US Public Sector Unions

I grew up in a union-supporting household on my mom’s side. My grandmother, the Captain’s Daughter, was a great supporter of the unions as the savior of the working man. She was born in 1885, so she’d seen the early rise of the unions, with all that entailed regarding basic safety and the like.

My dad, on the other hand, hated the unions. He was an architect, and he’d say “In the thirties I used to be able to pay a good craftsman more, and pay a shoddy worker less. But now everyone’s a ‘Journeyman’ and I have to pay the same. If I can’t reward good behavior and penalize sloppy carpentry, workmanship suffers”.

Of course, that was in the 1950’s, and back then in California, all that they had to dispute about were private sector unions. Back then, government unions were illegal in California. Illegal! We should be so lucky today.

However, this blissful time was ended by a young man just elected Governor back then, Jerry Brown. He pushed through legislation allowing the formation of California public sector unions, and they thanked him by energetically working to  re-elect him quite merrily.

And now, fast forward fifty years, guess who the public sector unions just re-elected for a new term as the Governor of California?

Why, it’s Jerry Brown, the original bad penny, the unions’ best pal, the man who made them rich beyond measure.

And this highlights the monumental logical fail of public sector unions. Here’s the deal.

You have a public sector union that collects dues from the ample wages of the workers. The public sector union then uses its money and mobilizes its members to elect the very person in charge of setting and increasing the union members’ ample wages and pensions.

Gee … what could possibly go wrong with such a brilliantly designed system?

The only thing dumber than that would be to let the union members set their own salaries … but that particular bit of corruption is generally restricted to legislators. True. For example, the US Congress sets its own salary. And when that got to be too much for the harried taxpayer, the newest amendment to the US Constitution was passed which said:

“No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Since that happens every two years, color me unimpressed … you can vote yourself a raise but you have to wait two years to start collecting it. Heck, you don’t even have to wait that long. Pass the bill just before the “election of Representatives”, collect the money a month later. Laughable, although I suppose it’s better than nothing. But I’ve digressed into the venality of Congress, a different subject, so let me return to the question at hand, public sector unions.

As a result of the !@#$%^& public sector unions, the US is going broke at every level—federal, state, county, and city governments are all paying obscene pensions to government workers at every level. Take Sonoma County where I live. The particular pluted bloatocrat who negotiated the current Sonoma County pension deal, which has doubled pension costs in the last ten years, that uncommon thief of public funds is now retired on a quarter of a million dollars per year pension! His only accomplishment was to further bankrupt the County, and for that he is getting richly rewarded … gotta love them government pension plans. And it’s not just here. A guy who ran the LA sewer system is currently making over $300,000 per year for the rest of his life.

As one Sonoma County Supervisor apologized to the taxpayers, “We can’t fix the potholes because we’ve gone broke paying the pensions of one single generation of government workers.” Of course, that wasn’t one of the Supervisors who’d approved the obscene pensions … they’re long gone.

Here’s how I’d fix this nonsense if I ran the zoo. I’d say NOBODY gets any government pension. I say, everyone should just get Social Security, the same as myself and millions of Americans. Seriously, why should some bureaucrat who spends all day sitting on  his … his … sitting on his extensive database make a better pension than a fisherman like myself risking my life on the ocean so people can have fish and chips?

And more to the point, why should the County Government be in the pension business at all? How is that even remotely what I want them to do? They are thumb-fingered and prejudiced amateur future traders engaging in a highly risky gamble on future interest rates using YOUR AND MY MONEY! That is madness, they have no expertise in that.

We’re not hiring them to feather their nests, we’re hiring them to get a job done. And that job is not creating or running a pension fund, it’s fixing the potholes. What does your average County Supervisor know about pensions and discount rates and the like? He’s likely a failed businessman who ran for office, she’s maybe a lawyer with a passion for the poor, what do either of them know about betting on future interest rates?

The public sector unions have screwed the public with this game long enough. We can’t do a dang thing about existing pensions, but what we need to do is simple:

End Government Pensions At All Levels

And finally, here’s the question I always get when I say we should end government pensions—what do we do about hazardous occupations like cops and firemen? Shouldn’t they get a better pension in recognition of the danger?

Let me answer this with a story.

I recall one of the years that I was fishing up in Alaska on the Bering Sea, that welcoming and always-friendly body of water made famous by the TV show “The Deadliest Catch”. There’s never enough room at the docks for the fishing boats, so the boats just “raft up”, with a second boat tied up alongside the first boat, a third boat tied alongside the second boat, and so on out into the harbor, something like this.

fishing-boats-rafted-up

The round pink air-filled balls hanging on the outside of the boat on the left are floats that are placed there to keep the sides of the boats from banging into each other. (Fishermen call that style of round pink floats “titty floats”, but then they’ve all been at sea too long to be PC, plus which among fishermen, acute testosterone poisoning is a recognized occupational hazard … but again I’m getting sidetractored, where was I? Oh, yeah, Alaskan waters.)

So one season when I was up there to go fishing, before the season started a bunch of guys in Dillingham Harbor were sitting on the back end of a rafted-up boat, talking story and telling lies as fishermen do. Some newcomer to the fleet was resting his hand on the “gunwale”, which curiously is pronounced “gunnel”. That’s the piece of wood or metal running around the upper edge of the sides of the boats seen in the photo above.

So another boat comes past the raft, and when that happens the boats in the raft all move around. In this case, as happens sometimes the floats weren’t quite enough, and two of the multi-ton vessels lightly bumped gunwales together, a light hit, no damage to the boats … but they hit right where the greenhorn had his hand casually draped over the rail. Smashed a couple fingers flat. His fishing season ended before it even got started. Here’s my point. This is Time magazine’s list of the most dangerous occupations of 2014. This is just deaths, doesn’t count all the rest of the hazards of fishing:

occupational-hazards

Commercial fishing is the second most deadly job in the US. Roofers are number four. Farmers are number six. Taxi drivers are number ten. Day-laborers are number twelve …

… and cops come in at number fifteen, while firemen don’t even make the top twenty.

I worked for years as a commercial fisherman, a much more deadly occupation than police and firemen, and what did I get for taking the risks when I retired?

