Teachers union faces new climate

2013-08-02T05:41:00Z 2013-12-18T13:03:56Z Teachers union faces new climateLINDSAY FIORI lindsay.fiori@journaltimes.com Journal Times

MADISON — A long-time Racine Unified teacher and former head of Racine’s teachers union is the new leader of the largest teachers union in the state.

Betsy Kippers on Thursday started a three-year term as president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council teachers union. The Racine Education Association teachers union and many others across Wisconsin are WEAC affiliates.

As president, Kippers said she’ll focus more on those locals and on membership.

She takes over at a time when public unions across the country are rethinking their purpose as new laws and changing public opinion erode their powers.

In Wisconsin, for instance, controversial Act 10 legislation limited most public unions’ collective bargaining to wages only. The law also required most public unions to recertify annually and allowed public employees to opt out of paying union dues.

Those factors, combined with budget cuts that are shrinking school staffs, caused WEAC’s membership to drop about 30 percent, down from about 98,000 people before Act 10.

All the changes mean Kippers’ job will vary greatly from that of her predecessor.

“Anybody assuming a leadership role, particularly in a high-profile public sector union, is facing a few differences,” said John Ahlquist, a labor expert and associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One such difference “is they can’t really count on broad-based public support the way they used to,” Ahlquist said, explaining Wisconsin’s unions don’t “have the ear of the Legislature” with Republicans in control. Public unions also don’t have as much support from their private sector counterparts, who have seen their own organizations and benefits diminish.

Another key difference, Ahlquist said, is the optional nature of membership and dues.

“When asked to contribute, most people would prefer to have someone else contribute,” he said, which makes retaining members and dollars that much more difficult.

Kippers knows that and said, for her, membership is “absolutely a focus,” which means the local organizations are a focus.

“One of the biggest things I’m looking forward to is putting all our emphasis on organizations at the local level and listening to our membership at the local level as to what is most important to them,” Kippers said, explaining she’ll lead WEAC away from a state focus and toward a local focus that more directly impacts members.

The first part of that process, a reorganization of WEAC’s structure, is already under way, she said.

Racine ties

Kippers, 58, is the first person from Racine to lead WEAC.

She is a Racine Unified physical education teacher — on unpaid leave during her WEAC presidency — specializing in special education students.

Kippers began work with the district in 1977 and became active with the REA in the 1980s, chairing committees and eventually serving as treasurer, vice president and president.

As an REA leader, Kippers negotiated contracts that mandated lower class sizes and limited the number of special education students in each classroom so all kids could get adequate teacher attention, said current REA President Jennifer Levie.

“She’s a solid leader, very well-spoken and a real advocate for our students and for educators,” Levie said.

Kippers also helped form a collaborative group of union leaders, district officials and community members that created Unified’s current North Star vision to have all students graduate ready for college or a career by meeting set benchmarks on the way to their diplomas, Kippers said.

She stepped down as REA president in 2007 because she was elected secretary/treasurer for WEAC. Kippers was then elected WEAC vice president and, now, president, she said.

The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 Journal Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(36) Comments

