An Inevitable Course, Once on It

Iain Murray and Vincent Vernuccio remind us that public sector unionization is not an age-old practice:

Public-sector unionism is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to allow its public employees to unionize, and other states then followed suit. In 1962, Pres. John F. Kennedy issued an executive order allowing federal employees to join unions. Since then, union membership in the public sector has grown by leaps and bounds. In January of this year, for the first time, government-sector union membership was larger than union membership in the private sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 22.2 million government workers in the U.S. Almost 8 million of them are unionized, compared with only 7.4 million in the private sector. These unions are at the forefront of the movement for more expansive and expensive government. They use forced dues to lobby for greater pay and better benefits.

Of course, they’ve covered a lot of ground (and absorbed a lot of the economy) in that time. As the authors note, “government employees have, for years, cared more about their compensation than most taxpayers have.” They are among the biggest wielders of political money, and they aren’t likely to loosen their grip, nor politicians to force them to do so, unless an equivalent opposition arises:

… Politicians kowtow to government-employees’ unions, who in turn support their election campaigns. Once those pro-union candidates are elected, they can provide more pay and benefits to the unionized government employees. The union then collects dues from its members, which enables it to give more political support to the politicians, and the cycle goes on.

Those in such unions don’t like to hear it, but in the long-term, it is not proven (and reason exists to doubt) that their practices can coexist with a vibrant capitalistic and democratic society.

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michael
michael
10 years ago

People might care and get on your bandwagon if the “other side” weren’t filling their pockets at the expense of middle class workers. You and your readers, and a small percent of the population love to complain about “the unions,” (see East Providence election results)while the rest work hard, and see their bosses cut pay, cut benefits and working conditions, but in the case of larger companies see long term profits grow.
People are not blind. You can only fool some people, the truth is in the paycheck. Workers wages have stagnated, and their benefits have been crushed. Taking away from public sector unions to equal the carnage put upon private sector workers will accomplish nothing but an even greater divide between the haves and have nots.
As it stands there is an increasing divide between the have a little’s (public sector unions) and the have nothings. (private sector workers)
If things continue in this direction, we’ll have a country full of poor people being led to slavery by the elite. And I’ve got news for you, Justin. You and me ain’t the elite, and never will be

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

This is great. This outfit called the Competitive Enterprise Institute with right wing and Republican ties that under it’s name is written “limited government and free enterprise”. Gee I wonder what their thoughtful analysis will produce. What is troubling was the title given to a hatchet job about public sector workers. “The Enemy Within”. Firefighters and police officers are now referred to as the enemy. All the authors of this left out were the targets to put on the backs of these hard working people. Great.

MadMom
MadMom
10 years ago

“As it stands there is an increasing divide between the have a little’s (public sector unions) and the have nothings. (private sector workers)”.
That’s the only bit you got right. Small businesses employ 80% of the workforce. You can blame big business and corporatism for some of our economic woes, and I would agree, but the real reason behind the stagnation of wages has very little to do with that, particularly in RI. It has to do with the high taxes resulting from a segment of the workforce and their bosses (the haves- public sector union employees), which holds a virtual monopoly over the RI legislature and the resulting policy decisions which squeeze the small business owner even tighter. In the private sector, one has to make a profit in order to hire, increase wages, provide better benefits, etc. unlike public sector unions which simply go back to the great piggy bank called the taxpayer.
And guess, what? These small business owners and workers are leaving our state for other states more amenable to free enterprise. It will be interesting when we reach the point at which you are all crying and rioting in the streets like the Greeks. You won’t be getting any sympathy from those who warned you the day would come.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
10 years ago

