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Latest pension overhaul shows how political wind has turned against unions

by John Kennedy | April 10th, 2011

The municipal pension rewrite now advancing in the House — and headed to the Senate Budget Committee next week — has a history rooted in Republican politics, having emerged as a payback to unions that supported Gov. Jeb Bush in 1998.

But the political wind in Tallahassee has shifted sharply this spring.

And for Florida’s police and fire unions, one-time allies are now enemies, with the pension overhaul the latest in a series of what labor sees as union-busting moves by the GOP leadership.

“Did we go too far? Yeah, maybe we did,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who as House Speaker in 1999 led the legislation sought by Bush. “But we were pretty flush back then. We can’t afford this now.”

As for Bush, he’s apparently changed, too. In January he and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich co-authored an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. In it, the pair urge that states consider declaring bankruptcy to reorganize their troubled finances.

Why do they need to take such a drastic step?

To get out from under sweetheart pension deals for greedy unions, the former deal-maker turned reformer now writes.

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28 Responses to “Latest pension overhaul shows how political wind has turned against unions”

  1. maggie Says:

    It is time to throw all the bums out of office.

  2. Nick Says:

    That’s why 1998 was the only time I’ll ever vote for Jeb. I’m in public administration and was dumbfounded and disgusted by Bush and the Republican legislators that created this time-bomb.

    Thrasher has the typical arrogant attitude: “We were pretty flush..” Rather than lowering tax rates they found new ways to spend money and required municipalities to do the same.

  3. Louie Says:

    The Reublicans have turned against the Police ?
    It’s like Bizarro World.
    I better prepare for a snow storm here.

  4. Abe Says:

    @Louie, you are naive. It’s the police unions, not the police. The pensions given police and firefighter unions are financially destroying cities and states.

  5. Bruce Says:

    I was watching freeloaders with John Stossel and it does put into prospective how the government wastes taxpayer’s money on deceitful programs. It seems that government employees who work for a living have been turned into scapegoats by the very governments they work for. Rick Scott’s website Florida Has The Right to Know just illustrates how bad the majority of state employees are getting paid. I found a Sergeant in the Highway Patrol who started in 1990 and is making 45K a year. The only way this sergeant is going to make a decent salary is by spending his time off on the side of the road in a construction site. I really do not know how these people do it.

  6. Demps Says:

    Nick, so you are in Public Admin? Do you work for a government entity? What’s your pension plan looking like? The scumbags in the city I live are forcing cuts, but their lucrative pension is going untouched. Typical government BS. Save your rhetoric, the same crap is said from every city administrator, just change the name of the City. Should’ve been more wiser spending all of that money you idiots had control of. Now you blame the workers and their contracts. Sickening!

  7. DI Says:

    Abe, I have been working for a local police department in Palm Beach County for the last 10 years, and my city does not have any financial problems due to our pension plan. I do not know where you are from, but if you are from Florida you should learn more about our union laws before you make a comment. Florida is not a union friendly state. Florida is a right to work state which has nonbinding arbitration, simply put one does not have to be in a union to work here, and unions here do not have any power. The only thing a union here can do is lobby and strike to attempt to make change, which many cities like West Palm Beach do not care about. Maybe some cities are having difficulty with their pensions, but there is always more to the story. Lake Worth contracted with PBSO to save money and they are still in a financial crisis. When is the government going to tell us what the real cause of the crisis is.

  8. matt Says:


  9. term limits Says:

    This is exactly why public employee unions are so bad. The unions court the candidate and the candidate promises to help the union if he/she is elected. The union then picks the candidate to support based on the candidates promises to the union. The unions throw in a lot of $$$ to help their candidate get elected and then the union is rewarded with raises, pensions, and super sweet benefits paid for by the taxpayers. NICE HUH?

  10. V Says:

    I guess it’s OK when the corporations and the rich court the politicians and they then enact laws favorable to them. Unions and public employees arent bankrupting government.

    Corporations that pay no taxes and the rich with their loopholes are what’s hurting government. GE made 15 bil+ in profit and paid no taxes. In fact they got a 5 bil kuckback from the feds. Same with Exxon who made even more.

    All this yet you people blast public servants and their unions for measly pensions that they earned through years of working for lower pay than their civilian counterparts.

    And, by the way, Social Security has no effect on the federal budget except for the money being paid back that was stolen (borrowed) by little georgie to pay for his un-provoked war in Iraq.

