Travis Rowley: Hose the Firefighters

Saturday, December 07, 2013


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“In all, there were no more than a dozen management-level employees in the top 40…The rest are rank-and-file city employees whose overtime, longevity, or detail pay boosted their overall compensation. Most are firefighters.” –

If you are among the shocked, then you are part of the problem.

And a mandatory prison sentence should be required for anyone who decides to degrade this conversation to an emotional level – away from a mathematical one – by asking this writer, “When was the last time you volunteered to run into a burning building?!”

On the very same day that GoLocalProv discovered that “the 40 highest paid city employees…collectively earned $6.3 million in pay and benefits in fiscal year 2013,” and that one Providence firefighter collected a total of $218,145, the Projo’s Mark Patinkin summarized a Channel 12 story that highlighted a retired North Providence firefighter named Stephen Campbell, who peculiarly began his firefighting career at the age of 52. Conveniently hired when his friend – Secretary of State Ralph Mollis (D) – was the mayor, this former “baker and mattress salesman” now collects a “tax-free disability pension” worth “$39,000 a year,” which is “almost 70 percent of his base salary.” Due to another “contract provision” regarding disabled retirees, however, Campbell takes home an additional $5,500 of taxpayer money each year – bringing him up to “full take-home earnings.”

Now consider the fact that, under another “contract clause,” Campbell’s pension reaches a lieutenant’s level because – on “one” occasion – he served as “an acting lieutenant because the real one was absent” that day.

Oh, now add another 3% annual COLA to the entire package.

Plagued with “injuries,” Campbell only managed to actually work five years out of a ten-year career – “during which he got full pay.” Patinkin calculates that “if [Campbell] lives to 80, he’ll get almost $1.5 million on the taxpayers. That’s for five years at the office.”

Incredible stuff.

But hardly surprising.

Almost three years ago, Channel 12 discovered that the “five most lucrative pensions in city government all go to former fire department officials, all of whom retired in the early 1990s, when eight out of 10 of the department's workers were retiring for disabilities.”

When it was also revealed that “of the 438 firefighter pensions being paid right now…258 of them are for on-the-job injuries” – and when Mayor Angel Taveras was considering a tax increase to balance the city budget – I penned a column that advised the Mayor to “Balance the Budget On the Backs of Jerks and Thieves.”

After all, in addition to the abuse, according to a 2007 Providence Journal report, “Nearly every other state in the nation pays less per resident to run its fire departments,” and “on a per capita basis, payrolls alone here outstrip the total cost of operating entire departments in most other states.”

In 2013, it’s nice to see that Providence has gained some real ground on this financial front.

Outlaw Collective Bargaining

Observed in historical perspective, the only logical course of action for Rhode Islanders to take is to dismiss all the politicians, including Providence’s upcoming mayoral candidates, who are expressing dismay, concern, and promises to look into the situation regarding municipalities’ greatest expense – that is, the salaries, benefits, and pensions of the unionized government class.

The taxpayers need to understand the situation for what it is – legalized corruption that can’t be cured until government unions are outlawed.

Government-union contracts are destined to be drafted in a world of fantasy, and will never be confined to private sector reality. Not only is organized labor steered by a twisted ideology of collectivism, but the necessary incentives just don’t exist. And the unions now have legal leverage over the taxpayers.

Top union leaders and liberal icons used to agree. In 1959 the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO offered this advice: "In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress – a right available to every citizen." And in 1955 former president of the AFL-CIO George Meany said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

Yet, in 1966 Rhode Island Democrats decided to do just that, pitting elected representatives against the taxpayers by affording collective bargaining rights to the government workforce.

No politician can save a system that wasn’t designed to be saved. This is how it’s supposed to work.

More details on the true history, nature, and wealth-redistributive purpose of government unions can be found here.

No Escape

Of course, the last person Rhode Islanders should listen to is the president of the firefighter union, Paul Doughty. Doughty’s current spin on the issue is that we should actually feel sympathy for Providence firefighters making well over $150,000 per year, arguing that “a delay in a decision to hire new firefighters” has forced active personnel into overtime salary – and also into upper-income brackets.

“Most workers enjoy overtime. Over the last couple of years, however, it has been excessive,” Doughty said. “It isn’t always a good way to live.”

I bet the two Cadillacs help to ease the pain.

It shouldn’t go without notice that the only reason these poor (in spirit, of course) firefighters are compelled to take advantage of exorbitant overtime pay is due to the fact that politicians signed contracts in previous years that established the generous pay structures and “minimum staffing” standards that are causing the current financial strain.

By listening to Doughty one might start to think that hiring more firefighters, thereby constraining overtime opportunity, has proven to be a budget-cutting exercise. But municipalities always have to consider all the long-term costs of adding unionized employees – e.g. Pensions, Healthcare, OPEBs (Other Post-Employment Benefits).

Not to mention all the “Stephen Campbells” out there!

City Internal Auditor Matthew Clarkin notes that “while 52 firefighters were added to the department in August – and the addition immediately decreased the number of callback hours issued – ‘budget savings to callback has not been realized through the first quarter of the fiscal year.’ ”


Injecting union dynamics into the already-inefficient government playground was always a surefire way to end up living in a society marked by corruption, malfeasance, high taxes, saddening levels of poverty, and a dismal business climate.

It only took a few decades for the fiscal decay to metastasize here in Rhode Island.

Today, second only to Detroit, Providence has one of the highest business property tax rates in the country. The City has “more than one in three children…liv[ing] in poverty.” And the per capita annual income is $21,628.

Rhode Islanders who have decided to settle or relocate within Providence’s surrounding suburbs are still forced by Statehouse Democrats to continue subsidizing all of the urban decrepitude via the State’s tax-and-spend structure (read: wealth redistribution).

The only escape is to leave the state, or outlaw government unions.


Travis Rowley ( is the author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of The Rhode Island Left.


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