Guest MINDSETTER™ Tom Kenney: Our Leaders Have Let Us Down

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Are there any politicians out there who actually stand for something? Are there any out there who actually keep their word?

Case in point, Governor Chafee. He campaigned by stating he was behind the working men and women of the state, including state and municipal union workers. He was labor-friendly, he said. Although there were tough times ahead, the sacrifices would be shared, not put squarely on the backs of state and municipal employees. He pointed to his record as the Mayor of Warwick to show that he was a fair negotiator.

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Case in point, Mayor Taveras. Not only did he propose a new era in joint communication and cooperation between the city’s labor unions and his administration at City Hall, but he actually renegotiated and signed contracts which brought about further concessions by the union.

Chafee Better Wake Up

As far as Chafee is concerned, the Governor better wake up very quickly. Organized labor put him over the top in the last election because he promised to treat us fairly. Contrary to public opinion, labor was not looking for someone to roll over and give away the candy store.

We realized that times were tough all over. We knew there were difficult decisions ahead and that we were going to have to sacrifice just like everyone else. We wanted, however, to be treated fairly in the process. Instead, this Governor is proposing what is tantamount to stripping labor of our collective bargaining rights. Giving employers (whether government or private) carte blanche to refashion the employee and retirement benefits of their employees is morally and ethically wrong. It is also probably illegal. The Governor is setting the stage for drawn out legal battles which will benefit no one.

Taveras Has Been Negligent

As a longtime employee of the city, I had very high hopes that Mayor Taveras would change things for the better. Indeed, we voted to approve a contract reopening that gave away some of our benefits in order to help the city through a financial crisis and as a good faith gesture that we and the Administration could work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.

What did he do? He decided to attempt to strip my retirement benefits as well. Everything he has done over the last few months has been to steer the city toward the brink of bankruptcy in order to get out from under contractual obligations. While some may applaud him for doing that, I believe he has been negligent in exploring all other reasonable options. There are a couple of options with regards to the pension system which would save as much, or more, than his present plan.

Changes to Be Made

All too often the media points to the 10 percent of city retirees who receive outlandish pensions due to years of 6 percent COLAs.I agree collecting bigger retirement check than the active workers is completely ridiculous. But I’m speaking about 90 percent of the retirees facing a hardship by these concessions.

There are changes that can be made:

I would propose and push a city ordinance that caps ALL Providence pensions at the current base pay of the individual performing that job now. This is going forward, as well as being applied to current retirees. This would mean a dramatic reduction in a small percentage of pensions but it would be considered, by most reasonable people, a fair solution. No one should ever receive more in retirement than the person working today at the same job.

I would also propose that no employee of the city be able to collect a service pension until he/she were 50 years old. I believe that this could be negotiated into every Providence union’s contract without too much trouble.


Tom Kenney is a Captain with the Providence Fire Department.

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