Public sector employees now have a new advocate: The Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition. The formation of the coalition was announced last week and is described as a group that will advocate for and inform public employees about the ongoing influx of information regarding pension changes.
Members of the coalition include the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, AFSCME Council 94, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers- NAGE/SEIU among others.
Colleen Conley, founder and president of the Rhode Island Tea Party is calling it “business as usual in Rhode Island.”
“They’re attempting to advance their political agenda,” she said. “They’re forming a coalition to propagate a message to the public and rank-and-file employees that the status quo is sustainable.”
The AFL-CIO said in a release that the idea behind the coalition is to provide up-to-date information to union members. The Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition (RIRSC) has already created a website featuring news stories, basic pension factoids and RI Pension Advisory Commission meeting dates.
George Nee, the president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, said in a statement that RIRSC will provide “timely and relevant information” to union members.
“With so much information coming out almost daily,” said Nee, “many of the rank-and-file members are understandably confused and scared about what is going on with their pensions, which they have faithfully paid into week after week and year after year.”
RIRSC hopes to assuage those fears and concerns.
Jim Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers’ Union, is also in support of the group.
“It’s excellent. There are all these people who paid into the system and they’ve made all their contributions,” he said, saying it is only fair they are offered some guidance in these often confusing times.
Ginolfi said the coalition is especially important in light of recent events in Central Falls, which he called “horrendous and unjustified.”
“Now they’re telling these people that 50 percent of their pensions will be cut, and they were doing what they were supposed to do.”
He said that the coalition would help to inform public employees on changes to the systems and provide them with helpful alternatives.
Conley, on the other hand, said that Central Falls is a prime example of the problems with the union leaders’ philosophies.
“They told these workers their pensions would be there, but failed to work with the public and municipalities to do so. Forming this coalition is a way for the leaders to cover their butts for what they’ve done…the rank-and-file leaders’ pensions are still fully funded…[this coalition] will distract people from their crock of lies.”
Conley also thinks that perhaps the unions have seen the power of coalitions like the Tea Party in conquering issues, like that of binding arbitration late in the session, and have tried to adopt similar tactics.
“I’m sure they’ll come up with a great effort with the General Assembly,” she said.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian had this to say in an e-mail asking what he thought: “We have always had fair and honest negotiation sessions with our three unions and I expect that this would continue,” he said. “All of our unions have given concessions over the last few years and they have been willing to have the tough discussions with us. I see no reason why that would not continue. I think that every group should make their opinions known during this pension debate.”
Conley firmly believes that this move is an attempt to make it look like union leaders are trying to rectify the pension issues.
But, she said, try as they might, if there’s no money, there is no way to fund the pensions.
“Reality bites. If municipalities go bankrupt, there’s no recourse.”