Social Security … which also is what they should get.

I’m not saying we should get the same pay. I am saying we should get the same pension, that is to say, Social Security. Otherwise, I’m paying for every bureaucrat’s pension, and they’re not paying for mine.

Ending government pensions would solve one giant problem, which is that elected officials are wildly indebting future generations by merrily signing off on ridiculous pensions. Since the bill for the pensions won’t come due until they’re out of office, why not give away the store?

Ending government pensions would force governments at all levels to deal with current wages, and remove their ability to pay off the unions with future taxpayer wealth.

And if all the politicians in the US were on Social Security … you can bet they’d make sure that the Social Security System is financially sound.

The other thing I’d do if I ran the zoo would be to prevent the public sector unions from spending one dime or one minute on influencing the election of anyone with authority over them. That’s nuts. Unions in a business don’t get to vote on who the CEO is, and the same principle should hold true in government.

And as I write this, pounding rain here, and we just had some hail, a rare occurrence. More storms visible out over the ocean, rain to wash away the dregs of the recent drought, rain to bring joy to plants and animals alike, life is good.

My warmest regards to everyone,

w.

As is my custom: I ask everyone commenting to please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOU ARE COMMENTING ON, so we can all understand just what you are referring to.

Further reading: There’s a good analysis of the problem here, and another one here.

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58 thoughts on “US Public Sector Unions

  1. It is all about accountability. Can we hold the BART board accountable for not prosecuting people who stop the system for hours (of course, with the best intentions)? Can we hold the California High Speed Rail Authority accountable for the use of funds – including their salaries? How about the Public Utilities Commission? Is the term “corruption” usable in these cases?

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  2. Let me state up front I am a member of a union and I totally agree with what was written above.
    We are currently having positions deleted throughout the executive branch but more is needed. In an oil rich state like Alaska you would say it can’t be so. But when you have exhausted other peoples money, OPM, and now are cutting into the rainy day fund (Permanent Fund) and raising taxes to pay for the pensions it is time stop.

    The fund belongs to all Alaskans, union and non-union alike, so cutting into that hurts everyone.

    We are slowly turning this beast around as they instituted a 401k type plan State Benefits System (SBS) for anyone hired after 2006. There is still the Public Employees Retirement System PERS which should be rolled into the SBS that is now more like a 401k.
    I worked in the private sector for 22 yrs before going into state employment. If my position is eliminated, well I was looking for work when I got this job…
    As I wrote and told the Governor, there is no such word as sustainable when unions are involved.

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    • Oh, I know it’s not the half of it, Bob, you’re right. However, I have to keep it readable and interesting, so I make the strongest arguments I can within those bounds.

      w.

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  3. While a worthy idea, getting rid of public pensions is not likely to happen, short of a total economic collapse.

    What we could do, however is bring the pension basis back to the basic salary, and not allow government workers to “pump” their pension through overtime, special assignment pay, or location-based cost of living adjustments.

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    • I was a federal civil service employee for 30 years and contributed 7.5% of my gross salary as I recall to the Civil Service Retirement System. I worked a 50 hour week typically, sometimes more but was not paid extra for overtime. When I retired, my pension was based on straight time only at somewhat over half of what I made my last year of work with inflation adjustments. The inflation adjustments have held up reasonably well although at present, my pension is now under half of what a current employee in my former grade makes. It seems to me that recent inflation adjustments have been reduced causing my pension to fall below half-rate. I was not eligible to join a union in my position.

      The CSRS system was replaced many years ago with an “improved” pension system requiring more contributions by employees and paying less.

      It seems to me that the non-unionized part of the Federal Civil Service is reasonably pensioned, although I would certainly prefer reasonable cost of living adjustments.

      My point is that not all public employees get very large pensions. Perhaps if all, Federal, State and local, were subject to Federal pension rules, we would have a more rational system.

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  4. Some great points here, but I must take issue with pensions for at least one occupation/career in the employ of our government.

    Soldiers, sailors and aviators.

    I “survived” my time and flew several hundred combat missions being shot at, shot up and shot down (once). Not many professions require you to “charge the hill” or “dive down thru the ack and missiles” or “plow between the torpedoes”. It really helped if you truly believed in “the cause”, but even that rationale is being tarnished by the fanatical Muslims. Nevertheless, I flew with several that did not “believe” in the particular war, but still did their duty for the U.S.A. and upheld the vow they took.

    I looked up a steno job in San Diego as an exercise and that person would get more retirement $$ and medical plans than most enlisted retirees and even colonels that had been shot at in the line of duty. Something doesn’t add up, ya thinlk?

    BTW, the aviator column of deaths per 100,000 does not break it down to aircrew or support folks. It especially does not look at my niche – fighter pilot, First of all, takes many years to even get a sample population of 100,000!!!!! If no wars, then the fatality rate is most likely comparable with the fishermen and loggers, but could be higher. OTH, during our fiasco in Southeast Asia, the numbers were off the chart. Over the period from 1965 to 1975, we may not have even had 100,000 fighter pilots that flew there, and the ones that went usually had two or three tours.

    Make no mistake, I heartily endorse the restriction of unions for government employees. After all, our warriors can not be in a “union” and we also have several Bill of Right restrictions that most other government folks do not.

    Sorry for the rant, but I don’t think Willis and others intended to overlook our warriors.

    Gums sends…

    P.S. and now back to the climate “war”!!!

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    • Pat, first, my appreciation for your service.

      Next, I think that the incentive and the reward for your service should be in your PAY, not in your PENSION. Among other things, you can spend or invest your pay when you are young, put it into an IRA or a retirement account or beer as you wish.

      And of course, since your Social Security is indexed to your pay, your increased pay will result in increased Social Security when you do retire.

      What I’m opposed to is the underlying assumption that someone in a more hazardous occupation should automatically get a bigger pension. It doesn’t apply to roofers, to loggers, or to fishermen, three of the top four hazardous occupations, and all three of them jobs I’ve worked at … so why should it apply to a soldier, sailor, or aviator? Jack the pay to match the danger, not the pension.

      Thanks for your nuanced and clear comment,

      w.

