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Travis Rowley: Public Unions Are Getting What They Deserve

Saturday, November 05, 2011


There are several necessary retorts that must be made to the objections over State Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s state pension reform proposal – objections being hurled by union-Democrats who are threatening to sue Rhode Island taxpayers if the General Assembly passes Raimondo’s plan.

First, it should not be surprising to anyone that labor leftists have resorted to playing the victim, insisting in all of their rhetoric that the pension crisis is “not the workers’ fault,” usually meaning that they have “never missed one payment” into the pension fund.

Agreeing to the premise that the workers “did nothing wrong” is to accept that it was reasonable for them to assume that their pensions would be secure – or, as public union bosses put it, that “promises would be kept.”

While union bosses play dumb, they now describe to their members how their employer – “the state” – failed to properly fund the pension system. According to union bosses, public workers were misled and robbed.

Fine. But how does being mugged suddenly entitle someone to other people’s money? Why should the taxpayers be forced to secure the health of the public workers’ pension system?

When a crime is committed, most often the best one can hope for is that the perpetrators are caught and sent to prison. If public workers are interested in this sort of justice, they can begin by sending law enforcement officials down to the Democratic Party headquarters and the offices of the NEA-RI.

But they are wrong to argue that they have a property right to other people’s property.

Great Expectations

While public labor bosses are keen on contending that “a promise made should be a promise kept,” and that public workers have always made their required payments, they conveniently forget to recognize that the same is true for the taxpayers. The over-stretched Rhode Island taxpayers always paid the taxes required of them. And they shared the same expectation as organized labor, that the state’s pension system would be properly funded.

Still, taxpayers have seen their contributions into the depleting pension fund double since 2003. Already suffering from one of the most suppressed business climates in the entire country, the taxpayers’ contributions are set to double again next year – leaving even less money available for government programs they actually care about.

But this reality hasn’t stopped labor leaders from repeating the lie that Raimondo’s plan places an inequitable burden “on the backs of state workers.” Union clamor has made it nearly impossible to notice the sacrifice that Raimondo’s plan would force upon the taxpayers. Not only are they being forced to accept a risky assumption rate of 7.5 percent, but Raimondo’s plan would fail to return taxpayer contributions to lower levels, and would also reamortize four billion dollars of the state’s unfunded liability, a move that would place millions of dollars more on the “backs of Rhode Island taxpayers.”

More informed and more decent than public unions, taxpayer groups are not threatening the state with lawsuits, despite having had the same expectations as public employees.

Public Workers Can Blame Themselves

The fact of the matter is that public workers are not blameless victims when it comes to Rhode Island’s pension crisis. Expecting a secure pension was never a reasonable assumption.

While not every government careerist in Rhode Island fully adopted labor’s political culture, there is no doubt that union-Democrats’ power has been largely augmented and secured with the cooperation of thousands of public workers. The political dynamics in Rhode Island are no different from the way Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa Jr. explained things at a union rally several months ago. Addressing Barack Obama and looking out over a sea of union members, Hoffa said, “President Obama, this is your army!”

In defiance to Republican warnings of public bankruptcy, throughout the years public workers have gone on strike, worked to rule, attended rallies, uplifted shameless thugs to leadership positions, and organized politically in order to get the vote out for union-backed Democrats who would satisfy them simply by making promises that could never be fulfilled. It is just as George Will wrote in 2010: “They are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself for ever-larger portions of wealth extracted by the taxing power from the private sector. Increasingly, government workers are the electoral base of the party of government.”

Public workers are the people who shirked the warnings of embracing union-Marxism and labor’s solidarity religion. In 2010, it was to loud cheers that former president of the American Federation of Teachers Marcia Reback declared, “If one of us is hurt, then all of us are hurt.” Central Falls teachers applauded as Reback, now a top officer for the RI Democratic Party, assisted in the bankrupting of Central Falls.

Public workers are the people who – for decades – have helped characterize Republicans as cruel, rich, racist, and greedy in order to maintain the political edge of union-Democrats. On page fifty-two of Mike Stanton’s The Prince of Providence, the book that profiles Buddy Cianci’s political career, Stanton informs readers that in 1974 “Nobody knew what kind of reception Cianci would receive in a neighborhood where Republican was a dirty word. Older residents still remembered how the last Republican mayor, ‘Honest John’ Collins, had purged the city payroll during the Great Depression.”

As far back as the 1930s, Republicans were calling for sound financial decisions to be made, which often entailed taking a stand against public workers and a Democratic Party that has always considered it wise to redistribute wealth via government employment at the expense of the private sector.

How’s Providence doing these days anyway?

As organized labor crawls back to those they ignored and disparaged for decades with requests for more of their money, would it be so out of bounds for someone to suggest that Rhode Island’s public workers are getting exactly what they deserve?

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate.

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