By Jeffrey Bradley
An election year that promises not much in the way of political fireworks—there’s no expectation of any incumbent being seriously challenged—still is rife with backstories for anyone with a discerning eye. Take, for instance, the fact that, if you’re a sitting commissioner, life becomes a whole lot easier with no opponents to run against. It’s pretty much a tabula rasa when no one’s there to dog your steps or ask you pesky questions. Anyway, who needs that stuff when there’s business needs doing?
It’s makes it so much easier when voting to raise taxes or negotiating with unions or dealing with the myriad things that make up a political life. After all, it’s alot easier to open up the throttle when you look down the tracks and see nothing but green signals ahead.
And speaking of green, the last hold-out union finally signed their pact with the City. What a deal! While we don’t know exactly what are the details, we do know they’re asking a lot. And while it’s true there’s talk of freezes, deferred COLAs and “substantial savings” due to concessions, it remains a fact that these cats are livin’ large. Besides the rock-solid health plan (includes eye and dental coverage), there’s that guaranteed pension plan after 5 years of service that’s good for life. And if you’re a cop or a fireman, when you die, your spouse inherits that for-life pension. Nice gig, that! Still, with all the down-sizing, outsourcing and mid-leveling going on in the private sector, what kind of pension will you be getting? Whatever it is, if it is, we bet it isn’t for life.
Then of course there’s that “holiday/overtime” pay, meaning that under certain auspices if you work 8 hours you’ll get paid for 28.
And let’s not forget the demand of “no Lay-offs through September 30, 2013” or that “No employee covered under the CWA Bargaining Unit will be separated (union-speak for fired) from their position with the City for reasons other than discipline or voluntary separation” (wouldn’t want ‘em to miss that 28 hours’ pay), or that the City agree to “Reinstate all employees who have been laid off.” <Whew!> Why not ask for a Christmas turkey, too? All we can say is, Unions, be prepared to explain yourselves. Very. Slowly. Which is kind of like asking John Kerry, “Why the long face?”
Last we heard, you had to earn a raise, not be handed one just for showing up. We can attest to it; in the world of 1099s—there’s a good chance you’re one if you’re not in a union—you bring your A game everyday lest the person behind you overtakes you. We believe this is called merit or capitalism or even earning it. Like the man said, the only guarantees in life are death and taxes.
Why does the City put up with it? The main reason we think is (drumroll, please) …money! Take, for instance, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson who’s already larded his reelection war chest with funds from the unions. Not to slight the Commissioner, but we’re willing to bet the farm—including the chicken coop—that no sitting commissioner has or will turn down union money. He’s just the only one so far to publicly say so. And if you don’t think that affects how commissioners think—and vote—then you belong in that coop with the chickens.
So, in a round-the-Mulberry-bush scenario, politicians turn to the unions because they need money (or think they do), and attempt to turn a sleazy practice—garnering union “endorsements”, which is politico-speak for “we own you”) into a virtue. But it doesn’t wash; you take Beelzebub’s largesse, my friends, and you’ve made a pact with the devil. Where’s Daniel Webster when we need him?
While the City played, and shockingly, won this round of hardball, it could well be a Pyrrhic victory. By forcing the union’s hand—the City rattled the rank-and-file with dire predictions of impending layoffs—they got what they wanted in the way of short-term concessions… which does absolutely nothing by way of addressing the festering issue of pensions. Instead of tackling reform, the City deferred it; two years hence, it will be back to bite the City right on the backside.
A lack of candor; a lack of vision; a lack of leadership.
Indeed, much as it pains us to write the terms “common sense” and “unions” in the same sentence (we had to place our left hand upon our right and force the pen across the page), they have to be given their props. For they’re right on two counts: administrative bigwigs DO make far too much money—this is “public service”, and if lucre is your allure, then change thy name to Gordon Gecko and get thee away to Wall Street—and, apologies to the City Administrator, but that position simply is not worth rewarding a quarter-million dollar pension.
City administrators and elected officials and unionistas: birds of a feather that eschew even the hint of financial Darwinism for the sake of guaranteed golden parachutes, perks set in stone, and give-me emollients. Both continue their pas-de-deux of money and influence (“it’s just politics”), while the electorate sits on the sidelines and glowers.
And while the squeaky wheel may well get the oil, it’s equally true that the quacking duck.