Even the Crossing Guards Get It

The ProJo’s Edward Achorn takes notice of the ongoing Warwick Crossing Guard debate and thinks he detects a sea change:

[H]ere’s some good news for Rhode Island: A slumbering giant, the great silent majority, may be awakening at long last to the crisis this state is facing.
The evidence?
Last week, the Warwick City Council voted unanimously — 9 to 0 — to reject a contract Mayor Scott Avedisian negotiated that would give lifetime family health-insurance benefits to retired one-hour-a-day school crossing guards.
When was the last time you heard of a municipal board in Rhode Island, a state where public-employee unions have virtually dictated public policy, rejecting a negotiated contract — and unanimously, at that?
The vote was a stinging rebuke of the generally well-liked and well-respected Republican mayor. It happened for one reason: Citizens are finally paying attention, and speaking out about what they perceive to be outrageously generous benefits for special interests on the backs of taxpayers.
By midweek, the city had notified Michael Molloy, president of NESCTC Security Agency, which runs the crossing-guards program in Cranston, that Warwick will be seeking bids for privatizing the program.
“This has been an awakening of the public, and a political renaissance in this city,” said Mr. Molloy. He was struck, during recent public meetings, by how passionately citizens felt about the issue.
“The mood has changed,” said Robert Cushman, a City Council member who has relentlessly raised questions about costly benefits for crossing guards.
“Most politicians will always listen to the people who make the loudest noise. If the largest group starts making the most noise instead of the small groups, things are going to change,” he said.

Along with a story about the Council’s decision in this past Friday’s Warwick Beacon, was a picture of 84 year old crossing guard Bill Thomas, with the following caption:

Bill Thomas, 84, who says he became a crossing guard 10 years ago to stay active, crosses a student near Greene School Wednesday morning. Thomas believes dropping health coverage for crossing guards would reduce costs and address taxpayer concerns. But, he says, eliminating the guards would be a mistake.

I think we can all agree with Mr. Thomas that dropping health care (and retirement pay) for these part-time employees makes fiscal sense. And no one is saying we should drop the crossing guards, per se, just that we don’t need to compensate them so extravagantly (if at all).

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Anthony
Anthony
13 years ago

Did anyone else find it ironic that the head of the company that won the Cranston crossing guard contract (and maybe now the Warwick contract?) is a former union negotiator?

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

Anthony,
I don’t know about ironic, but certainly he was in a position to understand how the “market” had left a gaping hole for a better, more affordable option for consumers. I don’t think his is any different than anybody who starts a business with the belief that consumers are being ill served by the current providers.
Isn’t that what capitalism and free markets are all about, coming up with a better mousetrap?
Furthermore, is it any wonder that the teachers unions are so violently opposed to anything to do with competition and free markets like vouchers?
Whatever the lame excuses coming out of Walsh and Crowleys’ yaps are, we all know, just like they do, the truth is they’ll get their butts kicked in the free marketplace. Which, once again, is why unions need to be outlawed as it applies to public employees since the only purpose they serve is to screw the taxpayers.
Can you imagine if the City of Cranston was able to put out for bid the fire department contract? They could cut the budget for that service by 50%, AND provide far better service.
It is criminal that the taxpayers are held hostage by these scam artists called unions.

rhody
rhody
13 years ago

There’s never been a better time to be a union negotiator. If you’re good at that job, companies will pay you twice what the union can afford to pay you (thought the union rolled you on the last contract? Make sure you get that guy on your side next time).
Example: Just before my time at my old company, one of the rank and file did the negotiating, and got the union its best contraact ever. Guess who got the next management job that opened up?

michael
13 years ago

Crossing guards are political patronage jobs. Their “union” works side by side with the polititians. People are appointed to the position according to political drag, not merit. Their contracts have always been fixed, they have nothing in common with other unions. Using them as a rallying cry against public sector unions is disengenuous and a smokescreen used by “civic-minded reformers.” Our leaders continue to pull the wool over our eyes, and we let them do it with our self-rightous indignation leading the way. Unions are NOT the enemy.

