June 8, 2007

State Workers Learning About Life in the Private Sector; One Way or Another

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri (via ProJo)

I am fully aware that I am placing the burden of resolving our state’s financial future on the shoulders of our employees....But my responsibility is to the average Rhode Island taxpaying families who put me here. I must act on behalf of all our citizens, and must fix this now for the sake of our children and grandchildren’s future.
And from the Governor's press release:
State personnel costs have nearly doubled in the last ten years, increasing from $900 million in FY 1998 to a projected $1.6 billion in FY 2008.

According to the Governor, the total benefit cost for an average state employee (making $58,148 per year) will be $51,186 in FY 2008, or 88 percent on top of salary. As a result, the total compensation for an average state employee is $109,334.

By comparison, the average benefit overhead being paid by private companies in New England is 29 percent, or 59 percent lower than what the state is paying. Not taking account of the difference in the length of the workweeks, the average state employee is receiving almost $34,307 more in benefits than those in the private sector.

Referring to this dramatic disparity, Governor Carcieri noted: “This is not fair to average Rhode Island taxpayers. We cannot afford to be that out of line with what is being paid in the real world.”

Unfortunately, state government doesn't believe it has to live in the real world. Somehow, the belief has crept into the Rhode Island mindset that a State job is a safe job. Never fear, no layoffs will occur. That's not what happens in the real world, folks. Just ask people who work in the private sector.

Dell to Layoff 8,000 Employees
Motorola Calls In More Layoffs (7,500)
IBM to cut 1,315 jobs in U.S.
Circuit City to Cut More Than 3,500 Jobs
More Ford layoffs

Unfortunately, state union representatives haven't gone far enough in negotiations. The Governor said (to paraphrase) "to the union reps, negotiation means giving a little bit now for the promise of more in the future; all in an effort to wait it out until I'm outta here." The Governor has had it with this tactic. So have the taxpayers.

So this is the wake up call. I have compassion for state workers; it doesn't seem fair. They thought they were all set. But private sector workers learned long ago that the days of working in one place for 30 years are over. In a perfect world, maybe it would be nice to work in a unionized, industrial economy. But we don't. (In fact, that world didn't really last that long...)

This is the world we live in. Workers in the private sector deal with these uncertainties every day. Don't misunderstand me: I don't take some sort of morbid delight that state workers are now "sharing the misery." What I'm saying is that they had it good and just didn't seem to realize it.

And now that the party is over, don't blame the Governor. He's been warning about the perils of budgetary inflation since he was elected. Blame the General Assembly who--until this year--have failed to deal seriously with the problem. Or blame the union leaders who wouldn't budge in negotiations and then went screaming to the media that it's the Governor who wasn't playing fair. It's this same leadership that, time and again, would only reluctantly give an inch--and then only for the promise of getting back a couple more inches down the line. And all they while they failed to do a good job of explaining to the rank and file the economic realities that they and the state faces. It was easier to just blame the Governor.

To forestall this kind of layoff, they should have played it smarter and conceded a few points. You know what they are: privatize pensions, change the medical co-pay/co-share, limit the salary increases. But no. They wanted what they had comin' and were too stubborn to realize that taking a smaller across, the board hit in the short term would save jobs down line.

Thanks to their bull-headed approach, we have the looming layoffs. But rest assured, the leadership won't be losing their jobs. Nope, that sacrifice will be paid for by the average state worker.

Just like in the private sector, right?

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.

Here's a suggestion for the Gov.

How about appointing a negotiation team to try to work through this crisis with the unions . . . and how about making Steve Laffey the captain of that team?

Posted by: brassband at June 8, 2007 12:21 PM

What's funny about this is that there are numerous companies in Rhode Island that are cutting their work force (I happen to work for one!) to keep themselves in business and show a profit for their stockholders. There's no screaming and crying about those jobs being lost but heaven forbid a state/union employee be let go. As a stockholder of Rhode Island (taxpayer) I applaud the governors decision and demand that he follow through and also think it's about time that more is done.

