November 24, 2012

SEIU Local President: Woe Is Us

Monique Chartier

Apparently, the Governor had commissioned a study

of Rhode Island's infamously convoluted structure for hiring, firing and compensating state employees.

In that article from Wednesday's Providence Journal in which she reports that legislative leaders will be briefed soon about the findings of the study, Kathy Gregg also secured this comment from one of the potentially affected parties.

SEIU Local 580 President Philip Keefe is hopeful the effort will result in "a fair system of compensation... that will attract qualified folks into state service and [provide] some motivation for them to stay in state service."

"You know, we've been hit pretty hard over the last several years," he said, "between pay reduction days, increased contributions to our medical insurance, the decimation of our pension system, the elimination of our longevity [bonuses] ... I mean, what's the incentive now for state employees?"

A compensation level that often exceeds the private sector. Unparalleled job security. Excellent medical coverage with a fractional premium co-share. A work week that is usually shorter than most and no question of having to work extra hours, except on overtime. Vacation, sick, personal days galore. A pension or a 401k. (One item that stumps me: can someone remind me when the "decimation" of the pension system took place? To those of us without a pension or a retirement fund, an already generous pension minus COLA's looks like heaven, not decimation.)

It is very difficult, indeed, to visualize how such employment terms could evoke a despairing "How do we carry on???" reaction.

But perhaps I would better understand if I were to walk a ways in the shoes of a public employee. Should the head of any state or local government department have any openings and a desire to promote a better understanding of public employees, please by all means e-mail me. I promise to keep an open mind and try like mad to allow the despair to permeate me as I carry out my new responsibilities in the public sector under such compensation terms.

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.

As I have often said, what Rhode Island needs is a good newspaper. That Kathy Gregg would give Mr. Keefe ink, without editorial comment, is ludicrous. I suppose that it is the same with all "mediarites", in order to report they need "access". A little unfavorable reportage and access will be denied. Funny how things have reversed themselves. The saying used to be "never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel".

It might have been noted that if asked to make comparisons, he would cite public sector workers in other states, or at the federal level. Comparisons to the private sector would never be made. Notice that public construction projects are always compared to other public projects, for speed of construction and cost. Comparison is never made to private sector construction.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 24, 2012 3:06 PM


It's worth noting, here (because the Projo notes it nowhere), that the journalists at the Providence Journal are AFL-CIO members, themselves.

So, we have a judge ruling on a lawsuit that has a direct effect on her pension, her mom's pension, her son's pension, and her uncle's pension, while the journalists at the paper of record are members of a union that's right in the thick of things.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 24, 2012 4:38 PM

Your vote in RI only counts if you vote with your feet....

Posted by: Mike at November 24, 2012 7:52 PM

Feel free to apply for whatever state jobs for which you are qualified.

A close friend of mine works for the state in a similar field as I do, and I get better pay and better benefits than he does. I get bonuses, and annual reviews that generally result in a small raise that keeps pace with inflation. He got unpaid work days and lost his longevity, and has had his pension cut to roughly the same as I get, and less than some companies in our field. Yes, he works fewer hours, because the state didn't want to pay workers 40-hour salaries, so they reduced their pay by moving to a 35-hour workweek sometime in the early 1980s, I believe.

There really is no financial incentive to work in the public sector. But he stays in his job because he loves what he does and trying to make a difference for Rhode Island, even though it isn't fair that public sector workers are constantly blamed for every malady under the sun. But I'm sure it will only get worse for those of us who deal with state workers on a regular basis, because the future will only bring less qualified and experienced employees. Until you all finally get what you want, the complete implosion of government services.

I'm so sick and tired of the same "state workers have it so much better than everyone else" argument. It just isn't true.