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      • Many government jobs pay less than private sector jobs. And many are substantially more dangerous (police, fire, military for example) where it would be pretty hard to define a properly comparable job.

        Yes, it would be nice if the incentive was directly the pay, but for decades the promise has been “work for the government at lower pay now, and we will make sure you are taken care of when you can no longer work”, this includes good medical coverage after retirement (and for spouses after the death of the government worker)

        it’s not fair to the honest hard workers to change the deal after the fact. They took the job based on the total benefits package, which included retirement benefits. They can’t go back and decide to do something different.

        I am NOT a fan of unions, I think they are more harm than good at this point in time (they were created to respond to a real need, but that need has mostly vanished and they have become power hungry), but you need to be VERY careful about ‘changing the deal’ after the fact.

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        • Thanks, David. I am NOT proposing changing the deal after the fact. I’m proposing changing the future deal by ending government pensions. People get to keep whatever they’ve earned, but the gravy train stops.

          As to whether that is “fair”, is it fair that in my county we can’t fix the potholes because obscene pensions have bankrupted us? Is it fair that I have to pay for my own pension PLUS the pension of every one of the porkoisie?

          There is no “fair” solution to this problem, and while I do have compassion for the “honest hard workers”, I also have compassion for the honest hard working taxpayers that the current plan is screwing royally …

          Finally, no, in general in California government jobs do NOT “pay less than the private sector”. Average pay for California high school teachers? SIXTY-NINE GRAND A YEAR FOR TEN MONTHS WORK. In California counties the average salary, including janitors, is $64,000 per year. That’s why we’re paying such obscene pensions. The numbers aren’t picked out of the air. The pensions are obscene because they are all based on a percentage of obscene salaries.

          w.

          Liked by 1 person

      • changing it for new hires, fine.

        changing it for existing employees requires having a split between ‘before’ and ‘after’ the change and figuring some fair thing for the ‘before’ time.

        I live in California (LA area currently, but I’ve spent time in the Bay area as well), $69K/year isn’t great pay, it’s not even good pay if you think in terms of family income. It’s also not like teachers can go out and get a good paying job for 2 months a year.

        Yes, in most of the US, and most of California (as defined by area), that is a very nice salary, but if you look at the areas with the most population, you find it is small, but very expensive areas. You are making the same mistake that those calling for minimum wage increases are, you are ignoring the cost of living differences for different areas.

        It may very well end up that we are going to be unable to pay the promised amounts, just like with SS, but NOT paying what was promised is something to try to avoid and regret.

        Would you be willing to double everyone’s pay to skip the pensions going forward? Would you be willing to do it retroactively to avoid paying future pensions? (and even that isn’t really fair as the people didn’t get a chance to invest that pay)

        Now, I’m in complete agreement with you that the public unions have far too much power, and so have ‘negotiated’ pay and benefits that, in many cases, are unreasonably high. But I also know people who work or have worked in these fields and they aren’t all evil money-grubbers. You swing a very wide loop when you call to eliminate all public pensions.

        You talk about how the $64K/year even includes janitors. I’ll bet that your idea of what a janitor does woefully underestimates the job. It’s not just someone with a broom/mop. It’s doing the ugly work of cleaning and acting as a general handyman fixing just about everything as well.

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      • davidelang January 3, 2017 at 12:18 am

        changing it for new hires, fine.

        changing it for existing employees requires having a split between ‘before’ and ‘after’ the change and figuring some fair thing for the ‘before’ time.

        Sure.

        I live in California (LA area currently, but I’ve spent time in the Bay area as well), $69K/year isn’t great pay, it’s not even good pay if you think in terms of family income. It’s also not like teachers can go out and get a good paying job for 2 months a year.

        So speaketh the 1%, or perhaps the 4% … seventy k per year with a two month vacation works out to $42 per hour PLUS BENEFITS. Even in Los Angeles that’s a very respectable wage. Your claim was that government employees were underpaid and make it up on the pension end. Not true.

        Yes, in most of the US, and most of California (as defined by area), that is a very nice salary, but if you look at the areas with the most population, you find it is small, but very expensive areas. You are making the same mistake that those calling for minimum wage increases are, you are ignoring the cost of living differences for different areas.

        Nope. Forty-two bucks an hour plus benefits is a good wage anywhere in the state.

        It may very well end up that we are going to be unable to pay the promised amounts, just like with SS, but NOT paying what was promised is something to try to avoid and regret.

        Would you be willing to double everyone’s pay to skip the pensions going forward? Would you be willing to do it retroactively to avoid paying future pensions? (and even that isn’t really fair as the people didn’t get a chance to invest that pay)

        You have put your finger on the problem, and the solution. You’re right, we’d probably have to double salaries to equal the value of the obscene pensions. So your question really is, is your average taxpayer willing to pay $84 per hour for your average high school teacher? What’s your guess?

        I say that posing that question by ending all government pensions would make it clear just how much the unions are currently ripping us off … $84 per hour for a dang high school teacher, my okole.

        Now, I’m in complete agreement with you that the public unions have far too much power, and so have ‘negotiated’ pay and benefits that, in many cases, are unreasonably high. But I also know people who work or have worked in these fields and they aren’t all evil money-grubbers. You swing a very wide loop when you call to eliminate all public pensions.

        Why are you trying so hard to convince us that government workers should get special benefits that the rest of us don’t get? What, do you work for them or something? I’m not an evil-money grubber either … but somehow you think they deserve special treatment that I don’t get.

        Why?

        You talk about how the $64K/year even includes janitors. I’ll bet that your idea of what a janitor does woefully underestimates the job. It’s not just someone with a broom/mop. It’s doing the ugly work of cleaning and acting as a general handyman fixing just about everything as well.

        My friend, check out my CV, there’s a link under “About This Site” … Janitor? I’ve done that and more, and I know just what the job entails.

        w.

        PS—the guy who oversees the Sonoma County vehicles makes $112,000 per year. The County Administrator makes just under a quarter million per year, over three hundred grand including benefits. The woman who oversees our “Healthy Communities” program makes a very healthy $113,000 per year. We have no less than four “Lead Mechanics” for the Water Department, each of whom makes $103,000 per year … not counting overtime. With overtime, each of them draws over $120,000 per year.

