CC Times Sidesteps Fairness and Facts, Yet Again

Published on: August 21, 2014

Updated September 15, 2014:

By now, many of you have already heard–and read–about the Contra Costa Times’ refusal to run our response to their scurrilous hit piece on Contra Costa Central Sanitary District’s pension program.  It was no surprise to us they chose not to run a piece which poked many holes in their partisan narrative.  On Wed, August 27th, Public Employees Union, Local 1 sent in another guest opinion wherein we pointed out-once again–the Times’ unfair focus on the public sector while willfully turning a blind eye to the shenanigans and abuses of millions of taxpayer dollars by private corporations. In that piece, which is published below for all to see, we include a detailed list of corporate welfare that costs hundreds of millions of public dollars.  Each time, the Times’ editorial board remained absolutely silent on those abuses. 

Not surprisingly, the Times’ editorial board chose not to run that guest op-ed piece either.  We can only surmise the editorial board has an allergy to truth, to fact, and especially to truths and facts that expose their biased ideology for all to see.

 

Obsessed Editorial Board Creates “Public Employee Bogeyman” to Feed Its Own Agenda

By Peter Q. Nguyen

Over the last six months, the editorial board of this paper has perpetrated a deliberate assault on public employees, unions, pensions, and any related subjects.

Between June 9 and July 7 alone (less than 30 days), this editorial board continually reminded readers—in at least five separate columns/editorials—that there is a bogeyman responsible for all that ails public agencies.

That bogeyman, for this board, is public employees who milk overtime, spike their pensions, and ride the gravy train all the way through Nepotism Valley.

Here’s a small taste of what this “fair and balanced” board has peddled recently: all Democratic legislators are controlled by unions; teacher tenure is the root of all failures in public schools; municipalities that understaff their departments hold no blame, but overworked employees logging overtime to compensate for lost manpower should be publicly shamed; and the state’s economic woes are caused by greedy rank-and-file public employees.

Public Employees Union, Local 1 has pointed this out to this editorial board before; unfortunately, we have to do it again. This board is on a crusade to tar public employees and unions while purposely ignoring the real problem.

The real problem with our economy lies squarely with giveaways to the private sector and growing corporate welfare. And with editorial boards, like this one, who turn a blind eye to those abuses.

Here are some facts this board will never offer because they refute this board’s adopted ideology of the fat-cat public employee:

* The average American household pays approximately $6,000 per year in direct and implicit subsidies to corporations through their taxes.

* An estimated $80 billion is spent every year on corporate subsidies.

* Local governments shell out $9.1 million dollars PER HOUR to corporations.

* For 2012 alone, California spent $4.17 billion on corporate incentive programs.

* In Texas, Amazon received $277 million of taxpayer money in sales tax discounts and refunds.  Samsung received $232 million of taxpayer money in cash grants, loan guarantees and property tax abatements.

What has this editorial board ever said about this kind of welfare and abuse? Nothing.

Locally, San Francisco exempted Twitter from paying $22 million in payroll taxes. One employee at Twitter gleefully tweeted: “Tanned on Twitter’s new roof deck this morning as some dude served me smoothie shots.” The result? This editorial board said nothing.

Northrop Grumman got $9.8 million of taxpayer money in 13 state grants for “free services.” This board said nothing.

SeaMicro in Santa Clara got $9.3 million of taxpayer money for cash grants and loan guarantees. This board said nothing.

Sun Microsystems got $7.6 million of taxpayer money for “free services.” This board said nothing.

The information cited above came from an in-depth study the New York Times conducted just two years ago, yet this board said nothing.

As well, recent studies found charter schools perform worse than public schools, despite their unscrupulous grade inflation practices, refusal to accept special-needs students, and offering no tenure. This board said nothing.

Mississippi does not offer tenure to teachers, and its schools still ranked dead last in the nation. This board said nothing.

Recently, Microsoft admitted to keeping $92 billion offshore to avoid paying $29 billion in fair-share taxes. This board said nothing.

But it will obsessively harp on how an extra $300 counted toward retirement for unused vacation time is destroying public agencies.

Instead of balanced content and informative context, this editorial board provides a cover for corporate welfare while lustfully skewering public employees.

Public employees educate our children, promote literacy through our libraries, keep the streets in repair, ensure sewage flows away from—not towards—our homes, respond to dangerous situations, and they spend their own money buying supplies for underfunded classrooms.

They don’t serve each other smoothies on rooftop decks.

To this board, we say: it’s time for you to be honest with the public.

