Wednesday, April 28, 2010


When is a contract binding?

This is a simple question but the answer seems to be anything but simple. Ask yourself…is your mortgage a binding contract? What about your car loan? Do you have to live up to the provisions of your lease agreement? How about your marriage license?

Don’t get me wrong. You can opt out of any contract to which you are legally bound, but there are absolute consequences. You cannot simply walk away from your contractual obligations and dictate terms that are more suited to your present situation. This is the essence of a “contract” between two parties.

Many older people (including myself) bemoan the fact that we need 20-page contracts in present times when a handshake seemed to suffice in days gone by. This fact seemed to be a sign of our generation transforming itself from a time when a man’s word was enough to guarantee his actions to a time when a man would only deliver the minimal compensation legally required by his signature on a contract. I’ve heard and read many old timers stating that this was the beginning of the end of a time when a person’s moral obligations had any effect on his actions.

It seems that we’ve begun to cross this line of simply living up to our legal obligations. Now, it seems, even a 50-page contract is actually worth less than the paper it is written on. As with many “legal rights” that are eroding before our very eyes, this one is being taken away by our government. The economic times are bad right now. Private industry, federal, state and local governments are all feeling the effects of a massive recession. So are individual households. The state and local governments’ answer to this problem, justifiably, is to cut expenses. It’s the way they are going about it that is wrong.

They (the state and municipalities) are simply choosing to ignore their contractual obligations to their employees. They have the power to enact legislation into law that will give them the right(?) to opt out of negotiations with their labor unions and force their will in a so-called defense of the tax-paying general public. Just look at the situation regarding the Central Falls High School teachers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for looking for concessions from workers during a financial crisis. After all, I’m a taxpayer too. I have stake in keeping my city and state economically sound. I’ve lived here my entire life and intend to remain here until I die. What needs to be remembered is that the present contracts of state and municipal employees have been negotiated and renegotiated over many years. In good economic times the workers realize increases in salaries and benefits. In poor economic times, such as these, the workers either stand pat or give back benefits to ease the burden on the taxpayers. Despite rhetoric to the contrary these givebacks and freezes have happened on many occasions over the years. In all cases, however, these savings for the employers have been negotiated via a collective bargaining agreement. Neither party has ever had the power to simply force their demands on the other. This is the way of contractual labor agreements. This is the way of commerce. This is the way of civil contractual agreements. This was supposed to be the reason that contractual agreements were preferable to “handshakes”.

I must state that these employees, who are living up to the terms of their contracts, are working people who pay taxes and contribute to the economic health of this state. There are other options available to us in cutting expenses without placing the entire burden on working, productive public union members. We, public union members, are willing to make concessions in order to share the sacrifice we all must make to get through these tough economic times. We’re simply asking that other options be explored and utilized and that we be allowed to be at the table and participate in the discussions without the state and municipalities simply walking away from their contractual obligations to us.

There have to be many other options to curb expenses. RI continues to spend almost 10 times the national average on Welfare benefits per person. We spend much more than the median national average on many other social programs. We continue to pay exorbitant salaries to paid mercenaries coming into this state to run our schools and other state and municipal agencies. We also foot an unfair tax burden supporting an increasing illegal alien population due to our perceived status as a haven state for illegals. We also are victim to huge tax breaks given to institutions and businesses during good economic times which should be renegotiated during these tough times.

These are but a few of the problems that need to be addressed in order to right our course financially. I’m sure that there are many more possible solutions that our leaders could come up with that would more evenly distribute the pain of the possible cure. I don’t propose eliminating social programs or benefits for those in need nor do I believe that tax-exempt institutions or corporations with unfair tax breaks foot the entire bill. I simply wish that the solution be more evenly distributed across the board as opposed to simply on the backs of hard working state and municipal workers.

I also wish I knew which of my contracts were real and which were simply illusions.

Tom Kenney