  1. harrystugats
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    harrystugats - August 06, 2013 4:33 pm
    Unions are un-American, evil, corrupt, and are destroying the free market.
  2. actualfacts
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    actualfacts - August 04, 2013 2:22 am
    Unions only care about money. Only reason they went crazy was because Walker gave the public sector the right to choose if they wanted to be in a union. Thanks to Act 10, the public sector is voting by dropping out of the union and choosing not to spend or waste their money on unions that never served or cared about them. Because of Act 10, basically a right to work for the public sector and taxpayers, unions have to work for their membership where before they held the state government hostage by forcing them to be the middle man and collect union dues straight from the public workers paycheck and right to the unions coffers.
  3. actualfacts
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    actualfacts - August 03, 2013 6:32 pm
    Looks like we have a Rachel Maddow follower here! If you listen to Rush and Glenn Beck maybe you can actually know the issues and not be used as pawns. That is ok though, keep on talking, the more people like you talk the more you prove us right. Isn't it amazing the true tolerent people is us so called right-wingers, where the left just attacks and tries to shut up their opposition because their theories always ends into $3.4 billion in debt or in Detroits case $19 billion.
  4. Kristi Lacroix
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    Kristi Lacroix - August 03, 2013 9:53 am
    There is an alternative to the union. I belong to The Association of American Educators. AAE is a true non-union professional trade association for teachers. For $15.00 a month I receive 2 million in liability insurance, access to legal counsel, professional development, great newsletters, a TRUE voice on education, and none of my money is ever spent on partisan politics.
  5. actualfacts
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    actualfacts - August 03, 2013 9:14 am
    Teachers are so noble that they been crooks to the taxpayers by only caring about their pension instead of their job teaching the kids. They are so professional we have a 22nd overall ranked education worldwide, one of the worst in the world. We have teachers failing their students basic reading and comprehension and failure so bad almost half our students drop out. Yea your product is so bad yet think you should be compensated for it. We should put the extra money on sports because at least the athletes give back positively to the community.
  6. Kristie Formolo
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    Kristie Formolo - August 03, 2013 8:41 am
    bestformykiddos is right. If we are ever to move forward, the media has to stop with the "Woe is me" public union stories and focus more on the positive things coming out of our Public and Private schools.
  7. granny grits
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    granny grits - August 03, 2013 8:29 am
    Perhaps you should have spent more time getting an education, becoming a professional and successful?
  8. thebestformykiddos
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    thebestformykiddos - August 03, 2013 8:08 am
    I think it is fair to say that the face of employment has changed across the board. If you are a teacher, it's not what it was 20 years ago and if you are in the trades, manufacturing, etc. it isn't either. I think the point is this: We get times have changed. Insurance premiums have skyrocketed, benefits plummeted and every hard working individual, union or non-union continues to suck it up and get the job done. I don't think anyone has it 'better' than another, work is just that: work! However, the amount of print and airtime given to the public sector employee far outweighs the attention given any other. THAT is what is annoying. Every hard working, dedicated tax payer has taken a hit in one way or another....just stop shoving the public employees 'plight' in our faces. Go to the private sector and guess what, the very same things have and are happening, we just don't see it in our faces everyday. That is what is getting really old....like 2+ years old. I feel for everyone that has had to face the economic down-turn. But, let's be fair...we all have lost and all have our battles. No matter what your job, it isn't easy. If it were, it would be called 'vacation' or 'a holiday'. I wish we could all just move on and the JT would stop fueling this issue over and over again. So sad!
  9. Gearhead
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    Gearhead - August 03, 2013 8:01 am
    Not exactly Allen. Actually unions brought us featherbedding, corruption and unsustainable wages and benefits. And if you were really for the children, you would insist the poor performers be axed, instead of protected!
  10. Kristie Formolo
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    Kristie Formolo - August 03, 2013 2:53 am
    Sorry for the double post. If I could delete the 2nd post I would.


