Not to Be That Guy (Yet Again), But…
I certainly don’t want to raise opposition to men battling cancer, but I’m a little confused, and not entirely assuaged by this:
Providence Firefighters James Petersen Jr. and Jay Briddy have colon cancer, and Lt. Steven Schora has lymphoma. All three are out injured — Petersen since 2005, Briddy since 2004 and Schora since 1997. They are still paid their full salaries and benefits in anticipation that they’ll return to work. But their doctors have told them they aren’t well enough.
Firefighters can retire after 20 years with a pension equaling 50 percent of salary. An accidental-disability pension — which is what the union wants for firefighters with cancer — equals two-thirds of salary, tax-free, with full benefits. Disabled firefighters can also take back all the money they’ve contributed to the pension system, with interest.
According to WebMD, while the causes of both colon cancer and lymphoma remain mysterious, environmental hazards are still considered likely suspects, and if firefighters are exposed to such hazards, the presumption ought to be in their favor. But for all of the noise, I’m not clear on the specifics of the current controversy.
Mr. Schora, for instance, appears to have been collecting full pay and benefits for ten years while on the injured list. Presumably, even if he never makes it back to work, after 20 years, he can retire with the 50% pension. Is the union saying that, in that case, he ought to get the two-thirds pension (etc.), or would he be able to retire sooner because of disability? If he beats the cancer before retirement; does he go back to the regular pension, or would his designation be clinched? Do all other cities offer that deal, or are there a handful that the guys in Providence would like to emulate?
I don’t wish to be unduly contentious, but the union ought to consider other people’s perspective. As somebody who periodically comes into contact with asbestos, for example, there’s a chance that I could contract job-related colon cancer. If that were to happen, I’d be on my own.
Now, I’m not arguing that everybody ought to be in my undesirable circumstances, but part of the reason I’m in them is the horrible absence of opportunity in this state, and part of the reason for that absence is the government and public sector’s unsustainable generosity. That being the case, I guess I’m just not as ready to submit to the tone du jour and be relieved that the union didn’t actually intend to threaten the disaster drill. Starting from my personal baseline of zero pension and zero concessions should I find myself battling cancer, I’m left with the question of why decades of full pay and a 50% pension isn’t enough for people who are surviving their own battles. I also wonder whether improved tracking of hazardous incidents that may result in disease couldn’t be put forward as a compromise governing future cases.