To the public, we say: look at the facts; the monster under the bed isn’t a public employee. It’s corporate welfare and biased editorial boards.

 

Peter Q. Nguyen is the general manager of Public Employees Union, Local 1, which represents more than 13,000 local government employees in Northern California.

 

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What you are about to read is the response Public Employees Union, Local 1 composed to specifically counter, refute, and call out Dan Borenstien’s blatant omissions of facts, his excessive hyperbole, and his utter reliance on lying by omission.  We sent this as a “guest opinion” to the Times, and included language saying “we make a strong request” to have this printed because Borenstein’s untruthful hit piece on Central San (and really, all public employee) pensions absolutely needed to be corrected.   We got an email response from Dan Hatfield that feigned indignation at us suggesting they have zero journalistic integrity.  In that same email, Hatfield proclaims he prints a number of different writers, which was never our contention.  Our issue was subject specific—when it comes to unions, public employees and pensions, the Times has consistently been bias and has essentially waged a one-sided, ideological crusade.

Hatfield also claimed that Borenstein was a big boy and can take his own hits, but then proceeded to protect Borenstein by refusing to print our op-ed, which unequivocally points out Borenstein’s omissions, lies and other unsavory tactics.

 So, since the Times editorial board chooses to protect their “big boy writers” over journalistic fairness, since they choose censorship of opposing views over journalistic standards, we are choosing to share this op-ed, which they refuse to print, here, on our website, directly with our members and the local community.

 

Borenstein Uses Half-truths and Omissions to Mislead Public on Sanitary District Worker Pensions

By Peter Q. Nguyen

Daniel Borenstein’s “Sanitary District Workers Collecting More in Retirement Than on the Job” (July 18, 2014), like his prior editorials attacking public employees, fails to tell the whole story, once again.

Borenstein claims sanitary workers have “leveraged” policies and rules to “fatten” their pensions, (mis)leading readers to believe all Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (“Central San”) employees collect more in retirement than they did on the job.  But Borenstein offers only two examples as “evidence.”  Of the two employees named, one is a Lab Superintendent and the other a Supervisor.  These are two employees who hold managerial duties; they are not “regular” rank and file employees.  They are also two of the highest paid workers with well over 30 years of service at Central San.  Borenstein is so emboldened by his own half-truths that he does not even bother to tell readers these two cases are the exception.

Once again, Borenstein resorts to what has become his signature practice these days in his abusive crusade against public employees—he cherry picks one or two outliers, then falsely and ruthlessly presents them to the public as the standard.

Central San employees have a 2.0% at age 55 pension formula.  Other sewer and water agencies, as well as most cities, however, have a 2.7% at age 55 formula.  That is a 35% difference in earning power (0.7 divided by 2.0).  This 35% difference is vast and best illustrated with an example: an employee is hired by Central San.  That same day, with all else being equal, an employee is hired by a different sewer or water agency, one with a 2.7% at 55 formula.  Both employees work for 30 years and retire at age 55.  The result: the Central San employee will get 60% of his salary in his pension, without spiking; the other employee will get 81% of his salary in his pension.  That is a 35% difference for two employees hired the same day and with the same 30 years of service.  Borenstein conveniently ignores this point.

To make things more equal, given their lower pension rate as compared to other agencies, Central San employees have been allowed to augment their pensions with accrued and unused leave time.  As a result, Central San employees must conserve that leave time by not using earned vacation and sick days.  They do so in an attempt to secure a retirement that is comparable to what they would have received had they worked for another sewer agency, water agency, or city.

Here’s another fact Borenstein omits: Central San employees have tried many times to move away from spiking by negotiating a more transparent system like the 2.7% at 55 formula.  In fact, Central San employees tried to negotiate for such a system in the 2003, 2009, and 2012 collective bargaining sessions.  It was the sanitary district—the employer—that insisted on staying with the current system which permits spiking.

That last sentence bears repeating: It was the sanitary district—the employer—that insisted on staying with the current system which permits spiking.  Why?  It’s simple: because there is a benefit to the employer, and by extension, a benefit to the rate payers.  That benefit is continuity of service and lower overtime.

When Borenstein states sanitary district workers collect more in retirement than on the job, he grossly overestimates pension spiking and provides little to no context for its occurrence at Central San and other public agencies.  He neglects to mention that for every one employee who receives more than 100% of salary in pension, there are numerous employees who do not get close to that kind of pension.

Borenstein’s stealthy omissions reveal, yet again, his fanatical agenda against public employees.

 

Peter Q. Nguyen is the general manager of Public Employees Union, Local One, which represents more than 13,000 local government employees in Northern California.