Posted by: Sick and Tired at November 24, 2012 8:52 PM

"So, we have a judge ruling on a lawsuit that has a direct effect on her pension, her mom's pension, her son's pension, and her uncle's pension"

In all states where judges are elected it has to be accepted, at least in the lower courts, that judges are "politicians". At very least, of the "political class". I can't imagine that elected judges are any better. I once had a small claims case in Florida, before an elected judge. As soon as it was found I was from out of state, it was clear that I didn't have a chance.

That deceased President of the Senate from Mass that I knew was very clear. "District and Probate Courts are
reserved for friends of the Governor". This seemed to have infected the Superior Court, although some effort seemed to be expended on the appellate courts. It is rare that judges are "promoted", they have already "been taken care of". Sometimes they are appointed to the District Court to give them the appearance of "experience" before appointment to a higher court. This was frequently done when there was a perceived need for more women on the higher courts. They would be appointed to a District Court for a few years, then moved to the Superior Court. Their prior experience was almost invariably as "counsel" for a state agency. Another joke which doesn't need telling.

The only time I ever saw the system challenged was when Judge Daher refused to accept Whitey Bulger's brother (himself a criminal) as a Court Officer in his court. That Bulger's other brother was the diminutive President of the Massachusetts Senate, famous for his corruption. The governor, Dukakis, agreed to freeze Judge Daher's budget. Judge Daher's comment became famous when Dukakis ran for President "If he can't stand up to a corrupt midget, how can he stand up to the Russians?"

There was a notorious case in South County about 15 years ago. I think it was two judges (it may have been one); one was requesting loans from lawyers, right at the bench during trial, the other was selling not guilty findings in DUI's. I remember being solicited by a South County lawyer who quoted me a figure for a not guilty finding on DUI's. A former Attorney General in Mass got his start the same way, the papers never mentioned it.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 24, 2012 8:57 PM

Sick and Tired
"it will only get worse for those of us who deal with state workers on a regular basis"

I deal with them on a regular basis and have done so for years. I could write you pages, and pages, of examples of incompetence and unconcern. Not to mention a few thinly veiled requests for bribes (some not so thinly veiled). To some extent it is the nature of bureaucracy "I don't make the rules, I just enforce them". There are a few good souls out there, but they are weighted down by the bureaucracy and affirmative rules against exercising judgment. They fear that an exercise of judgment will appear to be favoritism. There is also much dismay in watching politically connected sycophants advance. Then the union rules which preclude advancement on merit for those not in "management". The workers tire of it and simply resign themselves to "putting in their time". Who has had a pleasant experience at the RMV?

My favorite example is a long awaited appointment with a City Engineer. Half an hour into the discussion he stood up and announced "time for lunch, call my secretary for another appointment". I wonder how many lunches I have delayed, or missed, in order to "do business".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 24, 2012 9:31 PM

Sick and Tired,

Here's another. Once I was discussing a septic design problem with a Board of Health Official. I suggested using a newly approved septic design. His response? "I am too close to retirement to bother learning anything new".

For those who don't know, URI is at the cutting edge of new developments in septic design. A serious problem with growing environmental concerns.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 24, 2012 9:42 PM

Sick and Tired - I agree with you to the extent that not all public sector workers are overcompensated, but some public employees are. For every 60-hour-per-week public defender or prosecutor earning 45k, or whatever your friend does, there is a police officer or fireman high school grad earning $100k through overtime abuse and retiring at age 40 on fraudulent disability. If it's a politically powerful public union, the compensation is more than likely going to exceed the private sector by leaps and bounds. The same is true in the Federal government - some people are grossly overpaid and some people are grossly underpaid. When you ignore market forces and set compensation according to political forces instead of demand, there are inevitably going to be big winners and big losers. For every anecdote you offer, there is an Iannazzi story I can offer as a counterexample. And both will be true.

I realize the author opened the door, but the "you could apply" argument we hear from the union apologists isn't really principled. Just because we are free to compete for a prize doesn't mean the prize is just. Not to mention they get literally thousands of applicants every time there are openings.

Posted by: Dan at November 24, 2012 10:05 PM

Dan, are public defenders and prosecutors usually members of/represented by SEIU?