  11. Tom Says:

    Has anyone at all noticed that the reason the economy tanked was not unions or pensions? The bankers and Wall Street greedheads are the ones who single handedly destroyed the world economy. Yet somehow, unions and working class stiffs are to blame now? Bankers get billions of tax dollars as a reward for destroying the economy, and unions are being blamed? I’m not actually surprised that the politicians are trying to divert attention away from their chief source of campaign funds, but I am surprised that people are buying it. That’s the real puzzle here, why are people falling for it?

  12. dan Says:

    Wake up people,the Republican party can blame union for the mess this country is in but the reality is that is a convienient scapegoat.I’m not going to say unions are perfect but at least they don’t get to vote them selves a raise like our congeress.

  13. How Much Says:

    Say, how much $$$ (and lives) would have been saved if Bush, Cheney, and Powell had not gone on an Easter Egg Hunt in Iraq? Huh, Repubbies? I mean, did they find any Easter Eggs (Weapons of Mass Destruction)?

  14. Fed Up Says:

    After this bill is passed and they are collecting whose fault will it be next. Lets start by ending corporate welfare and see how the budget shakes out.

  15. mike Says:

    I agree. Stop the corporate welfare. Stop subsidizing oil companies which are turning out record profits. Stop voting for corporations and start voting for people.

  16. tonysoprano Says:

    Hey..I see many are starting to get it! Alright!! Time to put these sleazy, greedy, robber baron Repub hacks back in the closet.
    The only ones they’re playin are about another AIG bailout eh’? And next we’re goin’ after your healthcare benefit sucka’….we own the USA, and don’t you forget it!

  17. OBIWAN Says:

    Did THEY go too far?

    THEY included themselves as ‘Elected Officials’ in the same Special Risk as Police, LEO and Fire… at 3% a year!

    Otherwise they could have named it LEO & FIRE?

    Regular Class – Teachers, all others get a healthy 1.6% (we always considered 1.5% the top limit forty years ago for pension plans… and converted private to 401(k) thirty years ago)…

    NOW, they change everyone over to the same Defined Contributions 401(a) plan on 7.1.2011 … EXCEPT for Special Risk still getting to keep the old FRS Pension AND the 3% automajic…

    … just another coincidinky?

    NO state uses the 3% formula UNLESS they did the waiver of Social Security so that is all their police, fire, teachers, etc. get… like Louisiana still does!

    I kept my email to Jeb Bush explaining my outrage he would even consider signing such a technically erroneous bill… and those ‘flush’ slid out the window by the $hundreds of millions shortly thereafter.

    I still belive the 1977 Florida Constitution clearly disallowed ANY benefit increase that pushes liability onto future taxpayers from the current taxpayers that receieved the service of those employees!

    Yeah, I know another small ‘technicality’….

  18. epp Says:

    The union workers get blamed for the financial crisis, oh and so do the Medicare and Medicaid patients. This is what the Republicans get their dopey middle class followers to believe. They don’t even realize that when a union worker bargains for a raise and better conditions that reflects on the non-union workers compensation also. Let’s start by making corporations pay their share or any amount of taxes just pay something. Wake up middle class before you vote yourself out of existence.

  19. Cutback on perks Says:

    Cops deserve the pay as they face a life and death exposure everytime they go to work (except those desk jockeys).

    HOWEVER, their perks and benefits are over the top. They should have given up some perks and benefits and renegotiated them when we’re flush with money in the future.

    Tired of those take home vehicles that cops use for their family. With gas so sky high, we pay for our own tank of gas and then pay for cops’ families galavanting in the cop car, especially those ‘unmarked’ ones.

  20. Ms Vicky Says:

    This legislation, if and when it passes, needs to be challenged in court. Anyone who is already in the system has a binding contract with the state, and our benefits are considered deferred compensation, part of our compensation package. It is unlawful to change that. Scott has given ample evidence that he has no regard for the law – or respect for those who try to enforce it; nevertheless, even in Rick Scott’s America, we ARE a Nation of laws, and it is illegal to undo a contract! The FRS is sound. There is NO need to “fix” it. I am suspect of legislators who want to tamper with it. Some people object to the supposed perks of our jobs as public employees but, regardless, we negotiated for our salaries (which are extremely low) and perform at our jobs in good faith. Could we suddenly get together and decide we will change the terms of our contract? Of course not! We also didn’t stop anyone from competing for our jobs, so there should be no angst or envy. We just finished rewarding Wall Street, though they savaged all of us. we bailed out banks though we lost 50% of the value of our properties. Now we’re getting salary cuts so that the corporations can enjoy lower taxes. Where is the sanity? We better dump these Corporate Socialists in 2012, before they completely destroy the quality of life in Florida.

