February 16, 2008

The Sides Take Shape

Justin Katz

If the published letters in the Providence Journal are at all representative of the volume that the editors receive, regular Rhode Islanders — the true "voiceless" of the state — are beginning to speak up. Here's Bruce Lang of Newport:

... the best way to improve economic development in Rhode Island can be summed up in two words: Cut taxes!

Mr. Costantino does make two vital observations: "State revenue is growing at 1 percent, while expenditures are growing at 6 percent," and he says that we have "a fiscal crisis on our hands." Both statements are true and both have only one solution, three words: Reduce government spending!

It's truly unbelievable that most of our elected legislators (from the most powerful branch of our state government) either "don't get it" and/or are so influenced by the powerful public-employee unions that they "don't want to get it."

And here's Ryan Curran of Providence:

We now learn that state legislators, whom we had hitherto believed to be the voice of the people, are so riddled with special-interest conflicts that the feeble desires of private-sector citizens are met with accusations of bigotry and selfishness. With at least six important assemblymen being paid over $100,000 a year by unions to — well, to do what, indeed? Represent us? How can anyone believe in "the voice of the people" ever again?

In fact, state legislators are the voice of the unions and special interests. While we private citizens were busy working and leading our lives, they were busy unionizing and organizing. And, as we now see, they have succeeded spectacularly. ...

They face no consequences for their actions. As proof: Already, some legislators have called for broad-based tax increases in contrast to the governor's call for no new taxes in the face of a rapidly declining economy and one of the highest tax burdens in the United States. The vast majority of taxpaying Rhode Islanders is working in the private sector and has no desire to send more of its hard-earned money into this corrupt and unrepresentative system.

But who represents us?

In conjunction with a front-page story about record voter registration (although cast in a national-election light), these letters make me wonder whether the sides are gathering for political war in Rhode Island:

More than 43,000 voters signed up over the last year, with about half of those (21,000) coming in the four months before the Feb. 2 deadline to register for the March vote, according to a Journal analysis of state voter files.

Of those 43,000, roughly 20,000 are between the ages of 18 and 29, a group once derided as stay-at-homes on election days, but since 2004 a group that has been casting ballots in increasing numbers. ...

Independents can vote in either presidential primary. Of the last four months of voter signups, about 6,800 enrolled as Democrats, roughly 1,900 became Republicans and more than 12,000 registered as independents, a category deemed "unaffiliated" in state political argot.

The Langs and Currans of Rhode Island could just as easily be independents as Republicans, so there's hope that they'll compensate for any uptick in out-of-state kids with no understanding of local problems and no real stake in their resolution (assuming a high percentage of college students). Still, we may see, in these numbers, part of the reason for the excitement of local organizers and establishmentarians on the Left about Obama. Any draw of young voters to the polls on his account is likely to benefit the corrupt powers that be locally, when in their ignorance the kids vote D. as they've been trained to do.

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 "D'S" in power are "D's" in name only. If it were fashionable and resulted in winning the election, the "D's" would be "R's." There is no difference. The "R's" I hear from through forums such as this and letters to "The Newspaper" sound like a helpless, bitter bunch that anybody with hopes of furthuring their political careers steer clear of.

Posted by: michael at February 16, 2008 12:17 PM

I disagree that there is no difference between the parties. Oh, they can be equally corrupt and all that, but they'll generally be so from different angles, and on behalf of different interests.

There's probably more truth than you intend in your insult about helplessness. The combined forces of insiders, the wealthy, the welfare industry, and the unions continue to tighten their grip on the state's throat. We'll see by both the election and the General Assembly's chosen "solution" for patching the state's financial leaks whether those who recognize the problem are — in fact and in our leaders' perception — helpless.

And if we are, the continued support of folks such as yourself (who might join us were y'all not so close to the flow of benefits) for your branch of the corrupt coalition is partly to blame. If such is the case, then your contempt becomes merely that of the pillager for the victims.

I think much, much more of you than that, Michael, and it continues to pain me that you're so steadfastly wrong.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 16, 2008 1:24 PM

If calling the people who routinely insult and attack my input here, unprovoked and in the spirit of engaging a lively, intelligent debate helpless and bitter is considered an insult, so be it, but that was not my intention.

I participate on the Anchor Rising blog for a few different reasons, one being my agreement with most of you in small government with more emphasis on personal responsibility. I’ve looked at most political blogs out there and this is the one I feel most comfortable with.

