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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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Some definitions of "trough":
Trough (economics), the lowest turning point of a business cycle
Trough (food) or manger, a container for animal feed
Watering trough, a receptacle of drinking water for domestic and non-domestic livestock
IN RI, our public money 'troughs' are all empty. That's what the union leaders don't want to hear and seem to not accept.

Comment #1 by Colonel Bowie on 2011 11 05

"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."

Truth to Power.

Comment #2 by Gip H. on 2011 11 05

State workers were robbed by their own union leadership. How dare they come back to the taxpayers demanding that they fill up their pension funds...AGAIN.

Comment #3 by Chris O. on 2011 11 05

Travis and Bowie, together again. I look for a better outcome this time.

Comment #4 by E.J. Dunn on 2011 11 05

The leader of the young republicans loves Raimondo. Maybe she should switch parties.

Comment #5 by Eazy Now on 2011 11 05

E.J. That was a good one (really), Had a good laugh!

Comment #6 by Colonel Bowie on 2011 11 05

Pensions are paid by tax paying public employees not unions.
Without the Union movement no middle class, no police association, no Brown education.
Keep writing and maybe the Koch Brothers will give you a free vacation.

Comment #7 by Real Clear on 2011 11 06

No middle class without unions?? You truly are indoctrinated.

Comment #8 by Chris O. on 2011 11 06

Nice try, Real Clear. As if there was no "middle class" before the 1930s.

By the way, take a look at the states with the strongest unions. That's where you'll find a moribund middle class.

Comment #9 by Bryan Sullivan on 2011 11 06

Rowley for President!!

Comment #10 by Jared D on 2011 11 06

Empty threat. Tax payer groups have no standing to sue. Pensioners do.

Comment #11 by Jonathan Flynn on 2011 11 06

I have always felt that the Rhode Island electorate have been lied to about the funding of the public pensions. That means that RI's unions have voted (knowly or unknowly) for legislators who lied about the funding of the pensions. I refuse to be held accontable for someone else's lie. I never believed the lie, and I do not want to pay for the lie. Those who believed the lie should get what they believed in-an empty bag.
Jim Dunn

Comment #12 by James Dunn on 2011 11 07

Unions don't vote. People vote.

Comment #13 by Jonathan Flynn on 2011 11 07

Union people vote. By the thousands. For union-hack Democrats. Who agree to ignore bankrupt pension systems. In exchange for political power.

Comment #14 by Chris O. on 2011 11 07

Early retirement schemes and scares by DePrete and Carcieri have done more to harm the system than Dems. Pushing people off into retirement to cut workforce numbers was not only shortsighted but was a disaster for the system- more money going out for longer periods of time and fewer people paying in.

Comment #15 by Jonathan Flynn on 2011 11 08

Wrong. The depleting fund was implemented and established with drastic flaws. THAT was the most harm that could be done. If the Dems/Unions didn't design it, then they were certainly the ones ignoring it for years. A healthy system have been able to absorb early retirements. Don't blame the people who were handed the mess - a sluggish economy along with a depleting pension fund.

It's just that pension reform should have been implemented along side these cuts. Oh, but the Dems/Unions stood in the way of it when Carcieri proposed it. Go figure.

Comment #16 by Chris O. on 2011 11 08

Decisions to reduce the amount of public employees because of the state's sluggish economy and loss in tax revenues were painful decisions, but necessary. More Tax hikes and a further shrinking of the private sector were the other option. Which probably would also have led to the acceleration of the fund's depletion. This fund has been screwed for years. And it was on a collision course with RI's poor economic structure.

Comment #17 by Jared D on 2011 11 08

Those saying unions ignored the problem need a history lesson. 40 years ago unions took the City of Cranston to court to put the money they were taking from the workers for pensions into a separate account instead of the general account. The court ruled until someone doesn't get a payment the union didn't have a case.
Government leaders used the pension funds for everything from paving roads to bailing out credit unions.
Don't forget union workers are tax payers too.

Comment #18 by Wuggly Ump on 2011 11 11

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