Travis Rowley: Tie the Public to the Private

Saturday, December 01, 2012


Now that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has released a report of a study that found that “government workers in the Ocean State collect significantly higher compensation than their private sector counterparts,” perhaps it’s time to tie the salaries of all public employees to the take-home pay of the state’s private workforce. You know, the taxpayers – whose average total compensation works out to $83,419 while government employees break the six-figure mark with $100,217.

According to GoLocalProv , “Ocean State public sector employees enjoy compensation levels that are 26.5% higher than their private sector counterparts,” which is “41% higher than the New England average and 78% higher than the national norm.” On average, Rhode Island’s government employees “receive 58% more in 'benefits' than private work[ers].”

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This new data kind of blows holes in all that “we take less pay in exchange for a pension down the road” nonsense, most often argued by the state’s most delusional public union apologists.

The basic proposal at hand would be this: No government worker in the State of Rhode Island shall collect a salary greater than the average private sector salary (save a few exceptions).

Remember Stephen Iannazzi, the 26 year-old without a college degree, who landed a $90,000 job (not including benefits) as a Senate staffer, who is also the son of Local 1033’s business manager Donald Iannazzi – who just happened to have been employing the 30 year-old son of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Ruggerio at the time? Remember him? Yeah, well, under this proposal, there would be no more of that.

Public Unions vs. Private Unions

It has long been pointed out and lamented by Ocean State conservatives that, election after election, the state’s public labor force is rounded up by union organizers and ushered to the polls, where they vote for politicians who promise to do the bidding of organized labor. Everything is precisely as conservative columnist George Will describes it: “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.”

These political dynamics have proven to be so caustic to the tax base that revoking the voting rights of government employees is often seriously considered. After all, who finds it prudent to enable thousands of government workers to form a voting bloc that is able to continuously vote for itself perks and paychecks from the taxpayers?

The urge to strip public workers of their voting rights can intensify whenever one observes the economic cluelessness of Rhode Island’s labor religionists. President of Council 94 Michael Downey said last year, “I don't think I'm alone in failing to make the connection between public-employee unions and the fact that our state has…the worst climate for business in the U.S.”

Why union activists fail to understand that every public employee is also a public expense is anybody’s guess. As I’ve written before on the pages of GoLocalProv, the stronger the government unions, the more expensive they become for taxpayers; the higher the taxes, the weaker the business environment; and a weak business climate leads to a lowering of wages, a loss of jobs, and the depletion of the middle class. It’s that simple.

The fact that Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of public sector unionization is directly linked to the reality expressed by Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity: “Our state’s private sector has such shockingly low compensation levels…This is yet another clear indication of how public policy in the Ocean State has favored certain groups while severely harming our economy and our business sector.”

It was reported during the summer of 2011 that in Rhode Island the “unemployment rate across the building trades [was] running between 25 and 40 percent.” According to secretary-treasurer of the RI Building and Construction Trades Council Scott Duhamel, this was something that was “unheard of” in the summer, when the unemployment rate is typically between 5 and 10 percent.

A Pro-Worker Reform

Personally, I can’t wait for the rumble that ensues when private union workers realize that their “brothers in arms” in the public sector have been taking them for a ride. I can imagine, in that scenario, private laborers actually leading the charge to have public and private salaries tied together, an initiative that would serve to wake public employees from their slumber, and from the brainwashing they have undergone at the hands of their union leaders; a healthy reform that would finally offer public employees an incentive to partner with the private sector, rather than treat it like their own personal piggy-bank – making the government a servant of the people, rather than their master.

Perhaps most importantly, forcing government employees to be more cognizant of the health of the private economy would offer them a reason to ensure that their pensions are being properly funded, so that taxpayers aren’t forced to, once again, pick up the slack in the future. A simple incentive for them to guard against unfunded pension liabilities – where much of the state’s current problem lies.

The objection from union-Democrats will be, of course, that when it comes to something like the teaching profession, that requires advanced degrees, lower salaries would result in a diminishment of qualified teachers (as if the state’s education system – after decades of union control – could get any more abysmal). But we should remember that when 75 Central Falls teachers were fired in 2010 for failing to comply with new work orders, “roughly 800 applications” came pouring in.

Besides, what, is $83,419 not enough money for a social studies teacher all of a sudden? I’d like to see Larry Purtill make that argument to the public.

Republicans should put this reform on the table. Union-Democrats won’t be able to respond with their disingenuous attacks, calling those who back this proposal “anti-worker.” After all, the plan aims to protect and enhance the salaries of the majority of workers who struggle with the turbulence of the free market every day.

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


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