Saturday, September 05, 2009

Union Concession Issue Isn't Straightforward

Things on Plum Street have gotten uglier, and they're not going to get better as the campaign season really heats up. But somehow, Council has to begin to work together once again. In all likelihood, 8 of the 9 current members will be responsible for next year's budget. They need to find a way to have a budget process that isn't as driven by rancor as has been present in Council chambers over the past three months. Part of doing that requires that Council actually discuss, in open session, the issues impacting the City.

There's plenty of blame to heap on both the majority and the minority on Council as to how we've gotten to where we are: a last minute hail mary effort to save jobs for the rest of the year. No matter how we got there, the FOP, AFSCME, and CODE now face a difficult dilemna. Do they give up money (for the FOP, a little more than a day's pay each month for the rest of the year) to save jobs this year, but with no promises for 2010?

The FOP is certainly not the first union being asked to make concessions in this economy. A friend who works in the aviation industry recently reminded me of the deep, deep concessions Comair pilots have made over the last few years in order to preserve jobs. But usually, when a union gives up something it bargained for, it does so with some assurance of medium- or long-term job preservation. Here, the City has made explicit that there are no guarantees for next year. And I wonder: if a school board were threatening to fire ten percent of its teachers if the union didn't agree to a pay cut of roughly 4-5 percent for four months, would we on the left be demonizing the teachers' union for its reluctance to agree to the extent the left is demonizing the FOP? I doubt it.

I had hoped Council would find some cuts to fill the gaps in the 2009 budget, and then go to the unions for concessions--perhaps much more significant than those currently sought--as part of the 2010 budget process, as the unions would then have some assurance of lengthier job security. That didn't happen. So the FOP will have to decide how much value it places on its newest members. No doubt some members would benefit financially from the concessions. I haven't run the numbers, but I suspect that some of the sergeants being displaced to patrol by the layoffs would lose less money by giving up 4.6 days' pay than they would by accepting a lesser-paying position. And hopefully, the FOP, AFSCME, and CODE can set aside the bitter taste the process has left and recognize that Council has, in the end, significantly reduced the concessions originally sought and found money elsewhere for the unions' members' salaries.

As Council approaches the 2010 budget process, its individual members will have to strive to be more understanding and more cooperative. In particular, a couple members of Council can--and must--do better than they have the last few months. Chris Monzel's fear-mongering (and perhaps race-baiting) press release early this week was regrettable; using the injury and death of citizens to advance a political agenda is simply unacceptable. And Greg Harris's role on Council has been surprisingly disappointing. When he was appointed, most young professionals were excited. We saw him as a problem-solver, someone who, having come from outside the political establishment, would be a leader on Council and above politics-as-usual. Right now, sadly, he acting as a recalcitrant hard-liner more devoted to party than principle. That may be a way to raise campaign money, but it's not any way to govern a city.

Once the ballots are counted in November for City Council, let's all promise to do all we can to force the seemingly broken Council to come together to work for the common good.

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