Another reason I stay, though common sense has on numerous occasions told me to stay away, usually after reading a response to something I wrote, is to give another side of the union being the evil empire debate, from an insiders view. The unions are not perfect, and, as you so eloquently stated in response to my All American Union Family post, (your title, not mine,) have lost their way. It is my impression your solution to the problem is to destroy organized labor, give control of our livelihood to economic factors beyond our control, lay down and give in. I think the integrity of the union is salvageable, and intend to do my part, small as it may be, to bring that back.

Our jobs are going overseas. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that joining our manufacturing and service jobs, engineering work is being done outside the United States. An engineer in Russia will work for about $200.00 a month in a third world country. This isn’t a result of some clever economic policy by Viet Nam, Russia, China, El Salvador or anywhere else with an abundance of desperate people who will work for next to nothing. Rather it is a slow bleeding of our way of life, past and future perpetrated by powerful interests whose expertise in running business’s has blinded them to the real problems their policy’s have created. We Americans are our own enemies, and I find it horrifying that so many will participate in and champion the demise of the working class, all in the name of Conservatism with the misguided perception that labor unions are the enemy.

You, Justin, are the one who is wrong, and all of your number crunching and misguided commentary is not going to change that.

Posted by: michael at February 16, 2008 5:39 PM

At what point will we be allowed to call those who continue to insist on greater and greater compensation in the face of greater and greater deficits an 'enemy'?

At what point do they realize they're tilting at windmills, and work WITH the taxpayers instead of against them?

That being said, I continue to say that the fight against public sector unions cannot be won by going against those who's very vocation is keeping us safe. A firefighter or police officer needs to be distinguished from the nose-picking leech collecting $25/hr to be a 'file clerk' that could be replaced by a 19 year old kid doing long-term temp work for $12/hr and no benefits.

Posted by: Greg at February 16, 2008 6:55 PM


It's true that different people have differing tolerance for numerical analysis, but I find it to be a useful counterweight to my emotional preferences. Perhaps you disagree; you certainly seem to believe that wrongness is something to be asserted rather than proven.

The truth of the matter is that your job is not "going overseas." Low-paid workers can neither fight fires from Russia nor resuscitate a heart-attack victim from India. Greg is correct that certain occupations ought to be distinguished, when it comes to talking unions, but you are as guilty as anybody at failing to do the distinguishing.

I'll tell you what unions of all sorts can do, though. Private-sector unions can drive up the cost of production and provision to the point that any natural inclination to hire from among one's countrymen becomes a financial impossibility. Public-sector unions can drive up the cost of living and operating in a particular area to the point at which market realities require them to be moved elsewhere, or outsourced altogether. And as the process progresses, the market value of the union jobs will go down (because there will be more people willing to do the work for less), and the union grip will necessitate increasing compromises of integrity to maintain a market-insulated standing.

I'm reluctant to divide my fellow Americans into economic classes, but to the extent that wealthy business-owners are not included among "we Americans," it seems to me that I must consider union members in the same light. "Our way of life" includes the belief that hard-work and ingenuity are the ingredients of advancement, not political connections and collective bargaining. Freedom, not reckless regulation and government-secured pensions in a society in which retirement seems a fantasy to too many.

"Our way of life" (especially in Rhode Island) is dying between the gears of the established rich who have the means to manipulate their way through government restrictions and the established unionists, who are willing to accept creeping socialism because they happen to have ended up on the winning end of the bargain.

The catch is that there's no winning end. The catch is that, be your principles whatever they may be, you'll continue to support, in one way or another, powers completely at odds with our state and nation's wellbeing because they allow your union to operate.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 16, 2008 7:47 PM

Perhaps I'll never be able to prove that my union membership is not bankrupting Rhode island, and the United States Treasury for that matter. I can prove a few things however.

I make 24.72 an hour.

My pension is funded in large part by myself. 9% of my salary. I don't have a choice, I have to participate or quit. I'd be happy to put that 9% into an IRA or 401K or elsewhere, I can't.

The city pays my healthcare. If they didn't I'd have to make about $4.00 an hour more than I do to pay for that healthcare. I'd still be making less than plumbers, electritians, nurses and other similarly employed people.

My job requires constant training and education. Those who don't perform don't make it.

Maybe I'm crazy, or maybe the people in my life who work in the private sector have jobs high above average, but I just don't see where I'm the total problem.