        It gets worse. The lowest pay in the County is $39,000 per year, for an Animal Care Assistant II … but of course when you include the benefits it’s $50,000 per year. We’re paying fifty grand a year for a damn dog walker …

        The average county salary here, not counting benefits, is $87,000 … and with benefits it’s $108,000 per year. So please, spare me the stories of the poor struggling government employees … might be happening somewhere, but not in Sonoma County.

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      • The thing is that you are not only talking about taking the pension away from the current 30something employees who are making the money you are quoting, you are talking about taking the pensions away from the people who retired 30 years ago, BEFORE the public unions jacked up the pay so much.

        As I say, I would have no problem changing the rules going forward (but recognize that you are likely to have to increase the pay to keep good people), my problem is with talking about eliminating the pensions from people who are currently retired (or close to retiring) who don’t have any time to make alternate plans/investments.

        nobody sane wants to retire only on SS. Private sector people know this and invest in IRA/401k/etc (or work for companies that have other retirement plans). You can’t go back in time and give these people time to plan something else, it’s not fair to yank their plans out from under them.

        For the same reasons, we can’t just shutdown SS, we need a plan to phase it out so that we don’t strand the people who have no time/money to come up with other retirement plans.

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      • by the way, you talk about how the lowest pay in the county is $39K/year. Do you realize that minimum wage is (or is soon going to be) $30K/year?

        I would hope that someone who can pass the civil service exams is able to get paid better than a burger flipper.

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      • davidelang January 3, 2017 at 2:24 am

        The thing is that you are not only talking about taking the pension away from the current 30something employees who are making the money you are quoting, you are talking about taking the pensions away from the people who retired 30 years ago, BEFORE the public unions jacked up the pay so much.

        David, QUOTE THE WORDS YOU DISAGREE WITH!!! As far as I know I’ve said nothing of the sort. This gets old. QUOTE IT OR FORGET IT. I cannot respond to your fantasies about what I said.

        w.

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      • If you aren’t talking about eliminating pensions paid to existing retirees and those near retirement, what are you talking about doing with pensions?

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  5. Regarding gold-plated pensions for police and firemen, I’ve always observed that nobody held a gun to their heads forcing them into those professions. I’d be willing to bet that the primary motivation for most people entering those professions (and government employment in general) is the expectation of receiving one of those gold-plated pensions. Way back when, after I graduated from high school, I briefly considered going to work for the Post Office. I had an uncle who was a “mailman” and it sounded like an easy way to make a living. Steady employment, decent-but-not-exceptional pay, and the biggest carrot: lifetime employment. Back in those days government workers traded less-than-private-enterprise pay for guaranteed lifetime employment, which usually really didn’t require them to work very hard. That’s totally flipped now, with government employees benefitting from virtually guaranteed lifetime employment at high pay with a gold-plated pension at the end. I was shocked a few years ago the first time I heard about government employees getting bonuses.

    My own father is a poster-boy for how government employees learn how to game the system. He retired about thirty years ago after a thirty-five year career as a full-time state/Army employee (he worked in the state office that disburses military equipment from the federal government to all the National Guard units in the state; said employment required him to also be in the National Guard; his work clothing was an Army uniform). As he was approaching retirement age, he got a promotion to Sergeant Major, which at the time I thought was pretty impressive, and made me proud of “the old man”. When I mentioned that to him, he responded that “It was no big deal, just my turn.” So, they made sure that everyone was able to maximize the value of their pension by making sure everyone got promoted to the highest rank possible before they retired. But it’s even better than that. Shortly after he was eligible to retire with his full pension at age fifty-five, the law was set to change in a way that would have decreased the amount he received in retirement. That change was to make state government employees choose between receiving either a state pension OR social security. Before that law went into effect, state employees received both. So, like everyone else my dad’s age, he retired shortly *before* the changed law went into effect. As a result, he retired with both the state pension *and* social security. But wait, it’s even better than that. Since he was also a combination state/Army employee, he also receives a military pension. As a result, for the past thirty or so years he has received more money in retirement than he made when he was working. At one level this is good for me and my siblings, as it has meant that we’ve never had to worry about supporting him financially. At another level, it is obviously a bad deal for taxpayers. And a perfect example of how government pension policies are unsustainable and grossly unfair to those of us who spent our careers in the “private” sector.

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  6. While I am not familiar with California issues, the plans at the federal level appear to be substantially different. The old federal pension plan (CSRS/Civil Service Retirement system) was much like Social Security where a percentage of salary was payed in and the recipient was not allowed to draw SS (unless paying into that system under those rules). That changed in 1986 to FERS/Federal Employee Retirement System which blended with SS and added TSP/Thrift Savings Plan which was similar to a 401K except managed at government level (TSP was also added to the grandfathered CSRS). The military plans appear similar and they were revised in 2016 to update. The point being that employees pay into those accounts, like SS.
    The major problem is that the present employees have to pay for the retired ones because the politicians can never keep their hands off all the money in the reserve pots, the result being that, eventually, using SS as the worst example, they run short of funds. Another breakdown is that (1980’s?) the corporate pensions were allowed by the courts to be raided in case of bankruptcy (the money paid in by the company for the employee pension was considered to belong to the company). The PBGC helps in some cases but doesn’t in many others. Now good luck with correcting this by keeping those monies out of the federal general fund. Another point is that I don’t believe, especially after the Reagan Air Traffic Controller fiasco, that federal unions ever will have as much power as California unions appear to have.
    https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/csrs-information/
    https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/fers-information/
    http://www.newmilitaryretirement.com/plan/comparing-the-current-military-retirement-plan-with-the-new-military-retirement-plan.shtm

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  7. Salute!

    Lynn’s point is well taken and Willis had one good idea that involved contemporaneous pay for the hazardous duty and not necessarily the gold at the end of the rainbow. I was able to get extra pay due to my aviation job, and back, way back, we even got what was called “combat pay”.

    I do not know of any in my bunch that joined up just to get a great pension, or especially to get shot at, heh heh. We just wanted to fly neat jets, and the hazardous nature of just doing that alone was pretty obvious. Having to fight in a war was always in the equation, and was definitely part of our deliberations.

