Retired Providence firefighter/EMT Michael Morse has a brief post on Rescuing Providence making the reasonable claim that “it’s okay to get paid”:
Without decent pay and great benefits I would have been forced to take my ability and passion for helping people elsewhere.
Morse’s argument is a bit of a strawman, however, and it’s one that labor unions tend to expand into a false dichotomy. Nobody seriously argues that firefighters in communities that need or want something more extensive than a volunteer department should not be well compensated. The tricky question is how much that should be.
Yes, in a more or less free market, it would be reasonable for employees to argue, as Morse does, that “it is okay to be selfless for selfish reasons.” And if a community isn’t providing pay and benefits that attract workers, it will have to increase the pay.
The problem is that unions are designed to push beyond this dynamic. We saw evidence earlier this year when legislation from Tiverton Democrat Representative John “Jay” Edwards the Fourth interfered with local negotiations to forbid firefighter union locals from continuing to negotiate contracts that the state and national unions don’t like. (Edwards was very clear about who holds the power.) This makes the compensation artificially high. It takes whatever level of pay would not force Michael Morse and his peers to take their abilities elsewhere and then keeps going.
In those circumstances, one might reasonably suggest that it is not okay to be selfless for selfish reasons selfishly. The unions would have us believe that workers who are not grabbing everything they can possibly get, by whatever means they can possibly get it, will inevitably be underpaid. That perspective causes Morse’s reasonable point to evaporate and creates a society in which neither side can ever be content.