One Workforce for the Price of Two

Providence real estate agent Mark Van Noppen notes the numerical consequence of one aspect of the city’s labor practices:

Not a bad gig: Become a Providence firefighter at age 20, work the 23 years required to collect a pension and retire at 43. But Providence taxpayers — its property owners — have to pay a pension to that retired 43-year-old for at least 20 years more than they should. There are 2,905 retirees in the system. City councilors say that there about 250 firefighters waiting only for the full passage of their contract before retiring.
The city now pays for more than two health-insurance plans for every full-time permanent worker still on the job. Try running a business with that anchor round your neck!

He closes by noting that local politicians appear willing to let this train run the state right off a cliff, rather than muster the will to make dramatic corrections. As I’ve long been arguing, the gravy coalition may have so strong a grip on the levers of power that its constituencies simply outnumber those who live and die by the economic health of the state, creating the self-reinforcing conclusion that those who wish to strive and thrive do best just to leave.
In that way, public discussion of what reforms would be reasonable wallows in the shallows of “don’t touch mine.” Why, for example, shouldn’t it be the case that pensions and retiree healthcare starts at a certain age no matter the year that an employee transitions out of his or her job? The fact that firefighting, for example, takes its toll on the mind and the body shouldn’t mean second careers must be fully underwritten for those who’ve put in their time with public service. Go on and enter that new phase of life, but you’ll still have to wait until a minimum age before you’re considered “retired” for pension and public healthcare purposes.
Even to make such suggestions is considered a hostile attack, and too few Rhode Islanders will dare to come to their defense for reforms ever to be seriously entertained, even, ironically, if those expecting the fantastic deals will ultimately see them undermined by their own weight.

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Rasputin@hotmail.com
Rasputin@hotmail.com
11 years ago

Justin,
You’re correct. It begs the question: what are we still doing in this cess pool?

michael
michael
11 years ago

I was actually reading his commentary with an open mind until this:
“Except for police and fire, which remain bloated with carefully engineered overtime, city departments are as under-resourced as any sweatshop. Guess where all the money that should be spent on the department’s work goes?”
Then I realized it was just one man’s opinion, and a bitter man at that.
And “gravy coalition” is a cynical, bitter term as well. Few people are hired as firefighters at twenty. It’s a hard job to get, and it takes a lot of time, and a lot of failure before scoring high enough on the list to be considered. The average age of hire in Providence is twenty-eight, higher if you factor out the minority hires that generally get hired on their first try. Most firefighters work 25-30 years before retiring in their early to mid fifties, not because they want to, rather because the realization that the job has taken its toll hits you like a brick. There is little room for “desk work.” Most firefighters stay on the truck, working the fires and rescues. And there are plenty of those, you just never hear about them.
A second career at fifty starts at the bottom. When you spend twenty or thirty years doing a job that has no market value once you retire there aren’t many places to go.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Michael’s objection is, as usual, pure BS. There is indeed a coalition of union members working the system to maximize overtime and benefits. You would have to be blind and deaf not to see it rampant in nearly every department.
A second career does not start at the bottom for most of these retirees. They frequently get high-ranking jobs in other departments, or corporate risk-management jobs, or jobs with industry suppliers to the public safety sector.
Michael would like us to believe that every public-safety union member is as heroic and altruistic as he is. But that simply is not true.

michael
michael
11 years ago

Now, Bob, was that necessary? Not everybody has such a low opinion of their fellow man. I work with 430 people. Believe me or not, I honestly don’t care, but there is no overtime scam. There is minimum manning which ensures the same number of firefighters or police are working every shift. In Providence it’s 92, I think. No scam, no BS, just constancy which is essential for crew safety.
When the city hires more firefighters there will be no more overtime. My first ten years on the job I think I worked a total of five OT shifts.

michael
michael
11 years ago

Oh, and I am the least altruistic person on earth.

John
John
11 years ago

The end game in RI is inevitable and quite simple, really. There are four players at the table: taxpayers, public sector employees, the poverty/social program industry (“clients” and those who “serve” them, including the not-for-profits who survive via payments from government), and investors in bonds issued by RI governments. Clearly, not everyone has the same interest. And some alliances are clear: the public sector employees have, since private sector union membership declined in RI, been in an uneasy partnership with the poverty industry to extract as much as possible from the taxpayers to keep the gravy train heading down the tracks.
But what happens when they can’t soak the taxpayers any longer? My guess is that they’ll try to force some type of “restructuring” (an effective default) onto the bondholders, to buy themselves a few more miles of track.
Then it gets really interesting, as, with income, property, and sales taxpayers unable and/or unwilling to pay more (or with fewer of them to be found within RI’s borders), we will get to see the final showdown between the public sector unions and the poverty industry. Personally, I can’t wait to hear what the likes of Bob Walsh and other “progressive” union leaders have to say as their “allies” in the poverty industry spare no effort to throw them under the bus.
But that’s what lies ahead, and its no use pretending that isn’t the case.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