  21. Sick of Repugs Says:

    Florida is a right to work state. Unions have little or no power. This is just a political smoke screen, and all the anti-union rhetoric is misplaced hot air. I have been a teacher for 16 years, and I have never joined the union. If I ever decide to switch to the “Merit Pay” system, I WILL join the union. I do not trust the arbitrary decisions of administrators. The amount of time and money spent on grievances is going to sky rocket. To all you “private” sector folks who want “public” sector employees to live by the same rules you do, I say “misery loves company.” Your bosses and the politicians love you brain dead sheep.

  22. Sun Tzu Says:

    Bush was trying to make up for many years of recieving less. went about it the wrong way. Looked good at the time as money was pouring in to gov’t. The economy has changed drasticaly and his error is very visible now. Yes it needs to be corrected but you can’t blame the police or FF’s or even their unions. Bush designated funds to be spent on additional benefits and the LOCAL gov’t upped percentages and multipliers and changed ages ect. that put us in the situation we are now in.
    If you don’t tell the whole story it looks like the unions forced some ” sweetheart deal”. Now they are being used as scaregoats to distract from the real problems which is poor financial decisions from our elected. But no-one is going to stand up and fall on their sword for the unions and say it wasn’t the unions fault it was our fault!!!

  23. Sun Tzu Says:

    ms. Vicky

    You are right about it being a legaly binding contract. What they are looking at now is a way for the states to do a form of bankruptcy that will free them from those former obligations.Dirty politics but I’m told that is what they are discussing to overcome legal challenges like you were talking about.

  24. Ms Vicky Says:

    Thank you for that information, Sun Tzu. Nothing would surprise me with these thugs.They are also not above playing tricks with the votes in 2012, and the only way to overcome this kind of tryanny is to unite middle class working people across this state to vote in droves and get rid of them. They know it’s coming, so they’re scurrying like rats on a sinking ship.

  25. LarryW Says:

    People that complain about collective bargaining need to remember that public sector workers are the largest surviving sector of unionized labor in the United States. Only 7% of private workers are unionized. Since the 1970s, even before Reagan, business has been aggressively anti-union in the workplace and the government colluded. Violations of the NLRA skyrocketed in the 80s, but nothing was done. Because American workers depend on companies to protect their health and retirement (unlike in Canada and Europe) unionized sector companies experienced slower growth. This caused even more business resistance to unions and anti-union aggression that was not countered by the government (again, unlike in Canada and Europe). This is probably why in the United States the amount of money that CEOs make is 2x that of CEOs in other rich nations and executives extract money even from the shareholders that they are supposed to serve. And why in the United State’s wealth is hyperconcentrated in the bank accounts of 1% of the population.

  26. Big Johnson Says:

    Not all government workers are unionized. None of the water management districts are. I’m sure that’s why the legislature is so hot to take over the budget process from them. An easy task since there is no organization to lobby for them.

  27. RealAngst Says:

    Just this morning I looked at my 49K a year job and thought, wow, I wonder who these folks are angry with. I have been in my profession for more than 28 years, was fortunate to retire and lose more than half of my pension when the Wall Street collapse took place, so essentially, I will be working another 10 years, God willing. The office that I work in hasnt had a raise in more than 5 years, and those of you who say screw the Public Sector Workers better be prepared for the day we get fed up and go to the private sector. We dont do these jobs for the great pay and bennies, because neither great pay or bennies are provided. From my 1.6% to what I will have to add to it, do the math. My 49K turns into 42 IF I am forced to contribute to it. So where is my $10K raise to offset the 60 hours I routinely work at my job?

  28. JanisL Says:

    I am shocked to find out that Devious Jeb made a backroom deal with the unions to buy votes! At their own peril does ANYONE make deals with Republican thieves. It will come back to haunt you, as they have the scruples of a snake. For both Bushes, it was always about winning the next election for one of them! Never about ethically performing their duties of office. Why would any wage earner ever vote Republican? They have nothing but scorn for working people. Join the recall movement to get rid of Rick Scott, or FL is sunk.

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