Shawn
Shawn
13 years ago

michael,
Teachers unions fight reform like rabid dogs. They hate the concept of vouchers, not because they think they won’t work, but because they know they will works.
The firefighters union in Cranston fought like rabid dogs the well documented audit that Cranston has too many firefighters and a budget way out of line for a city it’s size. They couldn’t rebut the findings because they knew they were true, so they attacked the messenger.
Quite clearly, michael, the unions are ABSOLUTELY the problem!
And the big problem with them is that they are not looking out for the taxpayers, but for the members. It is criminal that unions are allowed to insert their own well being between the city and the well being of the citizens. Unions should be illegal in the public sector. They have been allowed to do what is, in fact, illegal in the private sector. They have been allowed to establish monopolies. Do you really think that the taxpayers of Cranston would have to pay over $100,000 per firefighter if the contract went out to bid and a private company could bid the job? They can’t because of that socialist NLRB. Recall there were about 1200 applications for a handful of firefighter jobs in Providence not long ago. As usual, politics played a role in those selected.
Once again michael, take off the blinders – unions are THE major obstacle to efficient services in the public sector. Without unions, cities and towns are far better off.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

On the crossing guards, as with illegals, Baby Mama’s and so many other issues, 80% of the people are on one side and the “progressives” are on the other.
The “game” in this state is runnibg credible candidates who can tell the people which side of the divide their local officeholder stands on.

Monique
13 years ago

Setting aside the impact of unions, public and private, on fiscal matters, “Rescuing Providence” Michael is 100% correct. Crossing guards and their ludicrous compensation in this state are not a creation or perpetuation of unions. They are solely the result of political patronage pigginess.
$127/hour including bennies. You’re kidding, right?
Thank you again to Steve Laffey, Bob Cushman and the Warwick TC for ending the madness in their respective cities.

EMT
EMT
13 years ago

“The firefighters union in Cranston fought like rabid dogs the well documented audit that Cranston has too many firefighters and a budget way out of line for a city it’s size. They couldn’t rebut the findings because they knew they were true, so they attacked the messenger.”
Aww jeez, are we gonna go through THIS crap again?

Shawn
Shawn
13 years ago

Monique,
For one, you seem to lump public and private unions into one group and that is just wrong. I have no problem with private unions from the standpoint that if they overreach, the companies go out of business or move away.
Public unions are allowed to hold a gun to our heads by threatedning to go on strike, work to rule, until some coward poltician comes along trolling for votes and gives them what they want. The municipalities cannot move away or go bankrupt. The unions constantly overreach and get away with it. You need to understand this huge difference.
Secondly, michael’s comment about the crossing guards union: “Their “union” works side by side with the polititians. People are appointed to the position according to political drag…” is ludicrous at best. He is suggesting that the firefighter and police unions don’t suck up to the politicians? They are only outdone in their sucking up by the teachers unions, and not by much.
His comment is merely an attempt to deceive.

michael
13 years ago

There are no private fire departments to bid the Cranston job, or any job for that matter. Government does serve a purpose, public safety being the most important. Sometimes the lowest bidder is not the best thing. As for 1200 applicants for the FD job in Providence, they were just that, applicants. Half didn’t show up for the test, of the half that did, half didn’t pass. You can’t have an effective fire department without qualified personell. Like it or not, that costs money.

Monique
13 years ago

Shawn, my comment was phrased in the interest of succinctness. I agree there is a major difference between public and private unions.
As an aside, I would also comment that the biggest problem with the current condition of this state is not public unions (though the detrimental effects of some, such as the teachers unions, are marked) but the selfish actions of elected officials who have abused their official power by placing the demands of public sector unions above the good of the state and ahead of the best interest of hundreds of thousands of taxpaying constituents and the CHILDREN in our school systems.
And spare us the “we need their support to stay in office” line. That’s a “we had to destroy the village to save our political career” line of reasoning. It is also much too reminiscent of Geraldine’s excuse.
In the area of crossing guards, I stick to the concept that it is a political patronage job. Exhibit A is the experience of Steve Laffey. He became aware of the crossing guard situation because in his first week as Mayor of Cranston, people began quietly coming to him asking if they or their spouse could have or hold on to a crossing guard job.
Why did they come to him? While he had not crossed paths with any unions at that point, as a Republican, he would probably not be viewed as a guy with an “in” to a union position. Far more likely that people were attempting to use a well-established political route to obtain a valued position with the city.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

