Saturday, March 17, 2012

Can We Ever Trust Politicians Again?

Are there any politicians out there who actually stand for something? Are there any out there who actually keep their word?

Case in point – Governor Chaffee. He campaigned by stating he was behind the working men and women of the state, including state and municipal union workers. He was labor-friendly, he said. Although there were tough times ahead the sacrifices would be shared, not put squarely on the backs of state and municipal employees. He pointed to his record as the Mayor of Warwick to show that he was a fair negotiator.

Case in point – Mayor Taveras. Not only did he propose a new era in joint communication and cooperation between the City’s labor unions and his Administration at City Hall, but he actually renegotiated and signed contracts which brought about further concessions by the unions which seemed fair to both sides. Also, he was left a financial mess by his predecessor.

Case in point – Congressman Cicilline. Enough has been said about this clown. Everyone knows by now that he never tells the truth. He is a lost cause, and I hope someone runs against him in the Democratic primary.

As far as Governor Chaffee is concerned, he better wake up very quickly. Organized labor put him over the top in the last election because he promised to treat us fairly. Contrary to public opinion labor was not looking for someone to roll over and give away the candy store. We realized that times were tough all over and not getting better very quickly. We knew that there were difficult decisions ahead and that we were going to have to sacrifice just like everyone else. We wanted, however, to be treated fairly in the process. Instead, this governor is proposing what is tantamount to stripping labor of our collective bargaining rights. Giving employers (whether government or private) carte blanche to refashion the employee and retirement benefits of their employees is morally and ethically wrong. It is also probably illegal. He (the governor) is setting the stage for drawn out legal battles which will benefit no one.

Mayor Taveras. Ouch! As a longtime employee of the City I had very high hopes that Mayor Taveras would change things for the better. Indeed, I voted to approve a contract re-opening that gave away some of our benefits in order to help the City through a tough financial crisis and as a good faith gesture that we and the Administration could work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. What did he do? He decided to attempt to strip my retirement benefits as well. Everything he has done over the last few months has been to steer the City toward the brink of bankruptcy in order to get out from under contractual obligations. While some may applaud him for doing that, I believe he has been negligent in exploring all other reasonable options. There are a couple of options with regards to the pension system which would save as much, or more, than his present plan.

The problem seems to be that if he were to get the concessions required or simply instituted the needed changes and fight the legal fight regarding those changes he wouldn’t be able to get “all” the changes he wants. From what I understand, the meeting he held with retirees to explain the changes he was proposing is one of the things he needed to do if he were to request a judge to let the City out from under the burden of the contracts of retirees (and employees). There was no way he believed that he would be able to forge closer to an understanding with retirees by explaining his proposals at that meeting. Also, although the meeting was said to be about the Mayor explaining his justification for temporarily halting the COLAs, he got up on stage and explained that he also wanted additional changes to their retirement benefits. He wanted them to begin paying 20% of their health care and wanted to require them to join Medicare at 65. These are all costly items to a retiree and the Mayor wants all three of them! That would be a hardship.

I’m speaking about 90% of the retirees facing a hardship by these concessions. The media always points to the 10% of City retirees who receive outlandish pensions due to years of 6% COLAs. Many of these retirees collect a bigger retirement check than the active workers on their old job receive! That’s completely ridiculous.

That would be the first place I would attack if I were the Mayor. I would propose and push a City Ordinance that capped ALL Providence pensions at the current base pay of the individual performing that job now. This is going forward, as well as being applied to current retirees. This would mean a dramatic reduction in a small percentage of pensions but it would be considered, by most reasonable people, a fair solution. No one should ever receive more in retirement than the person working today at the same job!

I would also propose that no employee of the City be able to collect a service pension until he/she were 50 years old. I believe that this could be negotiated into every Providence union’s contract without too much trouble.

These 2 changes would solve the long-term problems of the City’s pension system. It wouldn’t immediately replace the hundreds of millions of dollars the City has neglected to pay into the system overnight, but it would create a sound and sustainable pension system. This crisis wasn’t created in a day, so why would we think we should fix it in a day. This is a long-standing crisis which requires a thoughtful and fair, long-term solution.

Tom Kenney