Posted by: Monique at November 25, 2012 9:20 AM

State attorneys aren't usually unionized. Their interests tend to be more heterogeneous, the voting block covers fewer individuals, and there is a different culture that doesn't lend itself well to being represented by hooligans like the NEA. Also, many prosecutors and public defenders are using the positions as career or political stepping stones, so they aren't as concerned about compensation up front. Federal attorneys are often swept up into huge "bargaining units," but it's right-to-work so they don't have to pay dues, and the unions aren't allowed to negotiate compensation because it's set by Congress. Huge problems with the GS scale in practice, but that's another issue.

Posted by: Dan at November 25, 2012 9:53 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: Monique at November 25, 2012 11:39 AM

"In all states where judges are elected it has to be accepted, at least in the lower courts, that judges are "politicians". At very least, of the "political class"."

I meant this to read

"In all states where judges are APPOINTED it has to be accepted,

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 25, 2012 2:44 PM

"police officer or fireman high school grad earning $100k through overtime abuse"
Dan, please enlighten me. What is your definition of "overtime abuse." Remember, just because some dumb cop makes more than you think they should doesn't mean they're "abusing" the system. Remove your personal disdain for law enforcement from the equation and answer the question truthfully.
Everyone knows that when you graduate law school your going to work a ton of hours for little money. The pay comes in the experience, then you make the big bucks later on down the road, wether at a large firm or hustling in private practice.

Posted by: seirra1 at November 25, 2012 4:29 PM

Thanks Monique for shining additional light. I wonder if mr. Keefe might be lining up a few of the Illegal Aliens in his Union for a few of those State jobs.I'll bet there are a few experienced Illegal Aliens that worked for Rep Desimone's brother's Temp agency at our courthouses and CCRI before Gov Carcieri's Immigration Control Executive order. I'm sure it will have Gov Chafee's approval since he rescinded that order on his first day in office and his subsequent overwhelming support of Illegal Aliens lately. I wonder if the ACORN division of the SEIU, or is it the SEIU division of Acorn, will approve.

Posted by: Leprechaun at November 25, 2012 4:54 PM


It appears that you do not understand how cop "overtime" is paid. Every year the Boston Globe publishes a list of the highest paid Boston cops. Usually the "winner" is a patrolman at about $200,000. They question how it is possible to work that many hours, maybe if those "journalists" became "reporters" they would know.

The "overtime" is actually paid "details". The customer is charged a minimum of 4 to 6 hours for a detail. If the cop shows up for 1/2 an hour, he is paid for 4, or 6, hours. Make an arrangement with the Sgt. in charge of details, you can pick up 2, possibly 3, details a day.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 25, 2012 5:06 PM

Shortly after being reassigned to RI from Chicago with the INS I had occasion to arrest a Panamanian legal resident for having been convicted of trafficking drugs.He put up a little struggle and we didn't(apparently)do a good enough search before getting him in the car.He was served with papers to send him to a deportation hearing and posted bail.back then we had a detention cell with horrible security,including furniture being stored in the room.After the individual left we found an ounce of cocaine behind a partition-we couldn't charge him with it,but I'm just mentioning it for sh*ts and giggles.
Before he ever got to the hearing date,an Asst AG allowed his attorney to illegally withdraw his previous plea and re enter a plea to frequenting a narcotics nuisance,at THAT time not a deportable violation.The judge was obviously in the tank on this-I said as much to my partner who was a straight arrow but he thought I was a little off in the head on it.A year or two later we raided a guy's house in Pawtucket and found a large quantity of coke and 425,000 hidden in a lamp base.The occupant was a Colombian legal resident.Guess what else we found?A photo of the same damn judge performing the doper's marriage ceremony at the apartment.Nice,huh?Eventually this judge was convicted of corruption in an unrelated matter and went prison and was disbarred.RHODE ISLAND JUSTICE :(