    I have to disagree with Willis about no pension for the warriors that live to collect, hence my post about not having pensions for any government career. I agree with Lynn that nobody forced me to join up, but no other way existed to fly neat jets, and tho many were called, few were chosen. I had to work really hard to get to my goal of flying risky machines Honestly, Willis, there ain’t no easy way to pay the warriors sufficiently during the course of their careers because we have to deal with the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Much like the steno job in San Diego city hall who makes more than a retired Navy SEAL with three Purple Hearts, we provide a decent pension to military REMF’s at the same amount as the warriors. What most may not realize is that my retirement check was not based on my active duty take home pay. It did not include my hazardous duty pay( flight pay), housing allowance and whatever they call “combat” pay nowadays. Maybe the only “good” deal I have “earned” is the current health care subsidy, although medicaid for some folks includes coverage that I do not get from the military or medicare.
    +++++++++++++++
    I strongly agree there should be no unions for any government employee. Problem is defining which job gets the commenserate pay/salary to match risk/hazard/time away from home and so forth.
    +++++++++++++++

    Let’s get back to the climate war, and I don’t need no steenkeeng pension for fighting the good fight.

    Gums sends….

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    • Thanks, Lynn. You say:

      I have to disagree with Willis about no pension for the warriors that live to collect, hence my post about not having pensions for any government career. I agree with Lynn that nobody forced me to join up, but no other way existed to fly neat jets, and tho many were called, few were chosen. I had to work really hard to get to my goal of flying risky machines Honestly, Willis, there ain’t no easy way to pay the warriors sufficiently during the course of their careers because we have to deal with the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Much like the steno job in San Diego city hall who makes more than a retired Navy SEAL with three Purple Hearts, we provide a decent pension to military REMF’s at the same amount as the warriors.

      I understand your claim … but I don’t understand why the military can’t pay combat pay, or combat pay plus extra hazardous-duty pay, or something.

      And I’m not convinced that the military is that much more hazardous than commercial fishing in the Bering Sea. Sure, during combat there are more losses of soldiers and pilots … but during storms there are more losses of fishermen. And when you’re not in your jet you are in little danger … but I’m putting my life on the line for months on end.

      Plus which nobody flies fighter jets in combat for an entire lifetime … but fishermen go out into danger day after day, year after year, often until their seventies. So I’d say total risk over a lifetime is at least as large for fishermen as for fighter pilots.

      So why should fishermen make a smaller pension than some guy who flew jets for a few years, got to get in some actual combat sorties, and then put in the rest of his twenty or twenty-five years, and retired?

      In fact, why do the military and the police and firemen get to retire after twenty or twenty-five years of service, while I and other commercial fishermen have to work about twice that long, until we are sixty-six?

      Now I would certainly award extra money for Purple Hearts and other medals, and I sure wouldn’t pay each MOS the same … but again, cash on the barrelhead, and no future promises or pensions for a damn good reason.

      The future indebtedness at the Federal, State, County, and City level in this country is simply astronomical. Government pensions are bankrupting the country.

      We have promised the moon in pensions to far too many people, including you. Not that I begrudge you your taking what was offered, no problem with that, you take what is offered, I’m glad you have it.

      But I am totally unwilling to further increase our future indebtedness by one thin dime for anyone by promising some future pension benefits, only to leave them for my daughter to pay. Not interested, sorry. I’m willing to pay more actual cash today, but I’m not willing to promise expensive rainbows and high-priced unicorns tomorrow for anyone, whether it is me, you, or a decorated Navy SEAL. As far as I am concerned, that is a crime against our children.

      w.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “In fact, why do the military and the police and firemen get to retire after twenty or twenty-five years of service, while I and other commercial fishermen have to work about twice that long, until we are sixty-six?”

        Willis, as regards the UK military (was me) they are “booted out” after 25 years. The pension is not enough for most to live on alone, so they will need to get a job. 25 years from 18 is 43…young really. Pay was poor for a long time. Jet jockies never struck me as rich…perhaps their dads were?

        Officers maybe somewhat better off pension-wise and all cannot join airlines etc. Non Commissioned staff have a problem particularly if they are non technical. I was in radar and electronics so never had a problem and purchased myself out at 15 yrs service before it really went pear shaped. The services have been shrunk and skills are not so good. Tank Commanders of 10 years or so get to become postman etc. Soldiers/Sailors? The follow up for these guys is bad and I would never join again….especially where I may be prosecuted as a result of conflict. Stuff happens – is happening and at vast cost.

        I will not defend the police here because my brother-in-law was one…idle git on a very good pension! And for what exactly? Booking drivers and putting folk in the clink..may have lifted the odd dead body. His wife was a police inspector…double fat pensions.

        Government could pay the going rate and switch workers to private pensions. In my short government experience it was never contemplated (1990’s). An alternative was to sell off certain services (TUPE). And that happened with me. However, those sell offs were non public facing departments like research. The public facing ones are the problem now..health, benefit, jobs, agencies, councils etc. They consume vast money lumps and seemingly are out of control with the recent economic downturn. I think their pay is generally cr*p also…as was mine way back then. So called CEO’s pay…well?

        I won’t go on about old age pensions…although some self contribution is necessary and as we see has been screwed and as such is no where near enough! Old age care is the current big burden and never adequately addressed.

        Colin

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      • In fact, why do the military and the police and firemen get to retire after twenty or twenty-five years of service, while I and other commercial fishermen have to work about twice that long, until we are sixty-six?

        Because they have a ‘better union’? (which was your, point I guess)

        If it is any consolation, the UK has pretty much the same problems. Very nice retirement plans funded by people that often can’t find enough money at the end of the week to eat.
        I met a youngster a few weeks ago who can only continue working (living? He earns minimum wage) by use of the credit card. He’s 27k in debt and he’s 22 years old!

        (forget him having that kind of credit available with no obvious way of ever paying it back – another tale)

        Like

  8. Many years ago we opted out of a state pension system and then could use part of the regular pay in an IRA with a match. After 10 years the match was capped at 10%. Many places have a cap of 6%, or so I’ve read. Of course, the individual can invest more – we did. Upon retirement, the state signed off and we were clear of it. Prior to retirement, within the employment program, we could and did use several large mutual fund companies but finally did combine all funds to one company. Works for us.