Brassband, the unions were working with the state but their solution was a small bandaid on a major artery hemorrhage. It may have helped for a short time (this budget, maybe?) but the state still would have bled to death. The unions are complaining because the governor broke off those negociations. Sounds to me the unions were offering way to little, way to late!

Posted by: Jake at June 8, 2007 1:01 PM

In the little more than a year that I have worked at this VERY LARGE Rhode Island based company with a 3-letter name that makes uninterruptible power supplies for computers I have seen more than 500 people laid off.

I'm not crying for the 1,000 state employees.

Posted by: Greg at June 8, 2007 1:14 PM

In playing to the talk radio crowd, Carcieri accomplishes nothing positive, either for state finances or the taxpayers. I agree with the caller who suggested this morning that Carcieri is trying to provoke a state workers' strike, so he can sack every and oust unions with impunity the way Reagan did the air traffic controllers.
I've been in rooms where strikes were being discussed, but the union I belonged to was smart enough to realize strikes don't work any more, and we fought a public relations battle against this out-of-state corporation instead. Carcieri is taking it to state workers on the public relations turf, which gains him the solid backing of the DePetros and Yorkes of the world.
Once Carcieri left the negotiating table, he made this a war. The sad part is, I agree with him on some points, like 401(k) for new hires and, regrettably, the need for a wage freeze. I'm all for cutting jobs by attrition and retirement incentives. We do all need to tighten our belts a bit (I'm looking at you, Don, with the raises you've given your own staff while asking everybody else to give up their contractually negotiated raises).
That said, he has given us a textbook display of arrogance and disrespect, and he should not be shocked when state workers return that lack of respect. When someone comes after your job, you fight - it's a human reaction, not a union reaction. I'm not a state worker, but I have less respect for Carcieri after yesterday's grandstand play.
Don't strike, state workers. Don't give him the satisfaction.

Posted by: Rhody at June 8, 2007 1:55 PM

"How about appointing a negotiation team to try to work through this crisis with the unions"

Negotiating got us where we are today. We're trying something new.

Rhody, this is not grandstanding. Rhode Island is the fourth highest taxed state so revenue is not lacking. It's clearly an expenditure problem yet the GA refuses to make any decisions in that area. The Governor is doing what is within his purvue. If the GA doesn't agree with his choices, they are free to jump in with their own.

Posted by: SusanD at June 8, 2007 2:18 PM

(The Governor is on the Helen Glover Show.)

Speaking of differentiating public and private sector, the Governor just said state workers only work a thirty five hour week?? Wow. On top of the nice bennies and the gold plated retirement.

Posted by: SusanD at June 8, 2007 2:29 PM

Rhody, You are wrong on soooo many counts!
I spoke to a couple state employees this morning about the 1,000 layoffs. These folks have a lot of seniority. They aren't happy about the layoffs but in their own words ... "It won't affect me!". They are more concerned with a wage freeze and a renegociated health plan. A strike would do them no good on any level.

Having said that, it is not Carcieri's plan to invoke a strike.

To speculate that Carcieri is arrogant and disrespectful shows you are extremely biased and do not know the first thing about our governor, other than what you hear in sound bites.

This state is far to bloated with over compensated state employees and making digs at his staff while many state workers do not do an honest days work is being completely disingenuous. Throw out something that has nothing to do with the problem and it will deter what people think of the real problem. That is what the union hacks are doing and it sounds like you are following along, nicely.

Why can't anyone understand that this IS the way of the world? Why do the taxpayers of Rhode Island have to pay some of the highest taxes in the country for a overpaid workforce?

I hope this is just a first step in getting this state on the right track which it hasn't been on as long as I can remember. It's unfortunate that people will lose their jobs but since when is state employment a welfare roll? There are many people right here inRhode Island in the private sector losing their jobs for any number of reasons, why should state employees be held on a pedestal, especially when the state is in such dire straigts.

