Dominoes

I wish I knew what this meant:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 813 met Wednesday evening, and members voted unanimously to uphold their contract, Local President Mike Taylor said. That means the union has rejected cost reductions – and now three members face layoffs.

“The membership felt that without a guarantee of no layoffs, then we would honor the contract,” Taylor said.

I thought that was the whole point: wage freeze for one year equals no layoffs for one year?

Worker Incredulity is Strong

From where I’m sitting, the biggest hurdle the city has in these negotiations is a credibility gap. The article only reinforces the notion. Certainly its inability to articulate a dollar amount to be conceded plays a role, as was sending a message of hunky-dory via approval of an AFSCME contract last summer that showed no restraint whatsoever. Then there’s the firefighters’ argument that the city is choosing to pump up its reserves instead of meeting its agreements. All of these parts make up the belief that the city does indeed have the money to honor its contractual obligations if it wanted to.

Also:

Baxter & Woodman: Paid $10,859.80
Elliott & Wood: Paid $148,677.61
Hitchcock Design: Paid $71,968.03

Total: $231,505.44, paid 5/22/09, for one month’s work on the streetscape project.

Sure, this is out of TIF funding and, sure, some of the work (water main) needs to be done. But do tell, how does one actually explain approval of all the downtown extras while at the same time maintaining that contractually-obligated raises cannot be given without laying off frontline people? Answer: you don’t. You put the non-essentials on hold.

Monster Debt is Underplayed

TIF spending of this sort, at this time, is offensive and symptomatic of poor prioritizing. The very real and most insidious threat hinted at by current TIF spending, however, is debt. In the April 30 posting that predicted the layoffs, I noted a budget finding of $4.4 million per year (from four funds) going to debt repayment. Of course, in a 2009 budget that was called “balanced” in spite of an $800,000 health insurance liability carried over from the year before, there’s probably more we don’t know.

New Grip on Reality is Worrisome

In the midst of a self-proclaimed budget crisis this time last year, Council chose to ignore opportunities for “resets” to the management pay plan and to the AFSCME contract, instead allowing all the usual raises plus a new paid holiday. They relied on a hiring freeze that, through attrition, has resulted in 16 fewer employees over the past fiscal year. They also raised a bunch of taxes and fees.

Now, Council maintains suddenly that renegotiating the contracts is all-important. They are echoing what the Financial Advisory Committee (FAC) and other concerned residents have been saying for over a year about how we must get a handle on the personnel costs.

You might inquire why the about-face now after all the denial but I would take it a step further and ask: How is it the city has already eliminated about 7% of its workforce and it didn’t seem to help one bit?