Public sector unions exist why? TO protect those worker from who?
It’s not like the City of Providence is some big corporation looking to exploit its workers. The City of Providence is – US.
Why the city should pay more than they have to in salaries and benefits makes no sense at all. The city has an obligation to act in the best interests of the taxpayers. All a union does is insert themselves between that obligation of the city and hijack the system for their own benefit – not that of the taxpayers. Public sector unions should be illegal.
If firefighters jobs were advertised at half the pay and benefits that are paid now, their would be a line from City Hall to New Haven for those jobs. That tells you the city is paying too much.
Despite what the union talking heads have brainwashed you into believing – there are plenty of people dying to have a job like that.
All this talk of workers wages stagnating, blah, blah blah, has no relevance to the City of Providence needing to run their operations lean and mean and to the benefit of the taxpayers – not some special interest group.
The time has come to declare public employee unions illegal.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

{{{{{ If firefighters jobs were advertised at half the pay and benefits that are paid now, their would be a line from City Hall to New Haven for those jobs.}}}}}
Bull…
{{{{{ Despite what the union talking heads have brainwashed you into believing… }}}}}
I think it’s the right wing propagandists who have been doing the brainwashing around here!

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

MadMom writes:
” Small businesses employ 80% of the workforce.”
Mom, have a look at the last census. In RI, 22% of the workforce draw their paychecks from the government. This is about average, nationwide.
That means it takes 1 in 5, pushing 1 in 4, workers to govern us. Seems excessive. Not to mention quite a burden on the taxpayers.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Tom Kenney writes:
{{{{{ If firefighters jobs were advertised at half the pay and benefits that are paid now, their would be a line from City Hall to New Haven for those jobs.}}}}}
Bull…
It is always well to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that firemen were street gangs who looted the houses before fighting the fire.
As to seekers of the job at 1/2 the pay
consider this. The “work week” can be accomplished in 2-3 days, leaving time for another full time job. As to the “danger” factor, the job is rated #17 in the list of “most dangerous jobs in America”, well below lumberjacks and iron workers. I suppose the “danger factor” is as nothing compared to serving in the combat arms at less than 1/2 the pay.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
10 years ago

Tom,
I understand that you don’t like what I said, but you know it is true. Not only would we have plenty of people to do those jobs, thy would be highly competent. As far as the danger of the job goes, spare me your crocodile tears. What’s the matter Tom, did you find that out after you took the job? You guys make me laugh – you know damn well how you pull every trick out of the bag to get on the department, then all of a sudden you’re telling us how lucky we are to have you. Just who you think you’re kidding?
How about those teachers in Central Falls Tom, where nobody wanted to work, according to the union stooges.
When they fired the 80 or so of them, there were 900 people who applied!!!
Sort of puts the lie to your mindless argument. And yeah, I know teachers and firefighters aren’t the same – teachers have education requirements.
By the way, Tom, who are you afraid of? Why do you need a union? Do those taxpayers scare the daylights out of you?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

If Tom’s firefighter position were advertised across Rhode Island to recent high school and college grads, there is no doubt in my mind that we could find at least a dozen qualified individuals begging to do it for half his bloated salary and without pension. Does anybody besides Tom even doubt that for a moment? Having his salary set by market forces would be his worst nightmare – he relies on corrupt political dealing through his public union to afford all the nice things he feels he deserves for being such a hero. If you don’t believe it, just read his autobiographical book – it’s the one with “Hero” in the title. Tom likes to call everyone a liar, but it’s simple projection. He knows that he himself is a liar, so he assumes that everyone else must do the same in support of their own causes. On RIF Tom claimed that his department puts out “over 1000” Providence house fires each year. If you believe that for one moment, I have some primo real estate to sell you. ~1 out of every 100 homes each year, it doesn’t even pass the laugh test. Go ahead, Tom, accuse me of lying again. “Liar, liar! Bull, bull!” Like a barking dog. I’ve got the blog link ready this time with all of your embarrassing, raging comments for all to see. Please tell us again why firefighters deserve to make as much as family doctors and corporate attorneys. Tell us again why you should be paid for sleeping and working out at the firehouse. I’m sure we wouldn’t find a huge HDTV in your firehouse if we walked in right now either, would we? You should get paid for sleeping and watching Maury… why? Oh, because you’re “on call.” Like no other… Read more »

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

Warrington Faust writes:
{{{{{ It is always well to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that firemen were street gangs who looted the houses before fighting the fire.}}}}}
And I’m the one that is acting badly??