I don't think it fair that I'm expected to comment on other unions of which I have no idea their situations. I speak only for myself.

Posted by: michael at February 16, 2008 9:46 PM

I never said you were the "total problem." Indeed, I've never called you the or even a problem. And moreover, nobody's expected you to comment on other unions.

The thing is, Michael, that you do so of your own accord. You defend unionism qua unionism. Your emphasis is generally on defending unions, rather than on what needs to be done to correct the problems that Rhode Island has with their current incarnation. You say unions can be salvaged, but I don't recall your ever giving details about why they aren't fine just the way they are.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 16, 2008 10:15 PM

Guilty as charged. I'm a believer of leading by example. The best I can do for now is show up, work hard and not tolerate the usual union mentality, ie. picketing, intimidation and support for candidates and union leaders I feel are corrupt. If I were to denounce my or other unions on a public forum I would be bringing unnecessary stress into my life.

I have no desire to be a union leader. I also have no desire to be branded a pig, whore, communist, socialist or any other adjective wrongly characterizing my place in the workplace.

I'm not being intimidated by or coerced by anybody. I just don't have the answers.

Posted by: michael at February 16, 2008 10:38 PM

The "costs" of unions are not simply measured in dollars and cents, although they are significant in that way. Perhaps the biggest cost is in the mindset a union brings. I know someone who started working for the state and was coming in early and leaving late - until he was told to stop it - he was making others look bad. Or the state worker I know whose job it was (is) to answer a phone - but she was always talking to her frineds - so they took her phone away. She still works for the state, her job is still to answer the phone.
This stuff is nonsense. And it only goes on because the unions protect these people and foster a mindset of wroking towards the lowest levels and not the highest. And no matter how much you can't stand to hear it - it is a direct result of a socialist system. And that is not being slanderous, michael, it is calling it exactly what it is.
How about looking at the attempt to restructure government by Carcieri, and after all the bumping and shenanigans we are forced to play because of the unions, we've let go what, 70 people in 4 months? That could put a company out of business if it couldn't respond faster than that to business climate changes.
Furthermore, your pension in NOT funded in large part, by yourself. Your contribution of 9% gets you a benefit way in excess of what you think it would anywhere else. Contrast yours with what an individual puts into social security,6.2%, with an employer match of the same. That's a total of 12%+. They have to wait until they are 62 to collect ANYTHING, and then, they might get $1500 today. You, on the other hand, put in 9%, can collect a pension at 42 if you have 20 years in, and will get more than twice the money.
Or, if you think putting that amount of money into a 401k would deliver the returns to afford the pension you will get after working for 20 years, you are seriously deficient in financial acumen.
Do the math, michael, it's not even close. And we didn't even count the health benefits.
michael, did you ever stop to think that unions are the cause for so many manufacturing jobs are being shipped overseas?

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 17, 2008 12:49 AM

"If I were to denounce my or other unions on a public forum I would be bringing unnecessary stress into my life."

Conformity by fear of intimidation. Sounds like the good old days of the unions to me. "Hey, you's don' want anything to happen to that pretty new truck of yours, do's ya? It would be a shame if the damned neighborhood kids slashed your tires or worse..."

Posted by: Greg at February 17, 2008 6:37 AM

Greg, you really should read the entire comment before responding. I work in a male dominated field. We will torture each other for weeks over a bad haircut or less. The less ammunition you give to your friends, the better.

Posted by: michael at February 17, 2008 8:03 AM

So it's junior-high level peer pressure that keeps you from standing up and calling shenanigans?

That's mighty adult of you, Mike.

Posted by: Greg at February 17, 2008 9:02 AM

Most men are fully aware of "male dominated" situations if they've ever played sports. We know the good natured razzing a bad haircut can bring. Don't even try to insinuate that is what you are talking about. We know exactly what you meant. And now, we have to question where you are coming from when you are so intimidated by your union. I've always maintained that unions "brainwash" their members. But you have given us perhaps a more accurate depiction of what it is - they intimidate you into doing things you otherwise wouldn't do. Must make you proud to be a member, huh, you and all your "brothers?"
michael, why don't you go check with your union on how you should answer that.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 17, 2008 11:38 AM

I've never held back in the appropriate place. I've said on here there is a lot wrong with labor unions. I've even said my own contract has a lot of areas that can be improved. It's not the razzing of my union brothers I fear, it's the hatred and malicious nature of the people who hate the unions that worry me. Things taken out of context take on a life of their own. If you're looking for a sacrificial lamb, look somewhere else.