43?
That is new hires only. They retire at 40 with their “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” pensions, lifetime COLA’s, free health care, etc.
What, carpenters don’t get that deal?
LOL
Coalition of the greedy-public “workers”, cronies, illegal aliens and welfare leeches. All aided and abetted by the Millionaire Marxists-the “progressives”, the toilet scum like Jerzyk, Segal, Handy, De Ramel, etc.

michael
michael
11 years ago

I’ve been a Providence Firefighter for 19 years. I’m 48. I don’t know a single person who retired at 40 from this job. Not one.
The truth is the truth, but don’t let that get in the way of a good rant.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Speaking of truth, Michael, don’t you see a friction between your claims that firefighter retirees start at the bottom and the fact that you’re coming up on a retirement in your early 50s as a business owner?
I don’t fault you in the least for that, but I’m sure you can see how it helps your business compete that its owner has a full-time salary as a pension and continuing public healthcare benefits. Business owners who start at the bottom have to generate traffic or starve.

michael
michael
11 years ago

If I had started my business in my twenties I wouldn’t need the pension. I’d most likely be far better off that way. But who knows, I may have failed. I have no regrets, I try to take things one day at a time.
I wouldn’t call being fifty and starting a business much of an advantage. People in the private sector retire with their savings and severance packages do exactly what I’m doing. I may have beat them by five or ten years, but in the big scheme of things, does it really matter? Some study somewhere claims that firefighters live ten fewer years than non firefighters. After doing this for twenty years, I’m inclined to believe it.
In my opinion, one that I understand isn’t shared by most, I’ve earned my healthcare benefits and then some. That is definitely an advantage, no doubt about it. But I won’t be surprised when The Affordable Healthcare Act recently signed into law by the President and Congress puts everybody back to equal,health insurance wise, whether we like it or not.
Then, there will be no advantage at all.

michael
michael
11 years ago

I missed the part about the full time pension. It’s not a full time pension. It is half of my base salary. Right now that is about 30,000 a year. Taxed. Not a bad salary for somebody in their twenties, but I passed that a long time ago.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

I was merely noting that your earlier statement was poorly conceived.
As for what’s full time, well, I happen to know people who live their entire lives around $30k per year. Since RI’s median household income is in the forties and single-income homes remain relatively rare, folks making that much income clearly aren’t anomalies.
Guess you’d say they start and end at the bottom. Frankly, I think it plenty of money for somebody with grown children and a lifetime of preparation (let alone a working spouse) to live on. (Note that I’m not saying it should be a ceiling, just that it’s enough money to live a decent life.)

michael
michael
11 years ago

If I wanted to live my life around 30k I would have done so. And I still haven’t seen a firefighter retire at 40 (except for a few legitimate disabilities) during my nineteen years. And the truth is still the truth.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

And I still haven’t seen a firefighter retire at 40 (except for a few legitimate disabilities) during my nineteen years. And the truth is still the truth.
Try Todd Brien, the perennial unsuccessful progressive candidate for Woonsockett mayor:
Started at 19
Retired at 39.
Then there’s the “disability” pensions like Gianquitti, Cipriano and the Mr. Rhode Island weightlifter from Johnston. Many of them in their 20’s-all legitimate of course!
If cops and fireman all were honorable like you AND were required to work till 55-like most of the country does-AND were hired on appropriate staffing per capita ratios none of us would have a problem with the pension system.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Tommy Cranston & BobN, You guys are just ranting foolishness… ” Michael’s objection is, as usual, pure BS. There is indeed a coalition of union members working the system to maximize overtime and benefits. You would have to be blind and deaf not to see it rampant in nearly every department. ” ” 43? That is new hires only. They retire at 40 with their “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” pensions, lifetime COLA’s, free health care, etc. What, carpenters don’t get that deal? LOL Coalition of the greedy-public “workers”, cronies, illegal aliens and welfare leeches. All aided and abetted by the Millionaire Marxists-the “progressives”, the toilet scum like Jerzyk, Segal, Handy, De Ramel, etc. ” As Michael stated…there are very few eligible for retirement at 40…and of those very few almost all continue to work into their mid fifties. You guys take the “minimum” and make statements that this is the norm. Ridiculous. As for me, I’m 55. Next week will be my 30th anniversary of joining the department. My body, my lungs and my spirit is almost completely shot. I’ve been working around the yard today to secure evrything for the weather tomorrow and I’m beat. But…tomorrow I’ll be on the truck for at least 34 hours straight to assist those Providence residents and visitors who are in peril…leaving my wife home alone to cope with everything on her own. I would much rather stay here with her through the storm but my “duty” (which I take very seriously) dictates that I be in work. I will retire (God willing) at 58. I am given no “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” pension. I’ve earned everything that I will recieeve…and I guarantee that I’ll never make more in retirement than when I was working. That is something that… Read more »