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 25, 2012 5:21 PM

I meant $25,000

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 25, 2012 5:23 PM

I am a cop. I know how cop overtime is paid. MA is different because of the Quinn Bill. I'm sure if there's a blog entitled "Commonwealth Rising" you could start a discussion of such matters there. As this is a blog about RI, the topic was RI state employees, and I am a cop in RI, I was focusing on that issue.
There is a reasonable discussion to be had on the pension issue, that's why I visit this blog. 90% of the contributors are reasonable and I find myself agreeing with much that is said here.
I even frequently agree with Dan. My hackles get raised when Dan lets his personal resentment for poorly educated cops making more money than he (or more money than he believes they deserve) get in the way of a discussion about state employee benefits. If you'd like to know how "cop overtime" works let me know, I'll fill you in.

Posted by: seirra1 at November 25, 2012 5:32 PM

Seirra/Sierra - Yes, it is my opinion that public employees should not be doubling their salaries through overtime when they already have numerous perks, benefits, and other forms of compensation. It's bad for the public perception of government. Whether it is or is not technically abuse, public employees should be striving to avoid any appearance of impropriety. It looks bad when high-school-grad cops are pulling in 6 figures as a matter of course. Maybe you have a really nice explanation for it, but most people aren't going to want to hear it. I know it's not all fraud, but there are shenanigans that go on, whether it's favor trading with other employees or questionable minimum staffing mandates. There are no meaningful supply-and-demand checks on public compensation, so the taxpayers are obligated to be vigilant. This means additional scrutiny, but that's the price of working for the public.

I don't have anything against police officers, I just want them compensated reasonably and commensurate with their qualifications. I know this doesn't fit the union charge that anyone who takes issue with compensation "hates" the employees. I've been told that I "hate" teachers because I think missing 10 sick days on average every year is ridiculous. My fiance and half my family members are teachers, so I must hate them too.

Posted by: Dan at November 25, 2012 5:55 PM

Dan, so by your measure no one with a high school diploma should be making, say, more than someone with a JD? I work with some intelligent people. Some who would do quite well in college, law school, or other graduate programs. For various reasons they didn't pursue that route. Some didn't want to, some weren't able to. It doesn't make them any less intelligent than any lawyer, doctor, or accountant. Don't get me wrong, I work with some people who probably struggled to get through high school too. But they're the exception not the rule.
As for the overtime, most department paid overtime is mandatory; yearly quals at the range, breathalyzer recert., defense tactics, etc,. Some of it is elective like minimum manning requirements, special details (bike patrols, parades/festivals) or specialized units (SWAT). Some of this is paid through Fed grants not municipal funds.
As for the "road jobs" or privately paid details. There's truth to the argument that not every detail needs to have a cop on it. But most do.
Out of about 150+ police officers in my department I'd say maybe 10 make more than 100k and only 1 makes more than 125k. The details are there and are going to get filled one way or another, some guys hussle and work a ton of hours. Some are paying to put kids through college, some are just greedy. As for me, I hate standing over a hole all day, its boring and my back hurts after 5 minutes. I prefer working a sporting event or working a liquor establishment that is required to have a detail due to past incidents of violence. To each his own.
You're whole attitude about the matter seems bitter and condescending. How dare someone less educated than I make more money. Just because you have that piece of paper hanging on your wall doesn't make you more valuable, it just means you have more debt. I find it absurd that my job requires me to wear a bullet proof vest, just in case, and maybe worth just a little bit more than someone sitting behind a desk shuffling papers all day.

Posted by: seirra1 at November 25, 2012 8:14 PM

Seirra1 and Dan

"I hate standing over a hole all day," Seirra, you need to see the other side "If you object to the detail, I won't let you plate that hole". If you work across state borders, you would notice that some states use what appear to be welfare mothers as details.

