Arnold: Unions Keep Up Pressure

by Thomas K. Arnold on February 24, 2010

They just don’t give up.

The public safety unions, fighting to protect their overly generous pensions and health benefits, have just suffered a savage defeat in Oceanside with the failure of the recall campaign against Councilman Jerry Kern.

It was a classic union bait-and-switch to disguise the real issue: They riled up a group of senior citizens who felt Kern was rude and didn’t pay them the attention they deserved. They got them to launch a recall movement. And then they pumped huge amounts of money into the anti-Kern campaign in the hopes of getting a more sympathetic soul in council chambers —- a sympathetic soul who would turn a blind eye to the financial disaster these pensions and benefits pose to cities and states throughout our country.

Common sense, you see, invariably wins out. And the unions know their days of looting government treasuries are numbered, in light of the recession and gaping budget deficits.
Unfortunately for the unions, it was all for naught. Even though they spent a whopping $230,000 on the campaign to unseat Kern ($151,000 of which came from the Oceanside Firefighters Association), the first-term council member who firmly supports pension reform remains in office.

Now, it’s Carlsbad’s turn. Freshman Councilman Keith Blackburn announced his candidacy for mayor, challenging veteran councilor Matt Hall, with representatives of both the Carlsbad firefighters and police unions at his side. Hall, the heavy favorite, believes (correctly, I might add) that Carlsbad taxpayers are paying far too much for public employee pensions and health benefits. He’d like to see the system change, at least for new hires, because if unchecked he foresees disastrous consequences for the city of Carlsbad.

Blackburn is a solid candidate, a smart man with a business background. In his heart, he surely knows pension reform is well past the debate stage, and that something needs to be done. But in return for union backing, he’s going to have to spout off the union party line: that if Carlsbad changes its system, our city will see a mass exodus of our best and our brightest.

Full disclosure: I ran against Blackburn for City Council in 2008, but we became fast friends. Heck, it turns out his wife even sold us our house back in 1994.

I also have become friends with Matt Hall. I have dispensed advice freely to both candidates, and I’ve even helped Hall with his Facebook page.

But my fear is that this election has nothing to do with Matt Hall or Keith Blackburn. Rather, it’s all about the unions wanting to be in control and protect their pensions and benefits, regardless of what that means for the citizens and taxpayers of Carlsbad. As one firefighter recently told me: “I know we’ve got a sweet deal, and maybe the city can’t afford it. But we’re talking about my family, and they’re always going to come first.”

Thomas K. Arnold writes from Carlsbad. Contact him at

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

carlsbadisbeige February 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm

How about limiting corporate tax breaks and sweetheart deals for developers so we can afford to pay the working people who are the backbone of this great city a wage and benefits they deserve. I’m not sure that I support Blackburn in this election, but I have a hard time placing the blame for economic difficulties in Carlsbad on the people putting their lives at risk to protect our city.

Hope February 25, 2010 at 6:19 am

We all love our police and fire fighters and know they are doing a great job. No one says they shouldn’t get a good salary and benefits, which they do. But the funding for pensions is not sustainable at the current rate. We need to rethink how much is funded by the city and how much by the employees (currently 1.08%). Before you make a judgment on whom to vote for, be sure to listen carefully to what both candidates are saying.

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