CFL News
February 16, 2012

Fire Fighter Union leader stands up for public employees

The president of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union (IAFF Local 2) responds to a recent op-ed in the Sun-Times attacking public employees.

Response To January 29th 2012 Sun-Times "Other Opinion"

Steve Stanek’s editorial (“Illinois’ woes show why we can’t afford public unions; 1/28/12) is simply another flawed revision of history that seeks to portray public Unions as the scapegoats for society’s current economic troubles. In a series of loose connections he blames Illinois’ recent income tax hike and its downgraded credit rating on the cost of pensions promised to its employees. He pits this working class group of people against “the vast majority of taxpayers, [who’ve] learned that police, firefighters, teachers and other government workers who get to retire in their early to mid-50s…as guaranteed millionaires.” Not only is this conclusion wrong, it’s deeply offensive.                                                         

Consider how many taxpayers in Wisconsin have risen up against their governor for how he radically revoked the collective bargaining rights of that state’s public workers. Over 1,000,000 taxpayers there wrote their names on a petition to recall Scott Walker. It would be absurd to think only public employees care about the valuable work done for the public good.

Consider also that the majority of these employees do NOT receive social security.

Consider that after a lifetime of on-the-front line public service, firefighters, paramedics and police officers are substantially more likely to suffer from chronic job-related illness.

Consider that there are over 700 widows of Chicago firefighters who collect benefits of $1,200 or less a month. Their spouses risked their lives in service to the community and now these widows live below the Federal poverty line. “Millionaires?” Are you kidding me?

Stanek does rightly point out though that public Unions have a long, long history of bipartisan support. In Chicago, workers formed the nation’s 2nd-ever firefighters Union because the in the late 19th century when new political parties took office they fired all the public workers. This meant that new, inexperienced companies of political hires would become responsible for protecting the city from fires at every political change of the wind. Taxpayers knew then public Unions were not necessary to protect public workers, they were necessary to protect the public. And they still are.

There is no singular reason for Illinois’ economic crisis, but with regards to pensions the stark facts are that politicians didn’t make the contributions they were legally obligated to. They didn’t invest when the market was strong and now with a weak economy they have less money to pay their bills. It’s that simple. Now they want those who did pay all that they owed for their retirement security to sacrifice and make do with less. Taxpayers won’t be fooled as to who is responsible. Ask the protesters in the Occupy movements and they will tell you they’re outraged about corporate malfeasance, not the incomes of firefighters, paramedics, police officers and teachers. They want accountability from politicians…because they already have it from firefighters.

Thomas E. Ryan Jr.

President

Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2

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