michael,
In the end, you had 300 qualified, people to take those 12 jobs. That is more than 25 TIMES the needed number. Still proving my point that if you offered the jobs for less cost to the taxpayers, you would have plenty of willing takers.
Nobody is disputing the fact that government serves a purpose and public safety is one of them. The dispute has to do with a group that has inserted itself into the mix, masquerading as stewards for the public good, all the while taking more than their fair share, all in the name of “public safety”. In this sense, they serve to harm the citizenry by forcing them to pay more for less. If the pay for the job was fair, and nobody is denying they should have a decent wage, the taxpayers could have more working to protect them. That is exactly what unions do to a city in RI
As to this comment “you can’t have an effective fire department without qualified personell” it seems to happen in Cranston where you have drug dealers, child pornographers and firefighters smoking pot in an elementary school bathroom while school is in session. And the genius’ in that union fought to keep every one of them.
Real public safety minded, huh, michael?

michael
13 years ago

300 qualified candidates for fifty openings is the truth, in case you are interested.
People like Mike Capelli are the exact reason unions are necessary, public and private. I could go on but his words speak for themselves.

EMT
EMT
13 years ago

“In the end, you had 300 qualified, people to take those 12 jobs. That is more than 25 TIMES the needed number. Still proving my point that if you offered the jobs for less cost to the taxpayers, you would have plenty of willing takers.”
Tell us Mr. Capelli, just how much should someone make who’s willing to run into a building that you’re running out of in your underwear?
How many applicants should there be? Should they just take the first 25 applicants through the door, or do you think maybe a little selection is in order for those entrusted with our lives?
“it seems to happen in Cranston where you have drug dealers, child pornographers and firefighters smoking pot in an elementary school bathroom while school is in session. And the genius’ in that union fought to keep every one of them.
Real public safety minded, huh, michael?”
I’ll have to ask you to back up the drug dealers and child porn accusation. I’m willing to accept that it may have been before my time, but either way I’d like to see some documentation of it.
As for the pot-smoker, I didn’t realize schools were open during elections- since the firefighter in question was an election monitor.
As for defending them (if there is a them), the union is required to do so by their contract. The firefighters in question could sue the union- and win- if they went undefended.

Andrew
13 years ago

1. Michael has to be one of the least deceptive people who’s ever put his name to a blog-comment.
2. In larger terms, hearing that there were 300 qualified people for 50 openings makes me glad to live in a society where an ethos of braving danger to help others still exists.
3. There is a problem at the intersection of unions & government. Government has a bigger problem unmaking its mistakes than do most other institutions in the society. (Classic example: for how many decades did people realize that the marriage penalty on income taxes was crazy, before it got changed?) Unions can exacerbate this tendency, with their built-in reluctance against giving anything back — Michael’s point about not lumping crossing guards in with other unions aside, the crossing guard union’s position is less about what makes sense going forward, more about protecting what’s been given out in the past, even if what was done in the past isn’t sustainable.
But you are never going to convince union members that the sustainability problems that our generation has inherited are real by lashing out at every aspect of union existence.
4. I am in favor of market-oriented solutions on most issues (I’m for school choice, personal choice in social security, consumer driven healthcare, etc.), but I don’t see how letting cities and towns bid-out entire fire department contracts would solve anything here. You’d just move the problems to a grander scale. Can you imagine, for example, letting some Stephen Alves-type politician have control over the bidding process for an entire fire department? I’d rather just wear asbestos underwear for the rest of my life.

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

“Tell us Mr. Capelli, just how much should someone make who’s willing to run into a building that you’re running out of in your underwear?”
I used to do it for free. It’s called a ‘volunteer’ force and it’s quite effective. I wouldn’t call for it in a metro area but everywhere else it seems to work fine.

EMT
EMT
13 years ago

“I used to do it for free. It’s called a ‘volunteer’ force and it’s quite effective. I wouldn’t call for it in a metro area but everywhere else it seems to work fine.”
Depends on what you consider an acceptable response time.