And the reason he is on the radio is NOT to invoke a strike but to inform the 1,000,000 plus taxpayers of this state what is exactly going on. Unlike the union hacks and all those cute little sorriful sound bites, Carcieri makes sense!!!!

Posted by: Jake at June 8, 2007 4:14 PM

Where has the Governor been for the last six years? If he can afford to let 1000 workers go, he should be the first one out the door, apparently there is a whole lot of nothing being done at the State House. I truly hope that Rhode Islanders see this for what it is, an enormous failure by our leaders, Democrats and Republicans. I am embarrassed for all Rhode Islanders, and have been for some time. Our leadership has put us here and we elect them. Shame on us.

Posted by: Michael at June 8, 2007 4:19 PM

Jake, I hate to rain on your necktie party, but if the governor wants to picm a fight, the other side isn't going into it without both hands tied behind his back.
He's playing to talk radio nation, and he's spoiling for a strike so he can play the white knight.
Oh, and another thing: Assuming these 1,000 layoffs do take place, he will still be running the state afterwards. He will be sitting in a stew of fear and resentment of his own creation, not the prosperity he thinks he's magically creating. Think of Michael Corleone sitting by himself in the park at the end of "Two."
Michael, I applaud you for also standing up to the lynch mob mentality. Everybody failed here, not just those The Don and his sycophants choose to point the finger at.

Posted by: Rhody at June 8, 2007 5:17 PM

If we cut 1000 FTE's from the payroll, and the work is needed, that labor will be supplied by the private sector and those ex state employees will be absorbed into that market.

If that labor is not needed, then the taxpayers have been footing the bill for unnecessary employees and it’s about time we stopped doing so.

So, logically, the opponents will say that the work is needed but the State is neglecting its responsibilities.

Let’s start an office pool where we guess when the first advocate says, "children will starve."

Posted by: WJF at June 8, 2007 5:20 PM

The unions "picked the fight" by making unreasonable demands from a state government at a time of real fiscal crisis. The governor is simply responding, and using the media to get the message out. You don't like it because there's no way that the union bosses can defend the way things "get done" in Rhode Island. They thought the governor was bluffing. Your bluff's been called.

Posted by: Will at June 8, 2007 5:34 PM

Hey Rhody, Your vivid rhetoric is wonderful to read but saying Carcieri is going public on this issue because he want’s to invoke a strike is as much of your imagination as is your analogy to Godfather II. Sound bites abound with this story!

The Governor’s hands are tied in any further union contract negotiations. They are also tied by the General Assembly’s plug and pass a one year budget, even if he vetoes it. That budget would do nothing but make the problem bigger next year.
Not a single person in this state has come up with a solution to cut major fat out of this states budget until this. I call $24m and $40m a significant step to get this state back on the right track. It sucks how it has to be done but, like Yorke said, unless Jesus himself comes and bails us out, there’s not much else being done.

If the unions wanted to be serious about negotiations and save these jobs, let them sit down and negotiate with the Governor and offer some real change. You want analogies … Those union monkeys are going to have to offer a lot more than a bag of peanuts and a banana to make it happen. Let them offer to lower compensation to match that of union private sector employees. They won’t! And if they did the 14,000 remaining state workers would kick that contract into the sewer by 99 to 1.

No, someone HAD to do something and this is nothing any smart business person would do. Again, it sucks but it’s life and it’s the right thing to do in these times. This ain’t Utopia!

These state employees are no different than you or I or anyone we know. Why do they get the consideration of everyone as being picked on or bashed when the state employment ranks are so bloated? Why do they deserve compensation UNHEARD of in the private sector everyday working world? They don’t!

And Rhody, if Carcieri didn’t do something like this, next year at budget time, what would you be complaining about? Let me guess!!!!

Posted by: Jake at June 8, 2007 6:11 PM

Caprio called, on Dan Yorke, the Democrat tobacco sale "a recipe for disaster".

Posted by: Mike at June 8, 2007 7:36 PM

Wow, Rhody, you've really summed up the difference of perspective between private-sector realities and public-sector fantasies with this:

When someone comes after your job, you fight - it's a human reaction, not a union reaction.