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Tommy Cranston & BobN, You guys are just ranting foolishness… ” Michael’s objection is, as usual, pure BS. There is indeed a coalition of union members working the system to maximize overtime and benefits. You would have to be blind and deaf not to see it rampant in nearly every department. ” ” 43? That is new hires only. They retire at 40 with their “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” pensions, lifetime COLA’s, free health care, etc. What, carpenters don’t get that deal? LOL Coalition of the greedy-public “workers”, cronies, illegal aliens and welfare leeches. All aided and abetted by the Millionaire Marxists-the “progressives”, the toilet scum like Jerzyk, Segal, Handy, De Ramel, etc. ” As Michael stated…there are very few eligible for retirement at 40…and of those very few almost all continue to work into their mid fifties. You guys take the “minimum” and make statements that this is the norm. Ridiculous. As for me, I’m 55. Next week will be my 30th anniversary of joining the department. My body, my lungs and my spirit is almost completely shot. I’ve been working around the yard today to secure evrything for the weather tomorrow and I’m beat. But…tomorrow I’ll be on the truck for at least 34 hours straight to assist those Providence residents and visitors who are in peril…leaving my wife home alone to cope with everything on her own. I would much rather stay here with her through the storm but my “duty” (which I take very seriously) dictates that I be in work. I will retire (God willing) at 58. I am given no “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” pension. I’ve earned everything that I will recieeve…and I guarantee that I’ll never make more in retirement than when I was working. That is something that… Read more »

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

Posted by Tom Kenney at September 2, 2010 3:29 PM
You make a couple of valid points.
If everyone was like you and worked till 55 without “becoming disabled” we wouldn’t be having this discussion because there would be NO crisis.
As you well know, though you won’t dare say, that is NOT the case for most cops and fireman. I know of half a dozen as I type this and none made it to 45. I gave you one name Todd Brien-in at 19, out at 39.
Unfortunately for your spin, the people of the state know of and are related to these people so we know the truth firsthand and your spin is FAR from the truth.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Mr. Cranston,
I WILL state “that is NOT the case with most cops and fireman (in Providence)”. I add that caveat because unlike you I never post about issues or circumstances that I have no personal knowledge. I guess that makes me a rare species of blogger.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
11 years ago

[[[[ Not a bad gig: Become a Providence firefighter at age 20, work the 23 years required to collect a pension and retire at 43. But Providence taxpayers — its property owners — have to pay a pension to that retired 43-year-old for at least 20 years more than they should. There are 2,905 retirees in the system. City councilors say that there about 250 firefighters waiting only for the full passage of their contract before retiring. ]]]] I’d replace that statement with the following: Who in his right mind would want this gig: Become a Providence Firefighter between ages 25-30 after spending years training, applying, taking tests and waiting for your spot on the list. Work 32 1/2 years to collect a decent pension at 58 to adequately support your family for the rest of your years. Years diminished by around 10 years compared to the national average due to job-related stress and exposures. The Providence taxpayers and residents (via rent to landlords) must pay me my pension for the next 20 or so years. Obviously this list of taxpayers doesn’t include all the tax-exempt institutions in the city. The same taxpayers and residents whom I protected and saved (their lives and property) while exposing myself to immediate serious harm or death and long term damage to body and organs on a regular basis. Go to http://www.local799.com and click on the link to “Cyanide Report” and read all about the cyanide exposure and multiple toxins and carcinogens we are exposed to on a regular basis. Read the committee’s recomendations…only one or two have been implemented. I am one of the 250 firefighters waiting for full passage of our pending agreement to retire. I’ll probably work for another 2 or 3 years (God willing), but I’m certainly ready to go.… Read more »

michael
michael
11 years ago

Hey Tom, I was out doing the boot thing on Friday, middle of South Providence. Renewed my faith in people and their appreciation for the job we do. It truly felt great to mingle with the real people, and see how they respond rather than the cyber punks.
Stay safe, Brother. And keep the faith!

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