We've got to ban together to fight the cuts E-mail
Written by Ron DeLord   

In recent months there have been several stories in Texas concerning the rising costs of the state’s municipal pension fund and costs to provide attorneys to officers sued in the performance of their duties, and I think we will see more articles on the need to reduce health insurance as the budgets are prepared this fall. Not mentioned will be the reason police officers must have health insurance, pensions and need to be protected from frivolous lawsuits. The recession aggravates the media hype but the bottom line in my opinion is “benefit envy.”

The owners of major media outlets do not provide these benefits to their employees and their large corporate advertisers have also bailed out of defined pension plans and providing adequate health insurance coverage. The national police unions, in particular NAPO and the FOP should collectively develop a strategy that includes coalition building with AFSCME, SEIU, the Teamsters and management organizations because we are all in the same boat.

Except for six or seven large cities with local pensions, all public employees in Texas are lumped in municipal, county, state or teacher pension plans. With the exception of a handful of police and fire contracts with separate health insurance plans, most Texas agencies have all employees in one local health insurance plan.

The federal government is the only avenue to find some relief. The national police unions should seek to create a federal professionals standards board and license all officers, perhaps via DHS. From that board we might be able to get federal protections that supersede local and state cutbacks. Raising the drinking age to 21 and changing DUI to .08 were all federal mandates on states.

If we have a federal commission and we passed federal protections, we could guarantee that the local and state governments could not change or alter benefits and standards of officers. This concept works in part in Australia where each state or territory has one police force, fire department, school system and nursing profession.

Local government employs all other workers. Police, fire, teachers and nurses negotiate with the state and therefore their wages and benefits are not controlled by local whims. There is no simple solution to these problems and unions cannot hold back cultural shifts.

We must keep in mind that 91 percent of all private sector employees are at-will, lack job security, and most likely have a 401K plan as well as high-cost health insurance. Some relief may be coming from whomever is elected president because major employers who still have some defined benefit plans and health insurance want to share the pain and make those companies without health insurance pay something towards the public cost of providing health insurance to the uninsured, working or not.

If the police unions simply wait for the day of reckoning they will be too weak and powerless to alter the course of events. It’s wiser to prepare for the battle now with public education efforts as well as appropriate legislative and political strategies.

Ron DeLord is the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT).


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