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

{{{{{ Tom,
I understand that you don’t like what I said, but you know it is true. }}}}}
No, Mike, I certainly do not.
{{{{{ As far as the danger of the job goes, spare me your crocodile tears. What’s the matter Tom, did you find that out after you took the job? }}}}}
You guys seem to be the ones who are constantly bringing up the “dangerous job” complaints. It is a dangerous job, but I don’t complain about it.
{{{{{ By the way, Tom, who are you afraid of? Why do you need a union? Do those taxpayers scare the daylights out of you? }}}}}
As for “what/who do we need union protection from”? Consider this…when I had only 9 years on the job I had a serious injury that required a long recuperation. The city attempted to force me off the job on a disability pension. I fought this, with help from the union, and was allowed to return to the job. I’ve given the city (and the taxpayers) an additional 21 years of service up to this point. Without union protection I would have had to retire.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

Dan,
Everything (or “most” of) what you post about me is your hateful opinion.
I do not lie to make my points – whether you think they are lies or not is not my problem. You know absolutely nothing about me or my job, but you hate me just the same.
I can’t stand you or your comments because you’ve made a purpose out of lying about me and my job. I take that personally.
The “Hero” in the title of my book refers directly to John Lennon’s song “Working Class Hero”. It is explained in the first chapter of the book. You’d know that if you had ever read it, but no, you’d rather criticize it without knowing a single thing about it – just like you do everything else.
FYI – my station does indeed have a HDTV. We (the firefighters) paid for it ourselves. Just like we pay for just about everything else in the station…stove, fridge, grill, air conditioners, coffee makers, pots & pans, sofas & chairs, phone service, cable, dishes & utensils, newspapers, many building renovations and repairs, linen, etc.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

Is that the same Tom Kenney of PFD who calls radio talk show SPONSORS to convince them to pull their ads for union unfriendly talk show hosts? What you don’t get Tommy Boy is that your bragging on a blog about that stuff gives you all a bad name.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Way to miss the point, Tom. If I installed an HDTV in my office and sat my ass in front of it on the clock then I would rightfully be fired.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Just like we would be fired if we sat on our ass in the office all day and didn’t respond to emergencies.
This is ridiculous but I couldn’t resist.

FF's Wife
FF's Wife
10 years ago

Dan,
It saddens me when I read your posts!The Nation watched with horror and saddness as we lost Heroic firefighters, police, EMT’s, along with other first respnders on 9/11.
Those men that day did’nt think for one second about themselves or who they were leaving behind. As terrified people were rushing out of the towers and the Pentagon these men were rushing in!! How quickly we forget! Now you make fun of a FF with word “Hero” in the title of a book about FF’s, shame on you! Now perhaps you will say “Oh I’m tired of hearing about 911” and maybe you are. My point is, even though you don’t hear about the fires that these men go to everyday doesn’t mean they aren’t running into unknown situations for someone like you who doesn’t even like them! Imagine, my husband will unknowingly widow me for you or your loved one! Meanwhile, let me see, you are worrying about how he spends his time when he isn’t fighting fires, clearing hydrants for your safety, participating in HAZARDOUS Chemical drills because, yes again FF’s will the first to be exposed! So let me get this straight, you have been a firefighter for how long? How many years? How many fires have you personally gone to? How close to death have you been for a stranger? And how did your wife feel when she almost lost you? Oh and your main concern is that FF’s get paid too much because they get to watch tv?