Posted by: michael at February 17, 2008 1:19 PM

The bottom line is that the "retire at 41" and "disability" scams must end.
They are, in raw dollars, much more of a looting of the system then the "child only" scam.

Posted by: Mike at February 17, 2008 1:46 PM

Hey Justin -

How in good faith can you qualify longtime Statehouse activist Bruce Lange and former Republican general assembly candidate Ryan Curran as "regular Rhode Islanders."

Spin as you will, but the small, vocal conservative group in RI does not represent "regular RI'ers"

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at February 17, 2008 1:50 PM

Well, Matt, not being a partisan and activist like you, I didn't know the life stories of the two letter writers. Their names didn't even look familiar.

Personally, I can't see how you, in good faith, can suggest that merely having been a candidate for state office disqualifies one for regularity.

I will concede, however, that as your side's preferred policies drive private-sector citizens out of the state, the "regular Rhode Islander" is more and more likely to be counted among your bought-off contingencies.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 17, 2008 2:31 PM

1) you use 2 letters to the editor to assert a grassroots uprising among traditionally unactive RI'ers

2) these 2 letter writers are, in fact, longtime political activists on the right in Rhode Island.

3) therefore, your assertion lacks evidence.

4) either revise your assertion or provide the correct evidence.

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at February 17, 2008 3:16 PM

I'm not feigning anything when I ask: What are you talking about? Moreover, why do you care so strongly? Trying to distract from something else, perhaps?

Did you happen to miss the phrases "if... are representative," "makes me wonder," and "there's hope"?

I merely quoted from two letters that I thought particularly insightful, pointed to an article about record voter registration — including a high proportion of the Obama-besotted young — and wondered ("hoped" might be a better word) whether there might be some balance against a left-leaning wave of aggregated personal interests and ignorance that could very well sink our state.

Really, Matt, I don't know why you're so incensed.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 17, 2008 3:50 PM

The letters to the editor never were and never will be a fair representation of "regular Rhode Islanders" as long as an editorial board with a particular agenda has power over what is printed and what is not.

Posted by: michael at February 17, 2008 5:04 PM

Understandably, michael and Matt Jerzyk think the only "regular" Rhode Islanders are those sucking off the tit of government through corruptly negotiated union contracts or some overly generous welfare scheme that invites abuse. In their world, "regular" means someone who takes from the pie, not someone who gives or adds to the pie.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 17, 2008 8:32 PM

"The letters to the editor never were and never will be a fair representation of "regular Rhode Islanders" as long as an editorial board with a particular agenda has power over what is printed and what is not."

Probably the first part of that sentence is true on its own. There are lots of "regular Rhode Islanders" all across the political spectrum who would never dream of writing a letter to the editor simply because it is not in their character to do so. So in that sense, the letters-to-the-editor page may never be an accurate representation of all Rhode Islanders.

I would have to disagree with the second part of that sentence. Whoever at the ProJo has been in charge of choosing which letters to the editor to print has been doing a remarkably even handed job of it, at least for the eight + years that I have been regularly reading it. They print letters on all sides of all issues and do not withhold either criticism or praise of any and all politicians and public figures, nor even do they limit the subjects to politics. Plus, the headlines they put on each letter always accurately represent the gist of the letter. That section of the ProJo is one of the few which is handled very well indeed.

Posted by: Monique at February 17, 2008 9:11 PM

Here we go, trying to lump Obama supporters in with everything wrong in Rhode Island.
Methinks some of these young Obama supporters, who aren't wed to the "it's who you know" ways of Rhode Island, might be a big part of the solution (they're not college kids from out of state). They may not all identify with the Democratic leadership-union bigwig-consultant-lawyer complex.
This kind of arrogant attitude on the part of the generation ahead of them (that's mine, actually) probably does more to drive young Rhode Island natives out of state than any economic problems.

Posted by: rhody at February 17, 2008 9:11 PM

I've had a lot of letters to the editor printed in the Providence Journal. Sometimes I've forotten I had submitted something only to find it printd weeks later when the situation I wrote about had changed, putting my words in a different light. I've also had the editors use a title that ridiculed my message. some never make it to the page.

They exist to sell papers, that is understood when submitting something. As far as a fair representation of the letters submitted...doubt it.