    Thanks Ordmm for your comment! Our kids spent 10 years in RUSD schools. I will always support the teachers who go above and beyond for their students. But... I'm not afraid to speak my mind when I see our district heading in the wrong direction.
  11. Kristie Formolo
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    Kristie Formolo - August 03, 2013 2:21 am
    I think the majority of us really appreciate good teachers. My kids have benefited from some amazing private, public and virtual teachers. what really bothers me in this article, is there is no mention of the children. You would think that a number one priority for the Teacher's Union, would be how do we turn around the dismal statistics that plague many of our public schools. But instead they worry about declining Union membership!
  12. Kristie Formolo
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    Kristie Formolo - August 03, 2013 2:20 am
    I think the majority of us really appreciate good teachers. My kids have benefited from some amazing private, public and virtual teachers. what really bothers me in this article, is there is no mention of the children. You would think that a number one priority for the Teacher's Union, would be how do we turn around the dismal statistics that plague many of our public schools. But instead they worry about declining Union membership!
  13. allen levie
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    allen levie - August 02, 2013 11:30 pm
    Bloggers,
    All this teacher and union bashing is to much to stomach. Teachers educate students. Teaching is a noble profession. Teachers are highly trained professionals. People do not go into teaching to get rich. They go into teaching because they care about children. Unions brought us the middle class, the eight hour day, and the week end.
    Teachers and unions are not responsible for the deindustrialization of Racine or the mid west.
    Bashing will get us no where.
    Parents, teachers, community members need to join hand to make our community a better
    place to live and work.
  14. actualfacts
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    actualfacts - August 02, 2013 11:14 pm
    YAW, made the liberal upset with actual facts. Going to cry for us like the dimwits in Madison. We need a good laugh around here.
  15. ordmm
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    ordmm - August 02, 2013 8:42 pm
    Kristie....Just read an exchange of ideas on the Caledonia Patch that took place on April 16 I believe. You appear to have a very good grasp of the issues and your views were well stated. The facts you presented were quite interesting. Apologize for only discovering this now.
  16. ordmm
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    ordmm - August 02, 2013 8:14 pm
    Teacher2Many.....If RUSD was held to the same performance standard as industry and business in general, most all the schools would have been locked years ago. We are stuck with RUSD, it's administrators, it's crummy school board, and some of it's incompetent teachers. Untill the employees of RUSD rally together to change your educational plan you will be the target of scorn and ridicule. RUSD is a failed business. It may be that ACT10 will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the GOOD teachers of the district.
  17. Baby Zorro
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    Baby Zorro - August 02, 2013 7:06 pm
    These are skills professionals. So why do they need a Union? Accountants, Computer Tech, Marketing, Sales etc types do not have one ---- and they seem to be OK.
  18. actualfacts
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    actualfacts - August 02, 2013 6:07 pm
    Find it funny how you think schools are run by the corporations even though the big corporations are also Democrat leaning through all their political donations, GE, Apple, Microsoft, Google etc I can go on. The people who really run the schools is unions. They been using collective bargaining to buy off school boards, politicians etc also run the schools who teaches the teachers. You want to know who is killing our education to further pad their pockets so they can drive their $100,000 cars and billion $$$ offices, it is all the unions. Only reason the unions even cared about what Walker did is because Walker gave the public sector workers the option to choose if they want to be in a union and the state government is no longer being forced to be their middle man collecting their dues. Now unions actually has to work for their members membership and obviously as more people are quitting the unions WI public workers are showing the minority whining liberals of this state that the unions never been that popular amongst its members in the first place.
  19. JT fact checker
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    JT fact checker - August 02, 2013 4:35 pm
    Is teaching the only job in Racine with this big of a workforce, this poor of an outcome, and no one gets fired ever? Why can't we turn over 5% of the poorest performers as defined by the principals and hire new talent? The union protects the lowest common denominator and drags the whole profession down. Every teacher know two teachers that should be fired.
  20. Sebastian
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    Sebastian - August 02, 2013 4:26 pm
    Jack - Not all are lazy, but I probably agree that they are "tax dollar sucking unionistas who are only looking out for themselves." Look at how they behave when things don't go their way. All you need to see is some footage of Madison after Act 10 was passed. THAT'S the stuff that their public image is made of. Can you blame people for thinking ill of teachers when they see teachers behave that way? Be honest now.
  21. ggodmuls
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    ggodmuls - August 02, 2013 4:12 pm
    Government Skools are a parasite on the Productive Klass as they are TAX FARMERS and are not accountable for the product they deliver.

    Has Racine's Tax base EXPANDED - OR - SHRUNK? That's the only question that needs to be asked.

    Whatever RUSD is "educating" in - ISN'T working! RUSD is OPENLY LOOTING THE COMMUNITY by taking more than it returns.

    ABOLISH CORPORATE RUSD! It is a PARASITE that is killing it's HOST (RUSD District).