    About Social Security: Self-employed folks have to pay and do a match as well. The problem is that tax rules encourage actions that reduce income and thus pay-in. Long years of showing not much income comes back to bite such self-employeds. Then other forms of assistance are necessary, such as food banks, help with energy bills, emergency room visits (versus a regular clinic visit), and others.

    I agree with the basics of the post, but there are details.

    Like

  9. Thanks, Willis, for your usual common sense approach.
    ‘…fast forward fifty years…’. From when? Jerry Brown first took over the California governorship (from Ronald Reagan) in January 1975 – that’s a bit less than 50 years ago. His father Pat Brown was governor in the 1960s.

    Like

  10. Here is great example of this lunacy. My Dad (now deceased) was a teacher, football coach and administrator for a school system. He took early retirement at 62. He was replaced. So at the time of his retirement he started to receive his pension which included full medical benefits for himself and my mother, for life! Fast forward about 15 years, my Dad is still alive receiving his pension and benefits, the man who replaced him is now retired with a pension and full medical benefits and they have to hire another person to fill the position. So you have 3 people being paid by the city for one job. Fast forward another 15 years, my Dad is still alive, so is his successor, so is that person’s successor along with the current holder of the position. Now you have 4 people drawing from the public coffers. Multiply this by hundreds of positions where retirees live much longer than ever and you can see why this cannot be sustained.

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  11. Willis wrote in the main post:

    You have a public sector union that collects dues from the ample wages of the workers. The public sector union then uses its money and mobilizes its members to elect the very person in charge of setting and increasing the union members’ ample wages and pensions.

    Note that the Federal Government is increasing union membership at all levels when a Federal mandate is handed down, schools being a familiar example.

    When the Department of Education (DoEd) mandates something such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), federal employees are hired to administer the program. State Boards of Education hire a staff to make sure school districts are following the mandate. Local schools hire staff to administer the program and teachers have to work the mandate into their lesson plans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The U.S. has more than 14,000 public school districts and spends more than $500 billion on public elementary and secondary education each year (combined spending of federal, state, and local governments).

    Assume any number you’d like – I’ll pick 2 – and for one little NCLB it’s-for-the-children mandate, 28,000 government jobs might be created across the U.S. A mandate here, a mandate there and with the attendant pensions, pretty soon you figure out why schools need $10,000+ per student.

    So, along with pension reform, it wouldn’t hurt to limit the whims of the Federal government. There would be much fewer employees pushing papers for little value added to, in this example, schools.

    Like

    • reducing regulations and mandates is much easier to do than eliminating pensions. The good news is that reducing regulations and mandates seems to be very high on Trump’s agenda and the people he is appointing seem to be ones who want to reduce the size/impact of the departments they are managing rather than building them into bigger empires.

      Like

  12. The problem with government employee unions is that there is no underlying concern to produce income. In the private sector, the underlying mutual concern is that everyone in the negotiations between the union and the company understands that the company must survive in order for the union members to have jobs. The best interests of the employees lie with increasing company income in order to continue to receive the benefits the union has fought for. With government unions there is no connection between the benefits received and company income. All government employee incomes are based on tax money collected and not cash flow due to productivity.

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    • Tom in Florida wrote:

      The problem with government employee unions is that there is no underlying concern to produce income.

      Bingo! Also, for every government job created and paid for by taxes, the dues (our tax money) go overwhelmingly to elect/re-elect one favored party. The Democrats (largely) are using our tax money to re-elect themselves. So the Powers That Be (PTB) promise nice wages and pensions in return for money from taxes paid by people who may oppose the PTB.

      To your point, Tom, the public sector unions exist to produce money (from dues) and votes for TPB, certainly not income, as you point out. Shweeet deal for the pols!

      Like

  13. davidelang January 3, 2017 at 2:38 am

    by the way, you talk about how the lowest pay in the county is $39K/year.

    Nope. I talked about the lowest pay being $50K/year, $39k in salary and $11k in benefits, with unknown future pension costs that will likely add a big amount to that cost. In addition they can’t get fired for anything short of being filmed in a bank robbery.

    Do you realize that minimum wage is (or is soon going to be) $30K/year?

    You do realize that an increase in the minimum wage merely forces everyone’s costs to rise, and is driving business out of California? But heck, if you believe in minimum wages, lets set the minimum wage at $75/hour and end poverty forever!

    I would hope that someone who can pass the civil service exams is able to get paid better than a burger flipper.

    Burger flippers currently make $20,000 per year with basically no benefits. In seven years they’ll be making $30,000 … or they would be, but by then McDonalds will have installed the robots in response to the unjustified minimum wage hike. The part people seem to forget is that the REAL minimum wage is always $0/hour …

    On the other hand, the LOWEST PAID civil service job in this county makes $50,000 per year including benefits. As they might say on college campuses, “Check your numerical privilege” …

    And more to the point, I’m sorry, but on my planet an “Animal Care Assistant II” is NOT worth more than a burger flipper.

    w.

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    • IMHO, the increases in minimum wage are designed to provide the federal government with more social security taxes under the guise of helping poor people and without having to officially pass a SS tax increase. And those increases in SS taxes come directly out of the pocket of business owners.

      Like

      • Here in PA a gas station/store chain called Sheetz has been using touchscreen ordering system for their sandwich shop counters for quite some time. It works very well and is quite popular with customers, they are already setting up to use smartphone apps to order and pay, too. Automation is coming to fast food and grocery stores and unions are going to screech about the cuts to employees. Don’t doubt me.

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  14. There is no place for unions in government. And today there is no place for unions in America. Between labor laws and regulations, OSHA and other Fed and state level agencies unions are long past their use and have become a yuge problem for workers and employers. And absolutely a drag on small business. Time for them to go, starting with SEIU.

    Like

    • Salute!

      With all due respect, Hotel…..

