Editorial: Legislature wants more special treatment for public employees


Police officers, firefighters and other public safety personnel have long enjoyed generous benefits unavailable to other public sector employees, never mind workers in the private sector.

One of those benefits is a $150,000 payout to the families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Surviving wives and children are also entitled to counseling, college tuition assistance, tax exemptions and other help. There is a proposal to raise the lump-sum death benefit to $250,000.

The special benefits reserved for police and fire personnel, which also include richer pensions, acknowledge the fact that police officers and firefighters put themselves in harm’s way to protect the people they serve.

As the old saying goes, they run into burning buildings when the rest of us are running out.

Few would begrudge them or their families these benefits.

But now there’s a move afoot on Beacon Hill to extend the $150,000 death benefit to families of other state and local government employees killed on the job.

A bill filed by Rep. Jay Livingstone, a Boston Democrat, would grant the one-time benefit to surviving family members of any state or local government employee. The bill has the support of Lawrence Democratic Reps. Frank Moran and Marcos Devers, among others.

“We’re simply asking the Legislature to recognize that when it comes to losing your life on the job, everyone is equal,” said Jim Durkin. He is the legislative director for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 35,000 government workers. “Everyone has paid the same price.”

No, Mr. Durkin, not everyone is not equal who has paid the same price. The taxpayers who toil in the private sector to pay for these public sector benefits seldom receive equivalent  benefits.

Supporters of the death benefit extension cite a few horrific stories about government employees killed on the job. A 71-year-old crossing guard from Everett fatally struck by a truck while on the job in 2012 and a  55-year-old New Bedford mechanic who was crushed by a vehicle and killed in 2013 are among 55 or moire government workers who died on the job from 2007 to 2013, according to state  figures cited in a story this week by our Statehouse reporter, Christian Wade.

Fortunately, most public employees, including the legions of “nonessential workers” who get to stay safe at home when the roads are slippery, hold low-risk jobs.

No, private sector workers, like commercial fishermen, loggers and farmers and ranchers, hold the most dangerous jobs.

Yes, survivors of public employees who die at work deserve our sympathy and support, but there are other ways to help besides expanding the group of government workers entitled to special treatment at the expense of those they serve. In the private sector, the usual tools are life and disability insurance and worker’s compensation.

Supporters of the death benefit extension say they are not seeking to extend the other benefits enjoyed by public safety personnel to the rest of city and state employees.

But we know how this works. With “public servants” on both sides of the bargaining table, benefits are never rolled back, only expanded. It’s a win-win for public employee unions and the politicians who count on their support to keep their own jobs. Only the public loses.