Organized labor's big moment

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  September 15, 2011

Labor leaders may struggle to get the rank-and-file worked up about binding arbitration or longevity pay, as one State House insider put it, but they'll have little trouble galvanizing members around pension reform.

If the House could barely summon the votes to pass the longevity pay cut (the final tally was 39-33) with relatively little pressure from real people, there is some question about whether legislators will be willing to vote for major pension reform in the face of a true grassroots uprising.

But the high-profile nature of the pension fight cuts both ways, of course. Public pressure to do something about the crisis could, ultimately, give Raimondo a trump card as she pushes her proposal in the General Assembly.

And that's not the only factor working in the treasurer's favor. She's also got her own stature.

Raimondo has been on the stump for months now and has become something of a media darling. And with her name attached to the pension reform bill, legislators inclined to a significant overhaul may have just the political cover they need to buck the unions.


Labor, though, may wind up with some political cover of its own.

Richard Licht, the governor's director of administration, tells the Phoenix that reamortization — refinancing the pension obligation, and pushing some of the pain down the road — is still on the table.

The maneuver, he emphasizes, would be coupled with some sort of significant reform — perhaps cutting into the annual increases in pension payments that public employees have come to expect.

But it would represent at least a partial win for union leaders — a blunting of the reform's impact. And a blunting is probably the best they can hope for at the moment.

Labor, circa 2011, is playing defense.

And a narrowly defined victory, in the most important union fight in recent memory, seems an appropriate goal for the times.

David Scharfenberg can be reached

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