The editorial page does a great job of demonizing labor unions, particularly public labor unions.

Posted by: michael at February 17, 2008 10:21 PM

That is because public sector labor unions serve no better purpose than that of a parasite. They add nothing of value for the taxpayers. They merely increase the cost and decrease the performance for the services they provide. It's like a bloodsucking tick on your leg.
You still don't get it, do you? The taxpayers DO NOT exist for you workers. YOU exist for the taxpayers. The rights of the workers for a city/town/state SHOULD NOT supercede those of the taxpayers. When they do something is patently WRONG. Thankfully the Journal editorial board can speak the truth without being intimidated, unlike you.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 17, 2008 11:05 PM

Actually we taxpayers DO exist to provide "child only" welfare, retire at 41 and phony disability pensions. Plus plush consultant, magistrate, housing court jobs and so many more. Don't forget paid babysitting and free education/health care for illegals, etc.
If you can't get out of the state shop online, buy big ticket items out of state, gamble in Connecticut and make sure to buy your car out of state as it costs the Smith Hill Mob in sales tax (even though you won't save anything).
"Progressives eat money; like other rodents if denied a food source their numbers will shrink".

Posted by: fu@aol.com at February 18, 2008 8:43 AM

>>I make 24.72 an hour.
Actually you make much more than that.

First, is that for a 40 hour week? Second, it doesn’t include other benefits such as health care, disability, pension, etc.

>>My pension is funded in large part by myself. 9% of my salary.

Not true – that’s union propaganda. If you and the other workers actually funded (most of) the pension yourselves, then by definition the state pension system wouldn’t have a $5 BILLION dollar unfunded liability; nor would the counterpart municipal pension systems have similar unfunded liabilities.

Indeed, over your lifetime the taxpayers will probably hand you more dollars than you earned while actively working.

Present value this (along with the other benefits such as retiree health care) and add it back into your hourly rate, and you're doing shockingly well.

>> I don't have a choice, I have to participate or quit. I'd be happy to put that 9% into an IRA or 401K or elsewhere, I can't.

Crocodile tears. Your union could agree to this today. They won’t – because the current system is so rich.

>>The city pays my healthcare. If they didn't I'd have to make about $4.00 an hour more than I do to pay for that healthcare.

This IS part of your compensation. It is part of the expense that the taxpayers incur to have you on the premises. This is not to demean your work – it is a noble calling, and I believe that police / fire / EMT’s very much deserve some premium on their compensation in recognition of the type of work they do. That said, it doesn’t mean that their unions should be handed a blank check either, nor that the disability retirement scam in Providence should be allowed to continue.

Posted by: Tom W at February 18, 2008 12:58 PM

>>How in good faith can you qualify longtime Statehouse activist Bruce Lange and former Republican general assembly candidate Ryan Curran as "regular Rhode Islanders." Spin as you will, but the small, vocal conservative group in RI does not represent "regular RI'ers"

They represent regular RI'ers far more than "WorkingRI" [de facto public sector unions, not private sector ones] and "OneRI" [welfare industry] and the "Poverty Institute" [welfare industry] - rent-seeking special interests that profess to represent "working families."

Posted by: Tom W at February 18, 2008 1:01 PM

I put my cards on the table, so to speak, in hopes of putting some facts into the conversation. I've asked before, I've had a letter to the editor in the Providence Journal asking as much, nobody responded. Anybody with an opinion about how overcompensated I am shouldn't be afraid to do the same.

You want to dispute my facts then give a little back. If not, I'm left to assume that those in the private sector are doing quite well indeed.

Posted by: michael at February 18, 2008 1:55 PM

Let's not quibble about how much, exactly, you are overpaid. That is merely a tactic to avoid the fact that you ARE overpaid.
How do we know you are overpaid? It's simple. The city posts a job for 20 people and 1500 apply to get them.

Now let's compare this to a Treasury auction. When the US Treasury wants to sells bonds, the rate indication is set at say, 3.85%. However, the rate the government ultimately pays is determined by how many buyers show up to buy the bonds. If the auction is oversubscribed, meaning people want to buy more bonds than are available, the rate the government has to pay goes down. How much less? It depends on how oversubscribed the auction is.
Simply put, michael, the MORE people who want something, the LESS the government has to pay.
In your world, michael, your jobs are oversubscribed by some 7500%. SIMPLY ASTOUNDING! Therefore, we should pay less. A lot less. I'd say, 50% less.