"Someone" is not coming after union jobs. The employees' employer cannot afford the lavish deals that have been extracted from it. This isn't some outside competitor seeking to undermine people's livelihoods; it's the boss being unable to keep the gold-rush going.

Personally, my reaction to being laid off is to (I know it's shocking) look for another job. I understand that unionized workers have lived under the assumption that they had their indirect managers (i.e., the state's politicians) bought, but assuming that the state must sink into financial collapse on your behalf... well, that's what I call arrogance.

It's also a crucial reason that public-sector unions ought to be banned. Which, by the way, is something that union members ought to think on long and hard. Sober up and realize that there is no more room for you to push, and ask yourselves: what's likely to be the next step if you continue to do so? If you do somehow manage to call in some favors and sink some of the opposition with concrete boots, the ever-more desperate citizens of the state will have that much more incentive to cut you off from that base of power.

In essence, it's the same actuality that you've refused to face for so long: accept the necessity of negotiations — wherein, you know, you'll actually have to give something of substance up — or watch as your podium is dismantled out from under you. Refuse reasonable deals, and new employees will not get the gold plating. Refuse that, and employees will be laid off and retired. Refuse that and it may just be that unions themselves will no longer be welcomed to the table.

Because, Rhody, when somebody comes to take away your opportunities, when somebody continues to raid your household finances, when somebody begins taking away the resources available within your children's schools, you will fight. It's not a private-sector tax-payer thing.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 8, 2007 7:51 PM

What a mess. This state is the laughingstock of the nation and Justin insists on making points against public sector unions. It is painfully obvious that the fault lies on BOTH sides of the table. Our governor was elected in large part because of his business accumen. Any businessman worth anything is supposed to be able to make deals. Walking away from the deal is a total failure. The state is not in business to sell things or make money. Just run the damn state and get on with it. If the Governor had laid off 1000 people on his first day in office I could have respected that. Not now. Now it reeks of bitterness and desperation.

Posted by: Michael at June 8, 2007 8:28 PM

We just may be the laughingstock of the nation, but I'd put the blame squarely on an arrogant and entrenched 70 year culture of Democrat political corruption in this state, not on Governor Carcieri. He's been trying to get our state going in the right direction since day one, but he can't do it alone. Since much of the legislature is (in some cases quite literally) in the back pockets of the public sector unions or actually employed by them, our state's problems have been getting progressively worse.

My dream would be a strike by the unionized state workers, because not only would it be illegal, but the governor would be well within his rights to PATCO their arses (if you don't know what PATCO was, look it up).

Posted by: Will at June 8, 2007 8:39 PM

I don't even know who to blame anymore. All I know is that these guys on capitol hill are supposed to be our best and brightest, at least our most popular and they couldn't orginize a cookout. Carcieri threatens to lay off 1000 state workers, thousands cheer, hundreds of thousands could care less and the fourteen thousand state workers worry. Is this the work of our best and brightest? Middle class people argue among themselves, the top five % of wage earners sit back and threaten to leave the state for greener pastures. Wonderful. The poor demand theirs, the legislature gives it to them in fear of backlash for not being politically correct. My kids can't find a decent job, stockholders profits mean more to their employers than delivering a decent healthcare package to workers...

I think I've had it.

Posted by: Michael at June 8, 2007 9:14 PM

"Speaking of differentiating public and private sector, the Governor just said state workers only work a thirty five hour week?? Wow. On top of the nice bennies and the gold plated retirement."

Gold plated retirement? What exactly is that? The pension that we pay 8.75% towards? How about the fact that the average salary for someone in the private sector for someone with my qualifications and my job is $25k more than what I make per year.

Why won't the governor rescind all the sweetheart tax break deals to big businesses here in RI instead of trying to balance the budget on the backs of state employees, and outsourcing jobs to his cronies in industry.

I am fully aware that I am placing the burden of resolving our state’s financial future on the shoulders of our employees....But my responsibility is to the average Rhode Island taxpaying families who put me here.