I think Dan is being misunderstood. Still he does seem to take the position that education and income should be intertwined. Unfortunately life is not about what you know, but what you can do. I know a fair number of millionaires, I would guess about 35% have college degrees. I have also seen a few oddities. A Fine Arts professor from Harvard who is now an excavator (his basement walls have gladiators in Bas Relief)and a mason contractor who had taught English at Brown. Both had been drawn into it to aid the family business. Seeing the money they could make, they never went back. I suppose that if I were in Bio-physics, all of the millionaires I'd know would be post docs.

I have met lawyers in all sorts of trades and occupations, the figure used to be that 35% left the practice of law within 5 years of graduation.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 25, 2012 9:38 PM

Sierra - You seem locked in a laser-like focus on my statement that compensation should be roughly commensurate with qualifications. Only in the union world of "everybody deserves a great-paying job" is this concept the least bit controversial. It has nothing to do with "elitism" or "resentment." In the absence of supply and demand, there need to be some objective means of setting pay. Formal education should not be the only metric, but it should be a major one.

I am emphatically not, as you wrongfully suggested, asserting that somebody with a high school diploma should *never* be able to make more than someone with a JD. But when they are categorically doing so, simply by being in a certain favored class of public employees, then it isn't an equitable compensation scheme. I don't doubt that some police officers are very bright and capable individuals, but that doesn't change the objective reality that the qualifications bar is relatively low. The size of the qualified applicant pool and the level, expense, and opportunity cost of formal qualifications required should all be reflected in the pay. I'm sorry you've taken such great offense to this argument, but anything else you're choosing to read into it is outside its scope.

Posted by: Dan at November 25, 2012 11:50 PM

Memories are short. When I was a kid the route to a job on the Police Department was simple. Join the military, get the Veteran's Preference, get in the MP's.

I have mentioned the deceased President of the Mass Senate I knew. His biography in the Harvard Law School Directory read, Within 3 years of graduation (1927)I realized there was little call for my services, so I went into politics.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 26, 2012 8:26 AM

What I take exception to is you defining "qualified." Most PD's require some level of college completion if not a bachelor's degree all together. I'm sure you can think of several people smart enough to get through law school but don't have an ounce of common sense in their body. I'd take the guy (or gal) with a GED and some common sense any day.Others aren't qualified for my job for other reasons. The piece of paper doesn't guarantee a job paying more money than a cop. It means you have the potential to make more.
We have a tendancy to go to the extreme, yes, a handful of guys work a ton of hours and get paid 100-150k a year. For everyone of them theirs 50 guys who'll be lucky to reach 70k.
I don't lead a lavish lifestyle. Most of us have your average middle class life like most people at AR.
I don't think think everyone deserves a great paying job either. A serious question, what would a mid-level manager with a college/graduate degree in a 200 employee company make in the private sector?

Posted by: seirra1 at November 26, 2012 8:58 AM

Sierra - I fully agree with you that there are employee qualities and characteristics that far outweigh formal education. I do not consider formal education to be the most important consideration in hiring or setting pay, nor do I consider it anywhere near the top. But I am not willing to accept that degrees are meaningless, arbitrary, or just "pieces of paper." Hiring is always based on probabilities and inferences. While degrees might not measure the objective value an employee can add to an organization, they do tell employers a lot and affect the size of the applicant pool. In the private sector, degrees do correspond with significant differences in average compensation.

In the public sector, pay is set through not markets but the political process, so there is an inherently larger potential for overcompensation and other abuses. In a personal sense, what an officer earns isn't particularly relevant to me, but I do care about the public perception of government and the potential that politically powerful classes of public employees have to turn government into a zero-sum spoils system for their own benefit. The exceptional cases have a particularly damaging effect on the public trust, which is precisely why these cases need to be scrutinized and discouraged. We need private citizens to be able to empathize with public employees, particularly police, for the relationship to stay healthy and nonadversarial. Outrageous pensions, benefits, or overtime compensation create a deep resentment and mistrust of institutions that isn't good for anybody.