Now let me hear your argument as to why you are not overpaid.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 18, 2008 3:30 PM

That is because public sector labor unions serve no better purpose than that of a parasite. They add nothing of value for the taxpayers. They merely increase the cost and decrease the performance for the services they provide. It's like a bloodsucking tick on your leg.
You still don't get it, do you? The taxpayers DO NOT exist for you workers. YOU exist for the taxpayers. The rights of the workers for a city/town/state SHOULD NOT supercede those of the taxpayers. When they do something is patently WRONG. Thankfully the Journal editorial board can speak the truth without being intimidated, unlike you.

Posted by Mike Cappelli at February 17, 2008 11:05 PM[/quote]

Talk about parasites!! aka Mr Capelli!!!

Jobs are leaving the USA because the CEO's of companies know that they can pay less for the labor - not only union labor, but all kinds. Until it becomes too costly (in boycotts of their products, etc., a la the Kathy Lee Gifford Cambodian child sweat shop scandals) they will continue to do so. If the lawsuits over contaminated products from China don't rise above the amount of money their company is saving, it will continue. Human rights issues in these foreign countries is not their concern. Their only concern is profit. This is corporate greed.

Everyone's looking for (and most people get) regular raises - unionized or not. When the economy is seriously compromised as it is now as the result of Conservatives in the White House for the last 8 years, many people forgoe raises - unionized or not. My union (Providence Firefighters) have forgone raises or settled for raises below the going rate at the time, on a couple of occassions since I've been a member. These worker's raises (unionized & non-union) contribute to the escalation of the cost of living in a very small way.

Other costs, many of which are the result of good old-fashioned corporate greed, contribute to a much larger extent.

Exxon (and other oil companies) charge far too much for their products while posting larger and larger record setting profits every year. These costs are the largest reason for out of control inflation, without a doubt. Are these companies' union employees the reason?? lol

Blue Cross and all the other medical insurance companies are probably the 2nd largest reason for average American families not being able to hold their own against rising costs. This while these companies are also setting industry records for profits. Again their union workers? lol

Drug companies, ditto. Union workers? lol

In regards to the oil companies, Bush and Chaney are oil friendly - any doubt about that??
In regards to the other corporate giants who are thriving in record setting ways - a Republican White House and for the first 4 years of his administration, a Republican Congress has given away the store.

But all you people here can do is blame the working men and women of unions - how very pathetic.

This is not to say that there are not some abuses in the system with regards to organized labor, but not nearly as many as you people tend to believe.

As for the police and fire being held to a different standard (both in our responsibilities and in our compensation), I agree.

As for the "disability" problem in the Providence pension system some of you refer to - do some research. That problem went away in the early 90's. If anything is wrong with the disability pension system for Providence Police & Fire at this time, it is that it is nearly impossible to recieve one now no matter how seriously a member is injured. Look it up!

Also, as for the writer who calculated my hourly rate using my benefits - are you kidding?!? We're all supposed to be adults here - therefore we all know that what it actually costs our employers to compensate us is more than just our hourly rate. You, however, want to tack that figure to our hourly rate while allowing other people to compare that inflated rate with their flat rate. Don't compare apples to oranges to confuse the issue.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at February 18, 2008 4:18 PM

Probably a waste of time posting this, I already posted it months ago. I just don't feel like putting forth the effort required to explain the same thing to people who already know everything.