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

In a semi-rural area it tended to be under ten minutes from the time the call came in to the time the first hose was charged. We had sub-stations throughout the district with a pumper-tanker and an ‘on-call’ crew who knew it was ‘their night’ to man the truck if the call came in. The entire department could usually be brought to bear on a structure inside of 15 minutes.
Surprisingly effective.

michael
13 years ago

Something like 90% of the country is protected by volunteer fire companies. Those organizations are the heart of their communities. I just visited Ellington, Connecticut and had a chance to meet Chief Varney, Firehouse Magazine’s Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year and some of his people. Dedicated, civic minded, proffessional in every way firefighters. They are a proud, effective bunch, much like the paid, proffessional firefighters the rest of the country employs.
There is no way a volunteer system could work in bigger cities. Not enough volunteers to handle the call volume. You can’t put just anybody on a front-line rescue or fire apparatus. I’m sure Greg will agree, even the volunteers have to weed people out who don’t have the aptitude to do the job. It is a better paying job than a lot of vocations with great benefits, thus enabling cities to attract the best people to protect their citizens.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

Anyone incapable of realizing that the bizzare local “retire at 41 with full pension, COLA’s and health care for life” for police and fire is a major part of the bankruptcy of this state-far more than the Baby Mama scam- is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

EMT
EMT
13 years ago

“Something like 90% of the country is protected by volunteer fire companies.”
Land area, close. Population, no. In fact, it’s more like 80% of US residents are covered by paid departments.

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

“There is no way a volunteer system could work in bigger cities. Not enough volunteers to handle the call volume. You can’t put just anybody on a front-line rescue or fire apparatus. I’m sure Greg will agree, even the volunteers have to weed people out who don’t have the aptitude to do the job.”
And this is where you and I will ALWAYS agree. There is some point where an area is too big, too populated, or has too many tall buildings to be able to effectively manage the emergency services with volunteers. I’m a firm believer that fire and police should be well compensated because they do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. I don’t even have a problem giving them full retirement and lifetime healthcare. But the fire-eaters are miles and miles away from Betty in A/P at the DCYF who ‘works’ 15 of the 30 hours she’s in the office a week.

michael
13 years ago

“Something like 90% of the country is protected by volunteer fire companies.”
Land area, close. Population, no. In fact, it’s more like 80% of US residents are covered by paid departments.
Thanks for clarifying, EMT. This topic always gets out of hand.
Police and fire are good, middle class jobs with better than average incentives as compensation for the job related risks. Thanks Greg, for pointing that out. I think some people think too much about how the “other guy” has a better deal.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

EMT,
1) “As for the pot-smoker, I didn’t realize schools were open during elections- since the firefighter in question was an election monitor.”
There is obviously a lot you don’t know. School was definitely in session when the State Police caught the fireman smoking pot in the bathroom.
2) “I’ll have to ask you to back up the drug dealers and child porn accusation. I’m willing to accept that it may have been before my time, but either way I’d like to see some documentation of it.”
Save me the trouble. Just ask Valetta the next time you’re getting talking points like this – “just how much should someone make who’s willing to run into a building that you’re running out of in your underwear?”
My answer to that question is the pay should reflect the market, which is simply that amount you have to pay to attract competent individuals to perform a given service.
If you think you are underpaid – then quit. But you don’t, do you? As a matter of fact, I’ve never heard a bunch of whiners complain so much about all the risks they take, but NEVER quit their jobs because of it. You know you will NEVER get a job with the pay and benefits you have, so save your sanctimonious whining. If you didn’t understand the risks of the job going in, well, that just says more about you than me.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

As a matter of fact, I’ve never heard a bunch of whiners complain so much about all the risks they take, but NEVER quit their jobs because of it
XXX
Hah, Hah. Amen to that. The so called conservatives need to wake and stop reflexively genuflecting to the “retire at 41” police and fire scam. In raw dollars this completely dwarves the Baby Mama scam.

EMT
EMT
13 years ago

Look before you leap, Mr. Capelli- I never said I’m a a union firefighter, because I’m not. I don’t have the pay and benefits that you’re so jealous and insecure about.