I guess that average working family members don't work for the state.

What a joke this governor is. He's not a leader. He's a mercenary.

Posted by: anonymous state worker at June 8, 2007 10:31 PM

Michael, Business 101, the art of the deal is also knowing when to walk away. I haven't been a big fan of the Gov., but that was brilliant! Who has the position of power in the negotiation now? The Gov has flipped it with one move.

Posted by: Warbucks at June 8, 2007 10:31 PM

Anonymous State Worker, denying reality won't make it go away. The best jobs in this state are with the state - best pay, best benefits.

Democrats have created a new upper class in Rhode Island: the public employee. The result is that we are the fourth highest taxed state in the country, we are fiftieth (dead last) in terms of a business friendly atmosphere and, most ominously, the state is the largest employer.

See, what you don't understand, ASW, is that Don Carcieri is your best friend. 'Cause he wants to save the system. And your pension. And your benefits. And as many state jobs as possible.

Some of us, on the other hand, wouldn't mind seeing the whole thing crash and burn. Because frankly, we feel we have no moral obligation to pay the bribe-induced bloated salaries and pensions promised to you by reckless, self-centered politicians.

But this is distracting us from the work at hand. Which do you feel better serves the state as a whole, Anonymous State Worker: the state payroll or maxed out social programs which encourage bad personal decisions?

Posted by: SusanD at June 8, 2007 11:15 PM

State employees should not be unionized. It holds all those workers in the private sector,many,many of whom make low wages,hostage to the demands of the priviledged state workers. I'm not their cash cow! Why should I have to contribute for them to have salary and benefits that I couldn't have? Are they somehow magically more valuable because they work for the State??

Elitist? Slavery? You bet!

Posted by: free at June 9, 2007 12:03 AM

Justin, if you're not willing to fight after you've been laid off, either you're a wuss or you've got a trust fund somewhere (and I'd prefer not to believe the former).
I've been there. I got laid off. I fought it (and some of my co-workers did, too). I was taken back when it was proven to the company the hard way that the reduction of workforce had a negative effect on the product that was more costly in the long view than my salary.
So don't tell me I should just lay there and accept it like a lamb when my employer tries to jam me. What goes on in your family is your business, but my family (my wife was put out of work by her longtime nonunion employer - she's now union and wishes she had been 20 years ago) doesn't take being jammed lying down. Don't demand the people Carcieri puts out of work to, either.

Posted by: rhody at June 9, 2007 12:16 AM

Apologies for the unintended double post. Please erase one.

Posted by: rhody at June 9, 2007 12:20 AM

Jobs are not entitlements. Layoffs aren't Big Business a-comin' to drive Uncle Zach off his farm so they can replace it with an amusement park.

It has nothing to do with being a wuss — although I arguably am one and although it's very typical of the union mentality to which exponentially increasing numbers of citizens object for you to phrase it in such strong-arm language. It has to do with perspective, and from my perspective, anybody who wants job security as an employee has to make himself invaluable to his employer. It takes more than 35 hours per week of work, but that's how things get done.

Funny how things all blend together; Don's recent post on meaningless praise comes to mind. The message to union members is: You are not special relative to private-sector taxpayers. And the question is: What have you done that your job ought to be guaranteed when nobody else's is? (Besides, of course, paying union dues so that you'd be able to buy lawmakers and stomp your feet in unison when you're not getting your way.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 9, 2007 7:01 AM

Rhody, Michael and others: it might help move the discussion forward if we started with a realistic view of how things work in the private sector. At the very least, that will enable you to determine whether your analogies and comparisons are appropriate.

Let's say you are the CEO of a company that faces falling revenues and profits due to increased competition. You get a call from an activist institutional shareholder -- say a public sector union plan like CALPERS -- who encourage you to improve your performance or risk having them listen more closely when and if a private equity firm or another company (say, one based in China) offers to buy yours.