      There may be occupations and working environments that might have a place for organized labor, but none are “government” jobs – local, state, U.S. I do not have the “problem” with unions that Hotel seems to have RE: any union nohow, noway.. If the government stays outta the fray, then let the private sector have unions or no unions or in between with no government interference. But that has not been the case last few decades. Witness the South Carolina versus Boeing episode a few years back. The administration let loose the national labor relations folks upon S.C when Boeing wanted to build the new airplane there because the state did not have laws requiring mandatory union membership just to get hired.

      There are many hazardous jobs out there as Willis points out. I disagree about his rationale re: the warriors versus the fishermen, but I think I understand his point. So my take is that both professions seem to make the prospective employee ( if you define serving your country being an employee) aware of the cost/benefit aspects of such profession. I fully agree with W. about the nature of the job that we see on the “Deadliest Catch” series. The plus side is the captains pay their crew according to the risk, and that appears in line with W’s rationale. So a two month tour might be a $40,000 payday or even more if the TV shows are close to accurate. OTOH, a military “employee” may be ordered, not being a volunteer, to charge the hill or make a “last stand” in some hell hole while getting close to “minimum wage” pay. I completely understand the risks and the environment that the fisher folks endure, tho seems some greenhorns didn’t get the full brief when they came up the gangplank.

      I think between Willis and some others here we can come up with some combinations of deferred pay( pension) with current pay based on the job requirements/risks, time on the job ( “exposure”) and so forth. Problem is many folks in the military that are useful, even required, cannot be at the tip of the spear that entails putting your skinny butt out there as a target. So how do we handle that? Right now my check from taxpayers is the same as the supply officer that spent the entire career in the states and never saw anything close to what we warriors endured.

      Great discussion, but hope it stays on this thread and we get to our climate stuff.

      Gums opines…

      Like

      • Pat McAdoo, you’ve reminded me of one of Piet Hein’s grooks that I learned many years ago when you wrote

        OTOH, a military “employee” may be ordered, not being a volunteer, to charge the hill or make a “last stand” in some hell hole while getting close to “minimum wage” pay.

        The grook goes thus:

        You’re paid to stop a bullet.
        It’s a soldiers job, they say.
        And so you stop a bullet
        and then they stop your pay.

        Piet Hein

        I take your point about the risk/reward of the fishermen, but Willis already mentioned extra pay for high risk military situations. The only puzzlement to me is how extra pay works out for the soldier who gets killed on his first patrol vs. the soldier who gets killed in the middle of his 2nd tour of duty. That’s a toughie.

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      • “may be ordered, not being a volunteer, to charge the hill or make a “last stand” in some hell hole while getting close to “minimum wage” pay.” Small problem here, US Military is all volunteer, and no one in it can legitimately claim they did not know the inherent risks going in. Not really in the same category as fishing in the arctic or building highrises or bridges. The raw deal US veterans are getting is in a whole category by itself, and unionism is not even a consideration.

        My point stands on its own feet. The age of unions is dead. They had a real and needed purpose, and it is fulfilled. Want a clear example of how unions are no longer needed? Try to fire a convicted child molester who is a member of teacher’s union in, say, New York state. Or any state with unionized teachers. Unions are nothing more than rampant unprosecuted RICO cases, people forced to join and pay dues while the leadership is corrupt to the core and 100% Democrat Party drones. Time for massive prosecution and lengthy prison terms for union leadership, and seizure of all the money and property stolen.

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      • Salute!

        @ Hotel…

        I admit that I like your idea of no unions, especially for government folks. If the private sector tolerates organized labor, then fine with me as long as there are no government subsidies or laws restricting unions or providing support or….. Let them stand on their own. The political activity of Hansen upset me to no end. I would have faced UCMJ charges for doing the same public rants as Hansen did, and lost my “pension” and ……

        We military types had a union and still do. It’s the chain of command and good leaders at the top. The various “chiefs” testify before Congress and do not cut deals in smoke-filled rooms at midnight. We also have “the vote” to exercise. However, we don’t have the option to “go on strike”. We are few, and the masses are many, especially the “immigrants” and “refugees” we have been seeing last decade or so.

        As far as the volunteer military versus the volunteer fishermen, I disagree. Sure, I volunteered two times – join up, and then finish high enuf in training to get a fighter assignment ( we had no “equal opportunity” or “diversity” quotas. We got our choice of rides according to our ranking of skill accomplishing the criterion task). The specter of combat was always there, but not for sure. The fisherman may have to get thru a severe storm and exercise super seamanship just to come out the other side. I applaud them. The difference is that I was ORDERED to go into a heavily defended target and losses were a given. A fishing boat captain can choose NOT TO GO THRU a storm. If the captain does too many crazy things, then the captain will have a hard time getting crew for the next cruise.

        The biggie on the side of the fishermen is that all on the boat face the same hazard. In my case, my maintenance troops, the clerk at the personnel office, the supply dude, the finance folks, the ordnance troops and others never got shot at ( exception follows). The ‘nam scenario and to some extent the ‘stan scenario were unique in that everyone was subject to a suicide bomber or rocket attack. See many places in South Viet Nam from 1965 to 1972, and Taliban actions in the ‘stan.. Those scenarios illustrate assymetric warfare and nothing as we saw in WW2, Korea or Desert Storm. In fact, U.S. ground forces have never had enemy planes attacking them since WW1 due to our air superiority.

        @ H.R…..

        The military has a few combat death “benefits”, if paying your widow is a benefit. So your family or beneficiary gets the $$$ and some other stuff if you :buy it”, no matter which tour of duty. Their payoff is higher depending upon time served. The VA disaster is just that, as Hotel has indicated.

        Gums opines….

        Like

        • “We military types had a union and still do. It’s the chain of command and good leaders at the top.” Brother, you don’t get what “union” is, at all. Don’t know where to start to ‘splain it.

          Like

      • Pat McAdoo January 4, 2017 at 11:34 am

        As far as the volunteer military versus the volunteer fishermen, I disagree. Sure, I volunteered two times – join up, and then finish high enuf in training to get a fighter assignment ( we had no “equal opportunity” or “diversity” quotas. We got our choice of rides according to our ranking of skill accomplishing the criterion task). The specter of combat was always there, but not for sure. The fisherman may have to get thru a severe storm and exercise super seamanship just to come out the other side. I applaud them. The difference is that I was ORDERED to go into a heavily defended target and losses were a given. A fishing boat captain can choose NOT TO GO THRU a storm.

