Our City’s Rotten Tactics


On January 17, I spoke before council regarding the 20% reduction in worker pay/four-day work week the City Administration has advised will take place this summer unless suitable savings are found via labor negotiations.

As I said before council, I realize that as a conservative, my support for labor on this issue will seem out of character, but my personal experience of having worked as an employee for my entire career allows me to completely empathize with them over what is happening.

My own pay was cut from 2008-2011, first by 5%, then an additional 10% on top of that, and it was extremely painful for my family.   As a conservative, I know full well that we cannot afford the cost of an overly-large government.  As an employee and a human being, I also know full well what being abused by an employer is like.

A 20% pay cut is abuse.

These are scare tactics

The announcement is nothing more than a dirty, rotten, lousy labor negotiating tactic, and I think it speaks poorly about the character of those who are negotiating with the unions.  Essentially, the city administration is using scare tactics–despite their protestations to the contrary. Instead of negotiating in good faith using reason, facts, and presenting real options to labor, they’ve decided to pursue the nuclear option.  Scare tactics are the mark of poor negotiators.

Behind the scenes, City Administration is simultaneously jockeying the sentiments of the residents to accept another tax increase.  The thinking is that if they can’t scare the unions away from their position, the back-up plan is to scare the residents into thinking their roads won’t be plowed, their parks will close, and the library will be shut down even more than it is now.  This is unacceptable.

Public Safety cannot be held sacrosanct

In exempting public safety workers from the announced cuts, the administration is willfully creating animosity between non-emergency workers and public safety workers, which is a lousy thing to do.

Cutting back on everything but public safety may appease some segments of the population and the public safety workers themselves, but nobody who has had a look at the city’s finances believes for a second that this city’s financial ship will be righted without reasonable and tolerable cuts to public safety.

The necessary reductions are going to be painful.  The problem is a public safety department that is unsustainable in its current form and size.

Reasonable and Tolerable cuts to public safety implies reducing overtime, elimination of multi-departmental responses to minor emergencies, considering outsourcing of EMT runs altogether and maintaining department sizes that are scaled to actual needs, rather than worst-case potential needs.

In the meantime, the administration needs to move immediately to restore the relationship between public safety and the other workers.

What about Mark Vanderpool?

Mark Vanderpool’s much-ballyhooed financial plan for the city, the one that was designed to enable a town of 129,000 people to weather this incredible economic storm boiled down to this: hoping the housing market would recover in 2010/11. Plain and simple, he was banking on the idea that things were going to recover last year.  I think it was painfully obvious several years ago this would never happen.

It is tempting to say City Council should hold Mark Vanderpool accountable and fire him.  Someone needs to be held accountable. The most logical choice might appear at first glance to be the guy who runs the daily operations of the city.

I’m just not sure that firing him would resolve the problem.  I am working under the assumption that someone with Mr. Vanderpool’s level of responsibility has to delegate the preparation of the budget and financial planning.  In my opinion, he should demand accountability from the people who put together the wishful thinking masquerading as a city’s financial plan, and terminate them.

If Mr. Vanderpool cannot deliver a smoothly running, fiscally sound city in by January 2013, he too needs to go.  He should be obliged to deliver to the city a financial plan that assumes the economy will continue to worsen, rather than get better, and has contingencies prepared to ensure the sustainability of future budgets regardless of the housing market.

This is a tall order, I know.  I think City Council should challenge him to deliver on the above, because I still think he’s capable of it.  That’s why Mark Vanderpool makes the big bucks: ultimately, he has to deliver.  It is City Council’s job to make sure he does.

The Labor Issues Need to be Resolved

Cops without contracts, Command Officers suing the city, Dispatchers afraid for their jobs, and the entire non-emergency workforce cut back to a 30-hour week?  This recipe for disaster is the product of incompetence.

We would have gotten better results without the $50,000 attorney had Mr. Vanderpool, Mr. Baker, and Mayor Notte sat down at the table across from the union representatives themselves.  As usual, City Administration spends the money, the council rubber-stamps the request and the residents get to take their chances.

Speaking as a resident who wants the streets plowed, broken water mains fixed, criminals caught and the library open: this labor issue needs to get resolved.  Quickly.

Look at it this way: GM, Ford and Chrysler negotiated multi-year contracts with the UAW involving a lot more money than the city budget.  Literally hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake..  All three sets of negotiations were completed in a couple of months.

The Police Officers of Michigan negotiations have lasted the better part of a year.

Negotiations should be wrapped up by the time the city budget has to be signed into law.  As a resident, I think we have the right to demand it.  I think the city’s employees deserve it.  And I think City Council needs to make it happen.

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Posted on January 18, 2012, in Labor Contracts and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Our City’s Rotten Tactics.

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