Speaking Plainly from the Ivory Tower

William Jacobson is an interesting, surely rare, creature: A Rhode Islander and Cornell law professor, and apparently a conservative, unafraid to declare the obvious:

Union pensions for state employees are the single biggest problem, as a 2006 study showed. For decades, policies allowed state union employees to retire on full pensions with cost of living adjustments after 30 years regardless of age, based on a formula from the last three years of work. This system has saddled the state with ever-increasing payments with a shrinking work force paying into the system.
By way of example, a unionized public employee who started working for the state out of college, say age 23, could retire at age 53 on a full pension for life, and could increase the amount of the pension by working overtime in the last three years. Other perks, such as getting retirement “credits” for taking classes, or buying credits, allowed employees to game the system. After “retirement” the state employee could simply get another job while collecting a state pension. It is likely that this person would spend almost as much of his or her life on a state pension as working for the state.
Such a system was great for the individual employee, and made state employment a coveted goal. Handing out state jobs was an important means of political patronage, mostly for the Democrats who control the state legislature. The system, however, was not sustainable. Attempts to change the system were opposed by the unions, which fought tooth-and-nail, with the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature siding with the unions.
Is it union-bashing to point out that what is good for the unions may be destroying the state? Do the unions even know or care that they have created a house of cards which looks great to their members, but is on the verge of falling down? High taxes are a reflection, in part, of the need to fund these ever-increasing costs. This is an economic death-spiral which is picking up steam as it falls.

Another good one who got away — although I imagine Ithaca could make a man pine even for Rhode Island’s proximity to centrism.
ADDENDUM:
The professor emailed to correct me: He maintains a residence in Rhode Island, so he hasn’t truly gotten away.

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Frank
Frank
12 years ago

>> Do the unions even know or care that they have created a house of cards which looks great to their members, but is on the verge of falling down?
I think we all know the answer to this one. It’s not in the unions nature to care about anything but their members pay and benefits. Combine that with the union preference for seniority over merit and it’s easy to see why society would be much better off without them.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

The “Big Three” automakers have been in decline for years, primarily (though not entirely) because of the UAW.
Yet the UAW has not changed its ways.
The union bosses are politicians, and stay in office so long as they keep the largesse going to their rank and file, even as the rank and file shrinks (after all, the bosses only need a plurality of those who are left).
Better to have those who remain get above market pay and benefits, and call it “the union advantage,” and stay in office until the host eventually dies, than to lose the perks of office now even though it’ll keep the host alive, and the rank and files’ jobs intact.
So too with Rhode Island, both as to the unions and the Democrat politicians who are their lackeys. Rhode Island, like the “Big Three” has been in decline for years, and is now going terminal. But the union bosses and politicians would rather keep riding it down for a few more years than do what is necessary to turn RI around.
Despite the federal bailouts, GM and Chrysler, and likely Ford, are destined for Chapter 11.
So too will we will see Chapter 9 filings by municipalities around RI, and perhaps the state itself, charting uncharted waters of some sort of federal receivership.
It could be prevented, but our “elected leaders” won’t.

John
John
12 years ago

As is almost always true, I agree with Tom W’s conclusions on what the future holds in store for RI.
I would, however, also like to point out that, from the perspective of cognitive psychology, noting particularly shocking about the public sector unions’ inability to recognize the implications of current trends and policies. The idea that a job with the state or town was the ultimate prize, and that the benefits on offer guaranteed a secure and increasingly (on a relative basis) comfortable financial future lies at the very heart of the union psychological contract. It is the core of many people’s sense of security. Take it away, or indeed even acknowledge that it must be changed, and you let loose the most powerful of negative human emotions — the feeling of being betrayed. It therefore shouldn’t surprise anyone in the least that the unions and their membership are expending enormous energy trying to (a) deny the apparent implications of the changes they observe; and (b) simultaneously find a way to preserve their benefits, even as rising demands for increased safety net spending and declining tax revenues make this goal impossible to achieve.
Bob Walsh’s recent announcement of his intention to run for governor — on a promise to make things all right again — is but one more step down this path.
As a human being, you can’t help but feel for the rank and file, who have, in fact, been betrayed by leaders who for years have acted either out of malice or ignorance.
At AFSCME, the AFT, the NEA and other union HQs, the feeling of being increasingly cornered rats must be quite suffocating these days.

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

As a human being, you can’t help but feel for the rank and file, who have, in fact, been betrayed by leaders who for years have acted either out of malice or ignorance.
At AFSCME, the AFT, the NEA and other union HQs, the feeling of being increasingly cornered rats must be quite suffocating these days.
Posted by John at March 2, 2009 11:08 AM
Pity the union scum. They have killed the golden goose-now they whine that there are no more golden omelettes.

unions built this country
unions built this country
12 years ago

Instead of infecting Rhode Island, why don’t all of you anti-union scumbags go and move to some scab, right to work state down south. You’re a bunch of republican blowhards who have nothing better to do than sit at your country clubs and yacht clubs, and bash the unions. Get the hell out of Rhode Island, and take the rest our your fellow anti union maggots with you.

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