        Pat, my thanks to you for continuing the conversation and your many good points, but I must disagree here. Choose not to go through a storm? Say what? If fishermen could choose not to be in a storm do you think they would ever, ever be in a storm? … and despite that, I and every other fishermen have been through storm after storm after storm. The idea that we can choose to avoid storms is simply not true. If we could we absolutely would, and no fishing boat would ever be lost in a storm.

        w.

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      • Pat, you also have not dealt with the issue of lifetime risk. Yes, the risk is very high for a jet jockey in actual combat … but that lasts for a few hours at a time spread over few years, after which the pilot goes on to much less hazardous occupations.

        For a fisherman, the numbers are much uglier, because the danger is there every day. About one in a thousand is lost per year. That means if someone fishes for fifty years, as many fishermen do, you have about one chance in twenty of dying at sea. That’s a good sized risk.

        And I know that we’re not losing one in twenty of our fighter pilots in combat. Most fighter pilots never see combat, and for those that do, most come through it alive.

        In any case, I still oppose the underlying idea, which is that more dangerous occupations should get higher PENSIONS. I say people in more dangerous occupations should get higher PAY, and when they retire, they should get Social Security like the rest of us poor shlubs. They will assuredly get more Social Security, because their pay is higher, just like everyone else making more money for whatever reason.

        w.

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  15. Willis, I have to respectively disagree with you on teachers only working 10 months of the year. I have friends who are teachers and if one added up the unpaid hours in preparing assignments, marking, planning, organizing and taking part in extracurricular activities such as field trips, science fairs, sports, grad ceremonies. I am sure the extra hours would more than cover the so called two months off. Oh and in that two months off they are taking upgrading courses and preparing for the next year. So the teachers I know they do manage somehow to fit in time with their own families.

    Myself, ex Royal Canadian Navy sailor (stoker), retired electrical grid operator.

    Like

  16. The writers at Reason.com have been writing about this for some time and pointing out that FDR and AFL-CIO president George Meany were against public sector unions.

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  17. First off the idea of government unions flies in the face of the Civil Service laws. The law was supposed to protect government workers so either the unions should go or the Civil Service laws should be repealed.

    Government workers are always complaining about not being paid the equivalent amount that they would receive if they were in the private sector. Of course they don’t include the outrageous vacation and sick leave benefits that they get (including getting paid for unused sick leave when they retire). Nor are they subject to firing for incompetence as they would in the private sector.

    AFA unions in general go, they are supposed to represent the workers but the hierarchy is comprised of bureaucrats who may have never worked in the trades they are are supposed to represent. If the unions are really going to be representative of the workers then laws should be passed to abolish the union offices and officers who are not actually employed in the trade they represent. The SEIU should be outlawed as Federal employees should not be allowed to unionize and the AFL-CIO should be broken up under the anti-trust laws.

    There shouldn’t be a need for Right to Work laws since that should be an obvious right protected by the Constitution.

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  18. Public sector unions remind me of the crushed jellyfish slime pouring down a purse seiner’s net as it is hauled in through the power block – more than irritating and you better have some damn good protection if you don’t want to get stung by either the unions or jellyfish slime.

    Like

    • As an erstwhile purse seiner myself (roe herring in the Bering Sea) I can only heartily agree. Full face shields and set phasers to stun …

      w.

      Like

  19. One small point … do not confuse military retired pay with a military pension … they’re two very different animals.

    The pension is awarded for the exclusive benefit of an individual, e.g. disability pay. In a divorce, it is not split with a spouse.

    Military retired pay is not a pension and is subject to property settlement in a divorce. Also, it is not awarded because the military profession is dangerous. It is awarded when an individual retires from active duty; the individual is still subject to recall to active duty, depending on the relevant law in force at the time, as conditions dictate. This is why the profession maintains an inactive reserve force, and pays accordingly. You could almost view the service as never ending; you’re in the Army for life. In a major conflict, a so-called retiree could have his second career smashed to bits when he got recalled to active duty. Today, circumstances are much different than when the idea of military retired pay was first established in the 19th century. As the pay and benefits have improved, so has retired pay. And so has life expectancy. Now that there is Social Security, the military retiree should have to, at some point, choose … military retired pay or social security … not both.

    Like

    • Salute!

      Good points, Leon.

      Unlike the welfare payments and social security and whatever, military retired pay does not have automatic cost-of-living adjustments. Ditto for active duty military. So my disability check for hearing problems ( jet noise, ya think?) has gone way over double since I “retired” 30 years ago, but my retired pay has not come close to double.

      Disgree about social security checks in addition to military retirement. I do not want my social security check go to some wind farm subsidy. I want it to pay for my grandkid’s charter school or neat vacation to Disney World. The social security check goes up like the welfare payments according to cost of living, but military pay and retirement pay does not, and must be voted upon by Congress. If I paid zero social security, then I agree with you, Leon.

      Lastly, due to some obscure classification of service status, not all folks are subject to “recall”. For a long time there was a category for officers called “regular” versus “reserve”. So as a “regular” I was one in the individual ready reserve, but my ROTC friend was not when he retired. In WW2, MacArthur was “recalled” due to his “regular” status. Seems we could be recalled for “x” years after retirement, and might have been a function of age.

      Oh well, without a union to demand more retirement $$$, we old warriors hang in there, and do what we did – follow orders, don’t whine, do your duty, contribute to the community and don’t have a press conference to tell the world we will all die due to sea level rise and temperature 2 or 3 degrees above what we have now.

      Gums opines…

      Like

  20. Willis,
    About being stuck with past pensions: seems to me it is easy to show that the union members (as represented by the leaders they elected whose actions are thus chargeable to the members) and the elected officials knew or should have known the pensions were unsustainable and thus unreasonable, a fraud on the taxpayers. So go after past pension deals too and those who negotiated them.

    Like

  21. Pingback: Deconstructing the Administrative State | Skating Under The Ice

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