I do not know the salaries of my friends in the private sector. It is not my business to scrutinize their benefit package. I do know that they work as hard as I do making a living. Some of them are doing better, some not as well. We are all getting by.
The struggling economy has made us all aware of our financial vulnerability. As salaries and benefits stagnate, resentment grows. Through the ups and downs, my financial situation remains steady. For years I watched as others reaped the rewards of a strong economy. Nobody noticed or cared about my pay and benefits. My modest income paled in comparison to those in the private sector.
Now, my pay and benefits are front-page news. Cities and towns are facing budget deficits: the unions are to blame. Headlines and letters scream, “The party is over! The bleeding must stop!” If I didn’t know better, I would think the state is full of impoverished workers with no benefits at all!
I am a firefighter. I have a good salary, great benefits and an exciting job. I will not apologize for it or willingly give it up. Seventeen years ago I was accepted into the Providence Fire Department’s 42nd Training Academy. The competition was fierce; thousands applied for a few positions. I never considered myself better than the thousands that didn’t make it. Throughout the rigorous testing procedures it was found that some of us have the potential to be better firefighters than the rest. We were hired; the others went about their lives. I know some great people that did not get hired. They are leading productive lives in other pursuits.
I knew I would never get rich being a firefighter but the benefits provide my family with security. Had I not become a firefighter, I’m sure whatever vocation I chose would provide a good life for my wife and kids. I certainly wouldn’t worry about my neighbor’s paycheck.
The promise of security and the nature of the job are what draw so many to apply. The public is well served by the men and women that make it through the process. If the pay and benefits were average, the pool of applicants would be smaller, and less qualified people would be responding to the calls for help from the community.
I never ask thanks for the job that I do. I read and hear others in my profession justify our compensation because of our bravery. I disagree. Bravery resides in all of us. I see true courage daily. An eighty-year old woman watching quietly as CPR is performed on her husband shows real bravery. I see from glancing at the pictures on the wall images of their life together. Their kids and grandchildren are proudly displayed. The dinner dishes still dry in the sink. Two easy chairs placed in front of the television. The books and papers they have shared. She maintains her composure as we wheel him for the last time out their door and into the night.
I see teenaged kids playing in the streets where their childhood friends were gunned down. They are streetwise beyond their years. They hang around and look tough. Some carry guns. They didn’t choose the life they have. They live in a world of violence and chaos. Somehow, if they are hurt, or shot, or sick and make it to the back of my rescue and we are alone, they become kids again. Nice kids too. To live in their world is brave. To visit it and help when we are called is my job.
At times I bring the job home. Years of experience have provided me with ways to cope with the horrors I witness. My family knows when “something’s wrong.” Tragedy in other people’s lives has a way of making its way into ours. I try not to bring it home and mostly am successful. Unfortunately, some incidents can never be left at work and will be a part of me forever. I never know when I will be called to respond to one of these incidents. I know I can always count on my wife. She watches me walk out our door, dressed in the uniform never knowing if it will be for the last time. Too many times I have left happy and returned distant. She tells me I die a little after every shift. I think she may be right. Being a firefighters wife takes bravery, being a firefighter is our duty.
I am exposed to infectious diseases on a daily basis. My body has been punished countless times battling the fires that burn throughout the city. When I retire, I will have healthcare for life. This knowledge helps when considering if the job is worth the risk. AIDS, the fear of SARS, hepatitis, TB and increasingly violent patients all contribute to my dangerous work environment. I don’t think good healthcare is too high a price for the taxpayers to bear.
I am fortunate to have the greatest job in the world. I understand that there are some that are envious-the job is worthy of envy. My profession has enabled me to experience life to the fullest. To perform deeds that help lessen humanity’s suffering is priceless. I hope that the people of Providence understand what our contribution is worth.

Posted by: michael at February 18, 2008 4:27 PM

Another point that needs to be made here is that The Conservatives have been the main cause of the federal, state and municipal fiscal problems over the last several years.

The Republican Conservatives in Washington (even if it was meant as a remedy instead of a big business boon - which I don't believe for an instant) cut taxes AND many federally funded programs in the name of smaller government. This shifted the tax burden on the states to fund these programs on a state wide level (or deal with the fallout).

The states, especially those with Republican Governors, attempted to cut their rising budgets by providing less programs on the statewide level and cutting fiscal aide to the cities and towns. As our Governor is attempting to do now - and has been doing (on a smaller scale) over the last few years.

The cities and towns then are forced to raise taxes or cut costs.

Union raises???? I think not. Check out the history of the "trickle down effect" in government.

As least the Republican Conservatives in the White House could claim that they "cut taxes". They did - but at what cost????

Posted by: Tom Kenney at February 18, 2008 5:12 PM

"I do not know the salaries of my friends in the private sector. It is not my business to scrutinize their benefit package."
That's right, michael, you don't pay them, but we do pay you, so we have every right to scrutinize yours. Aside from an emotional plea you still have not rationalized why we have to pay so much when so many want the jobs, and would do them for less.
And Tom, please explain to me, in 100 words or less, what exactly your union does for us, the taxpayers? Remebering that the taxpayers DO NOT exist for you workers. YOU exist for the taxpayers. The rights of the workers for a city/town/state SHOULD NOT supercede those of the taxpayers. Just tell me, what benefit do we derive from your union? I fail to see any benefits I get from your union. In fact, I see them only costing me money, which is why I liken them to parasites. It's very simple, nothing to get emotional about. Each time you guys are asked a simple, pointed question, you take us on a little journey around the world, taking us through Exxon, George Bush, drug companies, Cambodian sweat shops - all in an attempt to evade answering the very simple questions put before you.
So, for you, Tom, what does your union do for the taxpayers? What am I missing?

