 2012 11:23 AM

Most of these were proposed piecemeal by that hated rightwing rayzist Carcieri over the years and went "nowhere".
Those who are students of the Roman Republic know that when the elected representatives proved themselves inept a temporary dictator would be appointed.
After 80 years of elected puppets, double agents and cowards it is time to bring on the dictators to the munis of RI.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at March 16, 2012 12:49 PM

I don't feel that reducing the disability pension for public safety workers is the right approach. Hear me out:
I fully admit that these pensions have in some cases been abused. As I've always said, the scumbags that abuse these provisions slap all of us honest workers with integrity (the vast majority of us though I don't expect you to believe it) in the face on the way out and then slap the taxpayers in the face once they are through the door. I think we can all agree on that. However, in my career I've seen many a hardworking honest firefighters put out of work with legitimate, debilitating injuries. How do we ask these men and women as thanks for a diminished quality of life to live on half of heir salary? It's unfair to them, it's unfair to their families. The answer isnt to cut the benefit. The answer is to be more diligent in the approval of such benefits and to enact common sense measures to ensure that those who are awarded benefit continue to deserve it.

Posted by: Rich at March 16, 2012 2:35 PM

Rich - We agree more than we disagree on this issue, but the fact is that literally nothing is being done to reduce the massive and statistically demonstrable amount of disability fraud that is occuring right now among retired police and firefighters, and the union activists continue to obstruct any attempt to do so. I don't doubt that some firefighters were genuinely and severely injured on the job, just as in any above-average-hazard profession, and the state should pay for their medical expenses and make them whole. But in 2012, if they can use a keyboard, then they can work, and the state should not be paying for a 40-year vacation or subsidizing a second career choice for able-minded (and in some cases, essentially able-bodied) people. Heck, I'd support finding municipal desk jobs they can perform and giving them pay parity with their former position. What I don't support is giving them a free ride for life because something bad allegedly happened to them once - the law would view that as unjust in any private sector injury situation, and public employees should be treated no differently.

Posted by: Dan at March 16, 2012 3:17 PM

Spot on, Dan.

Posted by: JTR at March 16, 2012 3:35 PM

I agree they shouldn't just hang the truly disabled out to dry but we all know someone that has a two-thirds pension plus COLA and another job. There should be a declining scale depending on how much you make beyond your pension. I'm not saying you can't make more than your disability pension but there needs to be a limit.

Posted by: Max D at March 16, 2012 7:00 PM

"I don't feel that reducing the disability pension for public safety workers is the right approach."

Another A-hole to show us that "talking to da union" is a waste of f****** time.
Bring on the dictators.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at March 16, 2012 7:24 PM

I would be on board with giving the "partially disabled" (those no longer able to work as a firefighter or police officer) disability payments until they are recovered enough to work in a different job and then provide a stipend to supplement their income until they are old enough to collect their regular pension. I don't think anyone should be payed for life just because they can no longer perform their first choice job. Fully and completely disabled is another story, but again, it needs to be closely enforced. As a taxpayer, I have no problem providing for someone who has been completely disabled - but only if "completely disabled" means totally unable to do anything to support themselves.

Posted by: Bucket Chick at March 16, 2012 7:30 PM

I know it's not politically correct to say this, but I can't even imagine what should count as "completely disabled" in 2012 unless somebody was in a coma or at severely diminished mental capacity. With modern technology, if your brain is functional, then you can use a computer, and if you can use a computer, then you can work. Maybe not any job, but a government desk job. I could do my current job in a wheelchair at 100% efficiency, but under the "firefighter standard," I'd just sit at home collecting checks for the rest of my life if I tore a shoulder muscle.

If the few proponents of these disability pensions were being intellectually honest, then they would just admit that they think these people deserve a free ride past 50 simply for having "served" as police and firemen. It's "just payment" in their minds, and it really has nothing to do with the injury at all - if it did, then practically none of these retirees would actually count as disabled.

Posted by: Dan at March 16, 2012 8:12 PM

I know a 'disabled for 15 years' ex prison guard who ran a karate academy for years and has been in the National Guard the whole time all the while collecting 30k a year.

Posted by: bobb at March 16, 2012 8:17 PM

In most cases you're right Dan. In almost all the disabilities I've seen, the 'disabled' either got another job or could have. I do know a disabled officer whose cruiser was rear ended by another during a high speed chase. The back of the seat broke and the stock on the cage mounted shotgun broke off and fractured his skull. He suffered severe nerve damage in his neck. The accident was over fifteen years ago and he's still subject to cringing muscle spasms, little use of one arm, and a stutter. I'm not ready to tell someone in that situation, "Sorry but if your brain's working, you need to get a job."

Posted by: Max D at March 16, 2012 10:39 PM

That's pretty severe and borders on the cognitive issues I was describing. I absolutely think the state should compensate the officer for that injury and provide care as necessary. Maybe a sliding scale would be appropriate like they use in the military. As previously discussed, what I really have a problem with is "I hurt my back so I can't work anymore" which constitutes a huge percentage of these cases.

Posted by: Dan at March 16, 2012 11:49 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.