You call your management team together, and examine your options. Your revenues are falling because the relative attractiveness of your offering is decling relative to competitors' offerings (measured by the value customers attach to the benefits it provides them less the price they have to pay to obtain them).

This presents two main options: we have to improve the benefits we offer, or cut the price to obtain them.

Obviously, one way to cut the price is to reduce our level of profit -- in other words, ask the shareholders to absorb the full cost of arresting our decline in the customer market. But we already know how CALPERS will react to that. They need high returns on their investments to ensure their public sector pension liabilities are adequately funded, and there is enough money to pay union retirees' benefits checks.

That leaves two alternaives. First, we could try to find ways to improve the benefits we offer, while continuing to charge the same price and avoiding cost cuts. Let's also say that obtaioning those productivity improvements will require us to go to our union workforce and obtain substantial changes in work rules or a sharp reduction in the number of classifications used.

The other alternative is to keep delivering the same benefits, but cut our price, which (given the need to improve profits) will require cost cuts -- via layoffs, wage reductions, moving some production to China, etc.

In the private sector, companies make those decisions every day (in RI, Bradford Soap is a good example).

As you can see, the analogies to the public sector aren't exact, but even still they are indicative of the choices and the essence of the problem in RI. Taxes could be interpreted as the price paid for a given package of benefits produced by public sector union workers. Instead of shareholders and customers fleeing a company, we see taxpayers fleeing a state.

To improve the value it offers, RI's public sector either had to improve the benefits it delivered or cut the price paid to obtain them, and the underlying costs. RI's political leadership, public sector unions and poverty advocates have shown themselves singularly incapable of improving the aggregate value the RI public sector offers to taxpayers (and here Michael has to acknowledge the larger truth that truly high value offered by Providence Rescue Squads is offset in taxpayers' minds -- since they can't pay for it separately -- by the poor value offered by other public sector organizations, paid for by the same tax bill).

As a result, customers -- be they individual or business taxpayers -- are either leaving or aren't coming to RI, and the financial crisis is accelerating -- just like it would in a private sector company that refused to change.

As I have noted before, the really interesting, and still unanswered question, is how the different players envision the end-game. At this point, it sure looks like it will involve sharp cuts in state aid to cities and towns. Since there is no established law for states going bankrupt, nobody wants to go there. The big losers will be the local teachers and municipal unions, since municipal bankruptcy law is well established. And the winners? The poverty advocates who will ensure their programs (and indirectly, their incomes) are kept funded, and, perhaps, what state employees that remain on the payroll.

But at best it will be a short term and Pyhrric victory, as the continuing decline of the economy (as welfare clients continue to arrive while businesses and taxpayers don't) will eventually force cutbacks in social welfare spending.

Sad, but after this year's GA budget, it is hard to see how it can turn out differently.

Posted by: John at June 9, 2007 11:55 AM

John, thanks for taking the time to spell out what happens in the business world. My view of government, naive as it may be, definately idealistic, is more simple. Deliver to the taxpayers the most efficient, streamlined services at the least cost with the best people. How to do that, with all the entrenched polititians and lobbyists in power, I just don't know. It seems hopeless. It would be better if we could just start over. What should be simple has turned so complicated average citizens have given up trying to understand the issues and just agree with the talk shows and newspaper reports. A lynch mob mentality is taking over.

I am well aware of how to run a business and make it prosper. The business world that has developed over my lifetime has turned into a ruthless machine with no princables, only a means for profit at any cost. Our store shelves are filled with products made using slave labor due to the never ending quest for more profit.

Thanks also for the appreciation of my particular niche in the public sector union whole. I put my heart and soul into my work every minute of every shift. I can't speak for the other unions or their employees though I am inclined to agree with some peoples conception of a bloated workforce. I do envision a bleak future, not because of public sector unions entirely, rather our whole society has become corrupt and lazy.

Posted by: Michael at June 9, 2007 4:57 PM


I have to disagree with your assertion that "the business world that has developed over my lifetime has turned into a ruthless machine with no princables, only a means for profit at any cost."