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

Max Diesel:
Yes I’m the one who called John DePetro’s advertisers to have them drop him.
You see, I fight for my beliefs and my friends. On numerous ocassions Mr. DePetro staed on the air that the #1 on-the-job injury of Prov FF’s is hemhoroids, from sitting around on their a*#@* all day!
Sorry, I can take criticism, but I won’t allow such talk without fighting back.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

Dan states:
{{{{{ Go ahead, Tom, accuse me of lying again. “Liar, liar! Bull, bull!” Like a barking dog. }}}}}
OK
{{{{{ Please tell us again why firefighters deserve to make as much as family doctors and corporate attorneys. }}}}}
Absolute lie. Unless it is a very bad attorney or doctor!!
{{{{{ When presented with numerous newspaper articles documenting the extensive frauds over the years, he claims a conspiracy against the department. }}}}}
Wrong. I shared the facts that weren’t represented in the articles showing that the figures the chief asserted were not true.
{{{{{ Tom likes to call everyone a liar, but it’s simple projection. He knows that he himself is a liar, so he assumes that everyone else must do the same in support of their own causes. }}}}}
I never lie on any blog. I stick by all my words (there may be a mistake or two along the way, but no lies). I sign ALL my posts so that everyone knows where the statement comes from, unlike most posters who post anonymously. It’s easy to lie without consequences when nobody knows who you are.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

I don’t think it serves any purpose to question the bravery of firefighters.
Sure,like in any field there are foul balls among them,but time and again we see them go into really f**ked up situations without hesitation,not foolishly,because they are trained,but it still takes a lot.
I’ve faced armed criminals and been under fire in a war,but I personally don’t want to be on a swaying ladder trying to get into a flaming window to get someone out.
Believe me,there are plenty of cushy political gigs around where people make more than firefighters and do absolutely nothing useful.
I recall once in Chicago watching tv as a firefighter had to hang onto a ladder with one hand(the ladder couldn’t get closer)to grab a young girl trapped on a ledge with flames at her back on the 4th floor and as she fell he managed to hang onto her,barely avoiding going down with her.
Afterwards he was interviewed and very typically was almost embarrassed and said he was so scared he’d miss her that it was all he could think about.
The WTC was a known potential horror story to the FDNY long before 9/11.
the place was exempt from NYC building and fire codes because it was part of the NY/NJ Port Authority,an independent entity with enormous interstate jursidiction.
So if the discussion is about pension,wages,benefits,fine-but why impugn people’s courage or willingness to assist those in trouble?
I have no dog in this fight by the way.

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

Is someone still considered ‘working class’ when their total compensation puts them in the top quintile of household income?
Just curious. I know that $50-80K isn’t what it used to be, but I make somewhere between those, and I consider myself ‘middle class’… A few more years of savings and well-executed financial moves and I might even make it to ‘upper middle class’.
I think it’s quite common for government employees to think that they are getting a much worse deal then they really are.
And please don’t take this as an attack… I wish incomes for the rest of us -had- tracked with those who negotiate for their compensation.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

Is a plumber or electrician working class?
It’s really hard to differentiate sometimes.Construction workers make a lot more when work is good than some mid level executives,but they are definitely blue collar.
Railroad workers make good money.
The people at the bottom of the working ladder are those working at low skill factory jobs and service jobs.
Ii never considered myself underpaid as a Fed.We did,however always pay a large percentage of our health care premiums and a really good plan was out of reach for most,except Postal employees(and FBI agents who hasd a separate plan from other Federal agents).