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

As a Constitutionalist and libertarian I swear that firefighters and police HAVE to be separated from this argument against public sector unions.
The police and fire unions still serve a valuable function in having a voice for the safety of men and women who put themselves eleven feet out on a ten foot board every single day of their careers. Are some of their benefits ‘excessive’? It’s a discussion truly worth having. But not today. This will be the rope they use to let you hang yourselves.
Separate them. Openly proclaim everywhere that you want to reform the public sector BUT WE DON’T WANT TO TOUCH THE FIRE AND POLICE. Words like ‘Essential Services’ and ‘HEROES’ and ‘Courageous’ when combined with images of crippled firefighters who ‘wouldn’t know where my family of six would be today if it weren’t for the union and the benefits they protect’ on the cover of the ProJo for weeks at a time will KILL you.
I warned you. I know you monkeys at the RIGOP read this blog. You have no idea how to play this game and until you morons bring in a James Carville-level strategist who understands these BASIC tenets of Combat Politics you’re going to keep losing.

Monique
13 years ago

“I know you monkeys at the RIGOP”
WHEEE!! Way to persuade someone, Greg.

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

I know. I know. I just insulted monkeys across the globe.

Mike
Mike
13 years ago

Police, fire, teachers, judges, cooks helpers and the rest. They are all too overstaffed, receive too many benefits and too generous pensions. So called conservatives need to stop drooling reflexively when they see a uniform or the glint of a badge.
Work till 55 like the rest of the cops and firemen in America you corrupt hacks!

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

I guess we ‘so-called’ should defer to you ‘real’ conservatives. God knows you’ve got a great track record of winning and holding seats of power in this state.
…oh wait…

michael
13 years ago

“Police, fire, teachers, judges, cooks helpers and the rest. They are all too overstaffed, receive too many benefits and too generous pensions. So called conservatives need to stop drooling reflexively when they see a uniform or the glint of a badge.
Work till 55 like the rest of the cops and firemen in America you corrupt hacks!”
Reason # 1 I remain a conservative Independant, lack of understanding, respect and nastiness I see and hear from a lot of Republicans. With voices like that, the party will never get a foothold here. It’s a shame the loudmouths get all the attention, there are a lot of like minded individuals that would join the Republican party but don’t wish to allign themselves with people like that.

Andrew
13 years ago

I frequently criticize liberals for confusing the idea of “fiscal conservatism” with the idea that taxes should be raised high enough to pay for unlimited government spending.
There’s a complementary admonition for the other side of the political spectrum; “Fiscal conservatism” is more than simply seeking the reduction of government spending, no matter the consequences.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Reason # 1 I remain a conservative Independant, lack of understanding, respect and nastiness I see and hear from a lot of Republicans.

Sorry, but: baloney. There’s just as much nastiness across the board: among Democrats, among independents, etc. And there’s been more than enough go-along-to-get-along passiveness in the RIGOP to open the way for “moderates.”
Our culture, especially in this region and state, has made Republican a dirty word, so folks of your bent rationalize an excuse not to join the party and dilute the tendencies that they decry.
Relatedly, I’m curious, with respect to Greg’s insightful comment about not putting firefighters and police on the anti-union poster, why nobody ever asks why the firefighters and police don’t do their part to foster the separation. Much as I like Michael, I have seen him conflate public sector unions. In general, it’s seemed like the various unions have been content to play the game together.
Gotta say, while I’m at it, that, as much as I agree that cities ought to compensate F&P employees sufficiently that they never want for applications when there are openings, 300 for 25 (or even 50) slots looks like clear evidence that the compensation could be scaled back some.

michael
13 years ago

I believe I said reason # 1.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

I know. I quoted you.

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

Added bonus to my suggestion. By aligning on the side of the fire and police unions you triangulate against Cicilline’s failure to negotiate in good faith with the Providence FD and use it as a wedge issue during his run.

EMT
EMT
13 years ago

“300 for 25 (or even 50) slots looks like clear evidence that the compensation could be scaled back some.”
Considering that most Providence firefighters are making CONSIDERABLY less than their counterparts in cities and towns who are doing a fraction of PFD’s run totals, I consider that idea somewhat ridiculous.
Find a Providence Captain with 20 years in and ask him what he makes.
Then go find a Warwick rookie who probably hasn’t even seen a real fire yet, and whose department is making less than half the runs Providence does, and ask him what he makes.
Then come back and tell me that Providence should be “scaling back” their compensation.

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