True, there are selfish, unprincipled types who put their own success (or at the very least, job survival) above the team on which they play. But this type isn't unique to the business world.

But beyond that, I have seen few truly ruthless amoral unprincipled types ever rise to CEO or board level in public companies. Rather, in my experience the decisions to which you refer (e.g., outsourcing or layoffs) always represent an agonizing trade-off for management teams. Having at in those rooms, I can attest that those decision makers are painfully aware of the impact on real people's lives. Yet, as John noted, the alternative is usually condeming your company to decline, takeover (which will inevitably lead to layoffs), or Chapter 11. But, again as John noted, the truth is that under ERISA a board's legal responsibility is to maximize shareholder value -- not employment. While that is a laudable goal, it is no defense if you get sued by shareholders (and after Enron, public company directors are acutely sensitive to liability to shareholder litigation). Indeed, if you do a thorough root cause analysis of the corporate behavior you detest, you will find many contributing factors, from ERISA (passed in 1973), court decisions, changes in the market for corporate control, changes in world trade and capital flow regulatioins, IT developments that enabled extended supply chains and globalized competition, and decisions by the Chinese and Indian governments to enter world markets (and this list is far from complete). In sum, it is not a simple black and white morality play, no matter how much you'd like to portray it as such.

Posted by: Susan at June 9, 2007 5:17 PM

Kind of infuriating when somebody from outside your world whose only knowledge of that world comes from newspapers and talk shows makes blanket statements condemning what you do.

Posted by: Michael at June 9, 2007 6:11 PM

Not true. I reserve fury for people who clearly understand what is going on, yet continue to pursue their selfish interest to the point that the team suffers. In this case, I was trying to explain something, to enhance understanding and enable a more intelligent discussion. Granted, that is a depressingly rare approach on blogs (particularly on another RI blog), but I thought it worth the effort. Sorry if you thought otherwise.

Posted by: Susan at June 9, 2007 6:16 PM

You have to admit I have a point. A lot of commentary has been made here with no insight into union members lives. And thanks for your perspective. I have stated here before that I log on to Anchor Rising to learn as well as comment.

Posted by: Michael at June 9, 2007 6:25 PM

Dear Anonymous:

"How about the fact that the average salary for someone in the private sector for someone with my qualifications and my job is $25k more than what I make per year."

Something has got to be stopping you from going for that extra $25K. I say its the lucrative benefits! What say you?

Posted by: Noted Skeptic at June 9, 2007 7:32 PM

When I graduated from college, the job I took was the only one that was available in RI in my field. The private sector just wasn't hiring. But now, I stay with the State because I came to like the feeling of helping the public. Basically, money isn't the most important factor in employment decisions. Despite what big business would like you to believe.

Posted by: anonymous state worker at June 9, 2007 8:49 PM


Do you really expect the readers of this blog to believe that the reason you don't leave public sector employment and immediately increase your comp by $25k per year is because of altruism? Do you really expect us to believe that the extremely generous (by private sector standards) benefits package you receive has nothing to do with it?

If that is the case, then you should have no objection to receiving the same health insurance plan and pension plan that private sector employees typically receive. Is that the case?

Posted by: John at June 9, 2007 9:15 PM


On the other hand, you have to admit that it is possible to get insight into public sector union issues even if you aren't a member of a public sector union. First, there is data. Second, there are stories you hear from your family and friends who are members of public sector unions in RI. My favorites are the stories I hear from teachers -- about how bad teachers are too often the most vocal union supporters, about how even though an individual teacher may believe she would do very well under a performance based pay system (and resents the deadwood teachers who do nothing to help the children she also teaches), she fears the consequences of taking on her own union (Sopranos comes to the teachers lounge), about how teachers resent the number of children classified as "learning disabled" whose IEPs effectively prevent them from being disciplined (hey, they're victims of "Oppositional Defiance Disorder" and won't take their meds if you get mad at them), and on and on and on.