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

“The people at the bottom of the working ladder are those working at low skill factory jobs and service jobs.”
I’ve noticed that a lot of the jobs that require physical labor pay better than the low-end service jobs. I have to imagine that the worst deal is a ‘temporary’ retail or call center employee. Even if you do well enough and last long enough to get salaried or a full 40-hours, you probably won’t be able to pay for a family health care plan without giving up the entire paycheck.
I thought it was bad when I was a field technician, making $12/hour, working not-enough odd hours. I could barely afford gas to get to work, and went without food several times. I can’t imagine how so many people get by on that kind of money for their whole lives.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – That’s really just poor logic. It is entirely possible to be performing valuable and productive work while seated behind a desk. It is NOT possible to perform valuable and productive work while watching Jersey Shore or Dr. Phil in High Definition on a firehouse couch. I am aware of no other profession besides firefighters in which employees are paid to sleep, eat, work out, and watch television simply because they happen to be “on call” during all of it. If you are aware of any such positions, please enlighten me, because if I lose my sense of self worth in the near future I will be sure to submit my resume. “FF’s wife” – If you worship the ground your husband walks on simply because he is a firefighter, I won’t deny that relationship to either of you. But I don’t participate in the hero worship and, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never really admired the firefighter culture that some people like Tom get sucked into where firefighters are considered the shaman or templar of some kind of religious cult or secret society or brotherhood. The newsletters, calendars, books, dinners, and towering inferno television shows are a load of self-indulgent crap if you ask me. At the end of the day, it’s a profession like any other and it should be evaluated, staffed, and compensated like any other. It’s already been mentioned that it’s far less dangerous than at least a dozen other very common professions that don’t get nearly the same level of attention due to self-promotion and the media. Heck, most fire departments today are voluntarily staffed and don’t make anything. I haven’t “forgotten” 9-11, I simply consider that tragedy irrelevant to fair pay and benefits for a publicly-paid profession. Logically separate issues to all but… Read more »

David S
David S
10 years ago

Public employee unionization is not perfect and can certainly be criticized. What should be remembered though, is the political backdrop when this occurred. Local political machines existed and used public employment as one their tools to continue to exert their power and reign. Unionization actually works as a bulwark to this corruptive political establishment. Does it really matter if the machine is a D or an R? Oh, you say “ this is the past and it is not like this now”. Without public sector unions we would be much worse off- we would have a Buddy Cianci type as a machine governor.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Dan, try enlisting in the Army, they have some down time too.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

The perks, benefits, and lack of educational requirements are precisely why they make $18,000.00 starting salary, Michael. If you consider that getting paid for the down time, then it’s far below minimum wage. I’ll have no objection to importing the military compensation model to all of the New England firehouses if that’s what you are advocating. There are certainly parallels in terms of the job duties and applicant pool, and firefighters already use military titles to refer to themselves. Careful or Tom might start a boycott of your business for even suggesting the idea.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Actually, Dan, your commentary concerning this topic has led me to simply post things that I know will annoy you, or at the minimum make you put some effort into a response. I don’t expect any rational discourse here, I’m just killing time.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

It’s all academic and sport to me at this point, Michael. I have no stake in RI anymore. It can sink into the surrounding ocean for all I care. I only hope that, as a side product of my own entertainment here, some will be convinced to do similarly and get out of the state before a flood of municipal bankruptcies pours down from the heavens and sweeps away the wicked and the righteous alike in a great vortex of Hayekian fury.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
10 years ago

At the end of the day, there are overwhelming numbers of competent people willing to do the job, with all it’s risks, etc, for a lot less money.
Can someone explain to me, in a rational, reasoned, and unemotional way, just why the taxpayers should be overpaying so much for this service?

OldTimeLefty
OldTimeLefty
10 years ago

Mike Capelli,
You say taxpayers are overpaying for the service. I am a taxpayer and I say we are not overpaying for the service. Your questions begs an answer – not permissible in logic or in the courts. Frame your question fairly and you may get a fair response

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

OTL – his argument was properly structured. He drew the conclusion of overpayment from the fact that there are qualified individuals willing to do the job for less money.
Stop playing Intro to Logic professor, you suck at it.

FF's Wife
FF's Wife
10 years ago

Dan,
It is evident you are an angry man. I am sorry for you! You sound like Ferris Bueller’s sister jealous and petty, angry because her life wasnt as good as Ferris’! Tsk tsk. I don’t worship my husband because he is a firefighter. I admire and respect him because he is an upstanding, compassionate, patient, kind and, generous good man, who has decided to dedicate his life to protecting others and theirs! Your post sounds very angry, especially towards Tom. Perhaps you are using this blog as a personal vehicle. FYI a house monitor/assistant in a home for the mentally impaired can sleep, watch tv, eat, excercise, be on the computer once the students are in bed. Nurses/healthcare workers working the 3rd shift are also allowed to eat and watch tv. They don’t on a regular basis, risk their lives. Would you say they don’t deserve what they are paid? Because I can tell you they get paid more than my husband!