Posted by: Dan at November 26, 2012 9:51 AM


Construction companies are not required to hire police officers. They can just as well hire flaggers at a reduced rate however they are responsible for the scheduling and they don't come with police cars. Many of these companies want the officer and cruiser for added protection and all they need to do is make a phone call to get one. What's a flagger going to do when confronted by an angry motorist? It happens. As for the hours, many departments have instituted policies to prevent officers from working so many hours that their primary mission is compromised. As for the compensation, if the money is there to be made, I can't begrudge someone for taking advantage. Like I said, they could hire flaggers but if they choose not then what's the problem?

Posted by: Max D at November 26, 2012 10:28 AM

I agree with much of what you say. I also somewhat agree with a policy that limits ovettime hours like Max mentioned. I don't like the blanket "no employee may work X amount in a week" rules. Some guys think their primary job is "traffic cone" and not police officer. If their work performance suffers than limit their OT. If they can still function at an acceptable level leave them alone.
How would the market set a cops pay? What would a performance based pay scale look like for law enforcement? How do you measure productivity? More tickets, more arrests, more felony arrests? More reports taken? I think we can see the problem with that scenario.

Posted by: seirra1 at November 26, 2012 12:25 PM

I like the theory of the Federal pay scale. It uses standardized pay grades loosely based on formal education, but there is flexibility depending on other considerations, such as experience, academic achievement, certifications, or other circumstances. It worked well for the first couple of decades, but it got into trouble in the 1990's when the culture became that everyone should get GS-13 (90k-115k) if they stuck around long enough. Promotion potentials were supposed to function as salary caps to prevent this kind of "longevity inflation," but they have become meaningless as management has learned to effectively promote people through faux USAJOBS postings for which only the target employee is qualified. Even the best-designed system will eventually be subverted when there is no effective oversight.

I think a meaningful GS-type pay scale with "hard" promotion potentials tied to positions based on qualifications is a good method of public employee compensation. This solves the "Iannazzi Problem": high school diploma + no experience + no special considerations = $40k, not the 90k he gets now under the nepotistic spoils system. There should be overtime available for when absolutely necessary, but it should be strictly monitored with lots of signatures required for approval. The combination of hassle, scrutiny, and shame would discourage the same people from putting in and being approved over and over. Outside gigs should require similar special approval with plenty of annoying forms and signatures, and too many should set off administrative alarm bells. The Federal system does all of this well. I also think everyone should be on 401k-type retirement plans, as the Federal system has been since 1987. I've heard that the new three-doctor disability panels have significantly cut down on disability abuse. In a perfect world, all the previous approvals would be reviewed by these panels annually and revoked where appropriate, but the political reality is that will never happen.

Posted by: Dan at November 26, 2012 1:50 PM


I'll agree with you on your pay scale system but why would you make it difficult for someone to work overtime as long as there is no effect on job performance or department mission?

Posted by: Max D at November 26, 2012 3:21 PM

Two reasons for me. The first is that overtime shouldn't be business as usual. It's sloppy management and encourages lots of bad work practices, many of which wouldn't be immediately obvious to the outside observer. Overtime should be a tool used sparingly in exceptional situations as necessary. Maybe this would require hiring more people, restructuring schedules, and revising the compensation scheme. I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to a net cost increase if it resulted in a better and more equitable way of running the organization.

The second reason isn't particularly sophisticated: it just looks terrible when cops are raking in 6-figure compensation packages by working tons of overtime. It makes the papers and creates a poor public perception of the department. I understand that there are facially legitimate reasons, but public employees should avoid even appearances of impropriety if doing so will maintain the public trust. There are plenty of things I could legally and ethically do that I don't do simply because it would look bad. The public doesn't care about these nuanced justifications, they just see that so-and-so patrolman earned $120k last year. Commenters like "michael" blame the public for being ignorant and jumping to conclusions, but that's as useful as blaming the ocean for shore erosion. I blame the department for not anticipating the predictable public response and taking steps to avoid it.

Posted by: Dan at November 26, 2012 3:49 PM
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