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Girard's mayor, city council should not bend to workers

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Six months ago, we posed the following question: Don't public sector workers have an obligation to the taxpayers, who ultimately pay their salaries, to make the kind of sacrifices that have become standard operating procedure in the private sector?
Our answer: We believe they do.
The question was asked against the backdrop of the financial meltdown of governments at all levels and a warning from Girard Mayor James Melfi that the "days of fat are over."
It was also in reaction to the following comment from Kevin Powers, in-house counsel for the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association: "We're generally not interested in making wage concessions to keep more people working because we know layoffs are temporary things, where usually any concessions you make is viewed as a permanent thing."
We recall that question today because of what is taking place in Girard in relation to labor contracts.
Last week, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3356 voted 22-1 to reject the city's proposal. Given the $1.9 million general fund deficit and the fact that city government has been under state mandated fiscal emergency since August 2001, the Melfi administration asked the nonsafety forces employees to accept a wage freeze, make copayments toward their health insurance premiums, take a reduction in clothing allowance and eliminate enhanced bonus payments for workers who increase their skills through educational programs.
From a private sector perspective the proposal is reasonable considering Girard's financial plight.
Responsible behavior
Indeed, police officers, excluding the four captains, in the city have shown the kind of responsible behavior that taxpayers must demand from all public employees. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 52, representing 10 patrol officers and three dispatchers, agreed to a three-year contract that freezes wages and requires members to pay a portion of their medical benefits.
The contract, which was ratified by city council earlier this month, contains a reopener clause for any of the three years if the fiscal emergency is lifted.
What a wonderful display of public spirit.
By contrast, AFSCME Local 3356 and the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents four captains, are taking their contracts to fact-finding.
The status of negotiations for a new pact with the International Association of Firefighters Local 1120 was unclear last week.
The mayor and city council cannot give in to the demands of city employees.
The police captains say that their priority is to preserve the benefits they have. We would suggest that in this day and age, when layoffs in the private sector are a daily occurrence, having a job is the ultimate benefit.
For too long, public employees have operated on the false assumption that they not only have a right to their jobs, but to annual pay raises as well.
Retirement benefits
The reason for this has to do with the way the public employees' retirement benefits are calculated. The formula involves the number of years of service and the average of the three highest yearly earnings. That is why there is such a push, especially from veteran employees, to bolster their salaries.
Meanwhile, taxpayers in the private sector, who have had to live with wage freezes and concessions, are burdened with the threat of strikes in government that could affect their health, safety and welfare.
As for union employees, the younger ones will find out the hard way -- through being laid off -- that they are not important to their veteran colleagues..