And, michael, let me hear your argument as to why you are not overpaid.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 18, 2008 5:23 PM

Don't fight the police and fire unions.
Don't fight the police and fire unions.
Don't fight the police and fire unions.
Don't fight the police and fire unions.
Don't fight the police and fire unions.
Don't fight the police and fire unions.
Don't fight the police and fire unions.

You won't listen and you will lose.

Posted by: Greg at February 18, 2008 6:05 PM

Corporations don't own U.S. workers jobs. The offshoring that you decry is raising the standard for the even worse-off "working families" of China.

Workers of the world unite! First take care of the weakest among us (Asians) by redistributing wealth (in the form of jobs) from the rich U.S. workers to the underprivileged Chinese workers!

We're in a global economy. Get used to it. The economic hegemony enjoyed by the U.S. after WWII has been declining for over 30 years - we're like Great Britain after WWI. Our standard of living will keep dropping as capital and economic vibrancy moves elsewhere (just as it has been leaving the Northeast / Rustbelt and heading for the Sunbelt).

This has been happening for over thirty years in the private sector, and is just now starting to hit the heretofore insulated public sector.

Unions can't stop it - they only make it worse, just ask the hundreds of thousands of FORMER UAW members, steel workers, etc.

And to assert that Rhode Island's problems are attributable to "conservative" tax cuts at the federal level is simply ludicrous. Government budgets at all levels - federal, state and local - have been growing (in real terms) for decades. As government budgets grow, then by definition so too do taxes.

Posted by: Tom W at February 18, 2008 6:31 PM

Something I find particulary illuminating on the subject is how the Japanese companies - Honda, Toyota and Nissan - have come into the US, and, without unions, have created many jobs and a far superior product. And how about this, since they don't have the lazy [snip] union mentality bringing everybody down, the workers at the NON-UNION plants make as much as UAW workers do in Detroit. That is because they all have an incentive to produce quality cars efficiently. And if they are successful, they all share in the profits. Contrast that with the "rubber rooms" forced upon the US automakers by the UAW.
Once again, can someone please tell me, just what purpose unions serve - just what is the unions' value proposition?

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at February 18, 2008 8:27 PM

"""So, for you, Tom, what does your union do for the taxpayers? What am I missing?"""

If you're a resident of (or visitor to) Providence you can thank my union for maintaining adequate (though still understaffed) fire protection to save your butt.

Some citizens can litterally thank my union for their lives.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at February 19, 2008 9:01 AM

Just for the record all I wanted to do here was put my two cents in about the letters to the editor section of the Providence Journal, as well as my own dissatisfaction with polititians who use party affiliation and money to win elections, then are beholdent to that party's ideals. I admire those with the courage to run as Republicans when the tide is against them.

Posted by: michael at February 19, 2008 9:50 AM

Mr. Kenney,

I know a lot of CEOs of U.S. companies who would gladly stop the offshoring of jobs if they could. But deliberately reducing profit margins to pay higher labor costs would very quickly land them in court, for violating ERISA and their fiduciary duties to shareholders to maximize the value they create for them. I'm sure you also realize that among those shareholders are public sector retirement programs and union pension plans, who would no doubt join in the lawsuit. Why? Because lower returns on the shares they own will make it more difficult to pay pension benefits in the future. If you doubt that, wander down South Main Street to the Laborers Union, or perhaps over to Frank Caprio's office, and ask them how many shareholder resolutions they have proposed or supported to reduce corporate profits and shareholder returns so that fewer U.S. jobs will be sent offshore. The silence and strange looks you will encounter will be enlightening, I'm sure. So, I'm afraid the solution to the problems we face is a lot more complicated than simply bashing evil corporate leaders.

Posted by: John at February 19, 2008 3:59 PM

"""So, I'm afraid the solution to the problems we face is a lot more complicated than simply bashing evil corporate leaders."""

Mr. John,

"I'M" afraid it's too complicated to
lay at the feet of the "evil unions"!

Posted by: Tom Kenney at February 20, 2008 1:58 AM
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