    Betsy Kippers is another klueless bureaucratic in a suit and tie - preaching LIES - hoping to maintain her status and position on the food chain - for which she did nothing of ACTUAL note or value - to deserve.
  22. Sebastian
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    Sebastian - August 02, 2013 3:50 pm
    You know, this is really getting tiresome. You teachers SAY that you're not whining; and then you immediately resume whining. If your students did that to you in the classroom, you wouldn't allow it (or you shouldn't allow it!). And please stop talking about how you don't get paid during the summer. That's a payroll choice that you make. If you want your pay spread over 12 months, you can have it that way. Otherwise, it's like everywhere else: no work, no pay. And stop with all the moaning about having to pay for your education and advanced degree. In one way or another, so does everyone else. Also, how long has it been that you have been contributing for a portion of your health insurance? It hasn't been that long, has it? When I made the change from teaching to the business world, I had to pay a portion of my health insurance premium right from the start. If you have been paying that, I'll bet it hasn't even been ten years. And by the way, my employer stopped the pension plan about 20 years ago. AGAIN, all I'm saying is that everybody has some kind of cross to bear. Why is it only teachers who carry on and whine about it all the time? GROW UP! One last subject: One of you teachers complained about how the public is always being critical of teachers. LOOK AT THE RESULTS OF WHAT YOU DO! AND LOOK AT WHAT IT COSTS THE TAXPAYER. ARE THEY REALLY GETTING THEIR MONEY'S WORTH? The "product" that you put out is PATHETIC! Maybe, just maybe, you deserve that criticism. In the private sector, employees who put out that poor of a product would be fired. Now, to be fair, not all teachers are poor teachers. There are a LOT of good teachers and they do an outstanding job. They probably don't whine, either. So, as the saying goes, "If the shoe fits, . . . . ."
  23. Teacher2Many
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    Teacher2Many - August 02, 2013 2:49 pm
    I do not get paid for time off in the summer. I pay for my continuing education and do it on my own time. I pay for materials. This is no different from others. I do, however, get slammed for being a teacher. I get criticized when students have issues, whether it is my fault or not. I would liken thins to having someone criticize you for any nail not perfect, and slam you for choosing to work in construction. GIVE ME A BREAK! Everyone I know, including family who have no college degrees, make more than I do. I am not whining, or saying I don't like my job, or that I have it tougher than others. I AM saying that it is not some easy job, and I do not deserve to be vilified. Teachers deserve respect as much as anyone else.
  24. jackbean
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    jackbean - August 02, 2013 2:04 pm
    Sebastian - You may be right about the rest of the public not complaining about their jobs, but those people also aren't under constant attack by the public about being lazy, tax dollar sucking unionistas who are only looking out for themselves. Teachers are second only to politicians in the utter disdain and criticism thrown at them by the public in general forums, and the vast majority really do not deserve it for the minority of teachers who talk about their job like they hate it. Teachers must be the most unappreciated public service employees in existence. And you're probably only hearing these complaints by teachers only since Act 10 came along and everyone starting saying how teachers have it far better than they deserve because they only work (and only get paid for, don't forget) nine months out of the year. That's when I started hearing teachers complain about what they have to deal with, only people started telling them they have it too cushy. You'd probably hear the same from the public at large about their jobs if suddenly the compensation they agreed to in exchange for the negative aspects of their job was suddenly decreased drastically. You'd starting hearing their wailing and gnashing of teeth pretty darn quick.
  25. Kristie Formolo
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    Kristie Formolo - August 02, 2013 12:45 pm
    Thank you Sebastian!
  26. jackbean
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    jackbean - August 02, 2013 12:44 pm
    ordmm - You talk about expenses required to work in construction (tools, etc.). Don't you think there are expenses associated with getting a bachelor's degree to become a teacher? Or a master's degree which you need in order to earn decent money as a teacher? Most teachers will be paying off those expenses for 30+ years. Does it take you that long to pay for your tools to do your job? Or do you think teachers get paid to study to advance their trade on work time? Do teachers not also pay increasing property taxes? Do you have to face abuse from your "customers" as teachers do from students and their parents who refuse to admit their precious little angel would ever do the things their teacher witnessed them do? Do you really think teachers get paid for their summer off? They can choose to have their pay from during the year deferred so that it is spread out all year, but they are not getting paid for not working. They are just collecting the money the earned during the year over the summer .Perhaps your trade has a similar option, or you could do it yourself by putting a percentage of every pay check into a savings account so you to can take it out on a rainy day and still get "paid" for it. Just about every aspect you cite as your field having to deal with, teachers have to deal with as well.

