EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – JUNE 3, 2009
The world changed after September 11, 2001, in many ways that are painfully clear, but in other ways that are much less obvious. The way that we think about, and treat, firefighters, falls into the latter category.
As a society, we have a soft spot for firefighters. That’s appropriate. How can we not appreciate the effort and dedication of men and women who are ready and willing to rush into a burning building to save our lives? You humble correspondent had the occasion to call 911 a few years ago and I will always remember the aid and comfort that those firefighters provided fondly. They were wonderful.
On 9-11-2001 New York City firefighters rushed into the twin towers without regard for their own safety, and when the World Trade Center succumbed to the flames, they perished, heroes all. Wearing a hat or T-shirt that trumpeted the letters “FDNY” became a sign of tribute, paying respect to the bravest of the brave, and so it should be.
But, somewhere between September 11 and today we lost our way. Or, more properly, the leadership of the unions that represent firefighters and the legislators whom we charge with determining what is just and fair for everyone, lost theirs. It’s 2009 and the firefighter’s unions are demanding the world – and our elected representatives don’t have the guts to say no.
Illinois is a state in economic crisis, hammered by the twin body blows of Rod Blagojevich’s profligate spending – aided in no small part by his party’s acquiescence – and a failing economy.
The foremost victims of the budget crisis are the state’s municipalities, struggling to figure out ways to stay afloat. One of the biggest issues, for the city and towns across Illinois, is how to address the issue of pension funds.
By law, municipalities must ensure that police and firefighter pension funds are fully funded. In 2009 that’s something of trick. Traditionally, Illinois cities and towns have depended on the investment market to keep pace with pension fund requirements. That’s not working any more, which means that municipalities have to make up the difference from their budgets, or – in other words – through our tax dollars.
In many cases, the increased funding would amount to 25 per cent or more of firefighter pension funds. It would be a huge hit. The Illinois Municipal League, representing hundreds of Illinois towns and cities, asked the General Assembly to consider a modification to the formula, one that would cap the increase at 10 per cent per year, and that would allow the economy to catch up over time, until the target was reached.
The firefighter’s union balked. They would accept the formula, they said, but only if the legislation guaranteed that no firefighter in the state of Illinois would be laid off. That’s a remarkable position, one that almost defies comprehension. Surely no one wants to lose their job, but in the current economic climate, shouldn’t we all – even firefighters – share in the threatened burden?
There is a lesson to be learned here, one that hearkens back to the fable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. The firefighter’s union has also secured legislation that forces municipalities to pay for its member’s health insurance – for life – if a firefighter is deemed to have been disabled in the line of duty. That determination is decided by a board which is, also by legislation, dominated by firefighters. Not surprisingly, the number of “disabling injuries” among firefighters has jumped up exponentially and our tax dollars are pouring out to pay for the injuries, both real and imagined.
I do not know how the “no lay off” demand has worked out. To be honest, I do not care. I am simply amazed and appalled that the union would consider making such a demand. That is as completely self-centered and irresponsible a negotiating tactic as one could imagine.
We have much to be grateful for when we consider the contributions that firefighters have made. They have been heroes and heroines. But, when it comes to dealing with the economic crises that we all face today, they have not met that ideal. Today, their unions have behaved like self-centered, ego-maniacal leaches.
We have seen this sort of behavior before. The United Auto Workers demanded everything, and today, they are faced with disaster. It won’t be long before firefighters face the same fate if their union continues on this track.
Get it together guys.