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Tone Deaf Government Workers

The downturn in the economy, and its effect on state budgets, has forced even Democratic leaders propose modest changes to government employee benefits. In order to deal with these issues, New York Governor Cuomo has proposed changing the pension benefits for some new state employees to be enrolled in a 401k style of retirement plan. It makes sense that workers (in this case NYC police) would resist any change in benefits. To respond to the new plan, the COBA (Correction Officers Benevolent Association) has been running radio ads in New York City. An excerpt from the ad…

“The city and the state legislators in Albany want to eliminate our pensions…They’re trying to force us to accept a 401(k) plan that failed on Wall Street not more than 2 years ago.”


The basic thrust of the ad is to react to a proposed change in benefits, as if they are being forced into a retirement plan that no human should have to endure. What seems to be lost on these and other government union leaders is that nearly the entire country has been moved into 401k type retirement plans. A survey by Towers Watson, the global consulting firm, found that only 17% of Fortune 100 companies still offer a direct-benefit plan. I’m surprised they didn’t add a line about how they can’t believe they are being asked to learn how to use computers.

The fact that they would run an ad like this is very telling about the work we have ahead in reigning in the benefits of government employees. The radio audience is primarily made up of people who are in 401k plans. They are supposed to be convinced that their own plan is not good enough for the police. If that is not enough, the cherry on top is that the listener is also supposed to foot the bill for these expensive benefits.

They spent money for these radio spots thinking that all they had to do was present their case to the people, and it would create public outrage that would push back the reforms. They are so removed from the real world that this seemed like a good idea. We certainly have a mindset issue here that must be fought at every turn.

The radio ads predictably failed to raise a groundswell of support, and the modest changes to new employee retirement plans did pass in Albany. The proper outcome, and the fact that even Democrats understand we have overpromised benefits for government employees are the good in this story. The bad, of course, is that we have created an entitled group of workers who are not only cut off from reality, but are appalled if you treat them like the rest of us.

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