    I'm not saying you've got it easy, but you're delusional if you think teachers have it much better than you. And you didn't have to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to get hired for your job. So yes, you're right. Your rand is exactly what whining sounds like.
  27. ordmm
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    ordmm - August 02, 2013 11:51 am
    Am sure Betsy is off the payroll for three years. Does Betsy accrue retirement time? Who pays for that, and who's paying for health insurance?
  28. Sebastian
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    Sebastian - August 02, 2013 11:48 am
    Like I said earlier, I HAVE walked that mile; and I know that a teacher's job is not cushy, especially in today's world. Nevertheless, I strenuously object to all the whining and complaining that teachers do about their jobs and what they must deal with. My entire point is simply this: teachers really are no different than any other professional occupation or any other person who is dedicated to their job. The problem (for me) is that you don't hear the public wailing and gnashing of teeth and whining from ANY other occupation that you hear from teachers. If you truly think you have a job that is tougher than anyone else, then you need to quit teaching and find some other way to make a living. My experience though has clearly demonstrated to me that the grass isn't greener anywhere - not for teachers; not for others; but only teachers complain about how tough they have it.
  29. ordmm
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    ordmm - August 02, 2013 11:25 am
    Teacher2Many.....Please spend a year in a manufacturing or construction environment. Begin as many do wondering if a decision by some politician will shut a job down. Shop for personal tools as many shops require you have your own. Make sure you work for an extra hour or so as if you don't you may become known as a person who is not a "team player". Maybe the shop is union. Then dont' worry about the overtime unless you have senority. Rain days are nice in construction. Most often sent home--no pay. Need to advance your trade, or license? Do it on your own time and pay out of pocket. Oh yeah, don't forget to stay healthy as your portion of health insurance is getting real pricey. And when you retire in 99% of the time health insurance goes bye-bye. Then even after you retire figure your property taxes will keep increasing due to budget increases for the school system. Yeah it's tough being a teacher I'm sure. Great thing for many of us throughout our careers many of us have had summers, winters, fall and spring off. Big difference is we were not getting paid. See.....that's what whining sounds like.
  30. Teacher2Many
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    Teacher2Many - August 02, 2013 10:45 am
    Not whining, just expressing how teaching is not a 'cushy' job. I hate it when people say how good teachers have it because we have summers off. I would love it if we worked all year. Year round school would be my preference. Anyway, people do way too much teacher bashing and assuming and presuming. Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me is a good motto..
  31. Joeboy5471
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    Joeboy5471 - August 02, 2013 9:44 am
    Teachers do have a hard job. I come from a long line of educators and did get a teaching certificate in the end, but I chose the easier and softer way and went into industry instead. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the RUSD in the next 18 months. A new super and no union. I will venture to guess the district will continue to ratchet and spiral downward and we will see the exit of another superintendent. Educations ills cannot be solved with good teachers alone and until we find a way to fix broken families and poverty it will never get any better.
  32. Sebastian
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    Sebastian - August 02, 2013 9:06 am
    I, too, was a teacher - and generally considered to be a darn good one, too - and I repeat: Whi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ine! Assuming everything you said about "real" time off during the summer and exhausting days to be true, SO WHAT? In the rest of society, that's what is know as having a job and doing it; and that's what is known as being an adult. Just grow up, okay? Teaching is no more difficult or demanding than any other "job" or "career." Is it easy? No. But why complain about it? God didn't put mankind on this earth to just sit around and munch on bon-bons while watching soap operas all day. With the kind of attitude that you expressed, it is likely a good thing that you are no longer a teacher. We don't need another generation of whiners and complainers. We need a generation of young people who are willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work - whatever their work may be.
  33. Sebastian
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    Sebastian - August 02, 2013 8:50 am
    Whi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ine!
  34. MUfan02
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    MUfan02 - August 02, 2013 8:41 am
    This is very well put, Teacher2Many.

    I was a teacher for over 5 years and lost my job due to the budget cuts. I'm now out of education and I miss it every day.

    It is a tough job. Sure it "looks" like teachers have 3 months off in the summer, but it is not that way at all. I think at most I had a couple of weeks where I didn't touch school stuff during the summer.

    And I can't even begin to think about how exhausting most days in the classroom were.

    I make it a point to never judge how easy or difficult a person's job is unless I have done it and actually know. I wish many other people had the same thought.
  35. Teacher2Many
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    Teacher2Many - August 02, 2013 8:02 am
    Please spend a school year teaching. Begin, as many of us do, in the summer, planning the coming year's overall theme/projects/timeline. Shop the sales for supplies for the kids who come with nothing (out of your pocket.) During the year, make sure you are at work for an extra hour or two (minimum) daily to grade work and prep. During the school day, enjoy your class of angels and the (literally) non-stop work you will do. Work through lunch, and make sure you are at your extra duty positions on time. Enjoy contacting parents who have no contact info. Have fun administering the various tests mandated (I recommend kinder or first grade). Make sure you take work home with you so you can keep up with the grading and prep (in addition to the extra hours daily). Don't forget to stay healthy and upbeat. After the last day, in June, you can write about how good we have it.
  36. JT fact checker
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    JT fact checker - August 02, 2013 6:44 am
    Change is good. I'd like to see WEAC focus on improving the perception of its union and its members by stopping the incessant whining and belly aching about their desperate plight. Retiring at 55 with their bennies and a 9 month work year is not exactly bagging fries. Please start every conversation with "we have it good, but...."
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