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

FF’s Wife – Fraud, inefficiency, and corruption anger me. I do not apologize for this, nor do I consider it a fault. Continuing seeing the world in terms of heroes and villains with your husband conveniently in the heroes camp if it brings you happiness. I find happiness by finding solutions to problems in my work and personal life. Firefighter overcompensation is a problem, and all Rhode Islanders will be forced to reckon with it when their cities and towns declare bankruptcy. Look at Central Falls and North Providence if you want to see the downside of what your husband does. Life is more complicated than simple terms like “heroism,” and even noble intentions can have terrible consequences.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Anchor Rising is a well written and researched blog, a great tool of reference for a lot of conservative voices, at the forefront of the dialogue concerning the future of Rhode Island and probably the best chance conservatives have of getting their message out.
The contributors do it for free. They have been asking for small donations from their many readers to staff a full time position so they can keep up what they have accomplished, and take it to the next level.
Apparently, you conservatives don’t see why you should pay for something of value when you can get it for free. Heaven forbid you pay for something of value, be it a good fire department, or a great website.
I hope they come to their senses and wrap it up, because in the big scheme of things, life will go on without Anchor Rising, but the firefighters will still be there.
Bunch of cheapskates.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

{{{{{…where firefighters are considered the shaman or templar of some kind of religious cult or secret society or brotherhood. The newsletters, calendars, books, dinners, and towering inferno television shows are a load of self-indulgent crap if you ask me. }}}}}
Sounds like you’re quite interested (in a negative way) in my “lowly” profession. It certainly begs the question of what did some firefighter do to you? Was it me?? …because you post about me even when I’m not here!
{{{{{ Heck, most fire departments today are voluntarily staffed and don’t make anything. }}}}}
False
{{{{{ You apparently think that “The Heroes”™ should be exempt from any and all criticism, and that the dangers of the job, of which they were fully aware when making their nepotistic political deals to get on the force, entitle them to all sorts of disability, sick leave, promotion/demotion, and overtime abuses without the same level of public scrutiny as other public servants. }}}}}
Here you go spouting about “nepotistic political deals” and abuses without any facts. I know, you think it’s common knowledge right?
{{{{{ Careful or Tom might start a boycott of your business for even suggesting the idea. }}}}}
Yeah, okay.
{{{{{ Fraud, inefficiency, and corruption anger me. }}}}}
None of which is present in my union.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Hey madmom, I wish they would hurry up and leave, the traffic around here is terrible, and I’m sick of waiting for a table at all of the restaurants.
Tom, good luck with Dan, I’ve been down his road before, it’s a dead end.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
10 years ago

OTL,
Here is a dose of reality for you to give a glimpse of where we are headed:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/23/business/23prichard.html
You can all remain in denial. I just deal with facts. And the facts are that if we don’t change the way these things are handled, the very people you proclaim to care so much about will be the very people to absorb the worst of it.
You need to lose the emotion and gain some logic.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – there won’t *be* any good restaurants for you to frequent when all of the entrepeneurs, productive workers, and young professionals leave the state. You’ll be waiting for a table at Denny’s because that will be all that’s left when you finally get your wish. Go visit Detroit and see how you like it; that bombed out shell of a city is a glimpse into Rhode Island’s future.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Tom, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council, 73% of US firefighters are volunteer. So either they are wrong or you are.

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

Mike Cappelli
Hi. I couldn’t find the page.

Tom Kenney
Tom Kenney
10 years ago

Dan,
The NVFC is correct but they state that most volunteer departments are in towns of less than 2,500 people. Hardly relevant to our conversation, but technically you are correct.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
10 years ago

Phil,
Not sure why. I just cut and pasted the link into my browser and it came up.

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