Rhode Island is a small place. Too many parents with children in school and others hear these stories all the time. And what do we see on Smith Hill? Bob Walsh and Marcia Reback fighting every attempt to reform education in RI. And, at the local level, teachers unions demanding higher comp and benefits, regardless of results, and demanding that programs that benefit children (seen any gifted programs in the public schools over the past five years? Or what's been happening to music, art, sports, etc.?)be cut (or property taxes raised still higher) to keep paying current and retired teachers (don't forget all those retiree health care benefits that are on a pay as you go basis).

And that's just public education unions...

So, Michael, while yes, we take your point, you also have to take ours.

Posted by: John at June 9, 2007 9:26 PM

"how bad teachers are too often the most vocal union supporters, about how even though an individual teacher may believe she would do very well under a performance based pay system (and resents the deadwood teachers who do nothing to help the children she also teaches), she fears the consequences of taking on her own union (Sopranos comes to the teachers lounge)"

Yes, this is all true. And now labor unions want to ensure that good teachers never can speak freely by compelling all union votes be public (so the thugs can see who voted correctly and who didn't).

This is a seriously ugly, un-American practice and yet more confirmation that unions prize only union dues, not merit or free speech or, heaven forbid, the will of the majority.

Posted by: SusanD at June 10, 2007 9:57 AM

Point taken.

Posted by: Michael at June 10, 2007 10:02 AM

Not all unions are created equally, just as not all CEO's are ruthless businesspeoplee making 400% more in salary than their workers.

Posted by: Michael at June 10, 2007 10:10 AM

Probably more like 4000%, Michael.

And no, not all labor unions are the same. Some of us see the sharp distinction between private sector labor unions and public sector ones - the former having obtained their salaries and benefits through negotiation and demonstrating the value of their services and the latter by gaining control of the taxation gun.

Posted by: SusanD at June 10, 2007 1:53 PM

>>Gold plated retirement? What exactly is that? The pension that we pay 8.75% towards? How about the fact that the average salary for someone in the private sector for someone with my qualifications and my job is $25k more than what I make per year.

You forget that those of us in the private sector are forced to pay Social Security taxes, which for self-employed people are higher than your "pension contribution." Yet Social Security "benefits" are far far less than the 75-80% of your highest consecutive (overtime goosed) three years pay.

So please don't expect us to feel sorry for you.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at June 11, 2007 10:45 AM

Susan, just a question:
If union votes should not be held in public so the thugs can see who voted how, should votes in the General Assembly be treated the same way?
Or maybe I'm just one of those thugs who like to know how my legislators voted.
One other point about this whole argument: I think we as Americans all act in our own self-interest. I do it, and I anticipate that others do it, too. Why do those who demand mass layoffs (who are acting in the self-interests) get so exorcized when other people are also acting in their self-interests?
The prevailing attitude here can be summed up thus: "It's okay for me to be selfish and protect my family, but God forbid anybody on the other side be selfish and try to protect their families."

Posted by: Rhody at June 11, 2007 2:01 PM

"If union votes should not be held in public so the thugs can see who voted how, should votes in the General Assembly be treated the same way?"

Apples and oranges. A more apt question would be to ask if all of us should have to stand up and publicly pronounce who we're voting for instead of doing it in private on election day.

The whole 'open voting' process was DESIGNED to intimidate those who would vote against the party line to succumb to peer pressure and vote the 'right way' or be known to the union thugs so the tire slashings and late night phonecalls can begin.

Posted by: Greg at June 11, 2007 4:09 PM

What he said, Rhody. The vote of a public official voting on a matter of public policy must be public. Otherwise, it's a star chamber.

I must challenge your characterization of this situation. The proposed reduction of one fifteenth of a workforce through layoff and attrition just doesn't live up to the hyperbolic adjective "mass". The Governor is proposing to keep 14,000 of 15,000 state employees.

Rhody, how is it possible to justify the tripling of a state budget in less than ten years as the state population essentially flat lined for the same period?

Posted by: SusanD at June 11, 2007 10:54 PM
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