Don't Dis The Public Safety Unions

I heard a very disturbing story today on a Sacramento radio news program, leaving me to wonder what happened to the “Protect and Serve” oath for public safety workers. Firefighting and policing are voluntary careers — no one forces anyone to become public a safety worker. However, unlike America’s all volunteer military, the all volunteer public safety employees are unionized and receive high pay, benefits and pensions.

According to the blog that broke the story, Watch Sonoma County, “North Bay firefighters launched a boycott of a Napa Valley winery this weekend after its owner criticized their wages and benefits in a letter published in the St. Helena Star.” But more than a boycott was launched, as the winery owner has received veiled threats online from some public safety employees, potentially refusing to fight a fire at his home or winery, or save him from choking in a restaurant.

Napa Valley winery owner Dario Sattui of V. Sattui Winery wrote a letter to the Editor of the St. Helena Star, venting about the benefits and pensions that firefighters receive. In his April 9 letter, Sattui wrote, “I thought I was doing well in the wine business. Had I had any real brains I would have become a firefighter. What a racket they have. While I respect the work they do and the inherent dangers, they are greatly overpaid, work only two days a week (a third of which they sleep) and get to retire at 50 years old at 90 percent of their pay after working 30 years. I don’t blame the firefighters. Good for them for getting as much as they can. The blame goes to the politicians and the government administrators. What do they care? It isn’t their money.”

Of the more vicious comments left on online, Watch Sonoma County reported the comment, “I only hope that when your winery is burning down, no fire fighters come to help your business,” stated one post, submitted under the name of Emily Morena Orloff. “I hope your business rots in hell in this economy.”

A post submitted under the name of Brad Conners — vice president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers’ Association — featured a picture of Sattui along with the caption: “Our hero….should anyone get flagged down by him or see him choking in a restaurant.” The post and photo were removed Sunday evening.

The radio talk show host stated that Sattui received other online nastiness, including on the winery’s Facebook page

While the element of safety is always present for police and fire fighters, much of their work is working as emergency medical responders, providing CPR and life saving techniques for 9-1-1 calls and auto accidents. I am not diminishing what public safety officers do; they save lives. But too many public safety workers have become union workers first, and the job is secondary, leaving many to believe that the pay, benefits and pensions are more important than the job.

I know several police officers who take very seriously the public safety commitment of their chosen careers, thankfully. However, I also know many decent taxpayers who fear the police because of the abuse of their power. .

When the members of the public fear public safety officials and the police, the balance of power is out of whack and leaning dramatically in the wrong direction. Paid by the taxpayers, police and firefighters are public servants. But as with too many public employees, the union-first mentality seems to dominate the purpose instead of the work — perhaps it’s because there is not enough of the work to go around to the expanding base of public safety employees, particularly when the unions are demanding more in pay, for fewer workers. The City of Vallejo is an example of what happens with too few, very highly paid public safety workers.

Private sector employers and employees work to do more with less in an atmosphere where customer is king. That is the message that Dario Sattui was trying to convey. The public safety employees who levied threats should be reprimanded and disciplined. In the private sector, they’d be fired.

-Katy Grimes

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