It is a rare occurrence that I agree with a course of action of Lou Magazzu. As Freeholder Director he is insisting that county employees take a wage freeze in exchange for a guarantee of no layoffs. However, if the county had not kowtowed to union pressure and unbalanced contracts in the past, this might not be as much of an issue.
In 2005, the county and unions agreed to a five-year contract with annual raises, the steepest being four and f ive-years out. This sort of projection that is not in any way tied to economic factors is absurd. There is no private corporation or business int he world that would ever do such a thing.
And therein lies the problem with public sector unions. The pay scale and benefits in no way mimic the public sector or real world. Public employees that are crying about this wage freeze will not get one iota of sympathy from the public sector person losing their house because Cumberland County has the highest unemployment in the state, and they cannot find a job, and their unemployment benefits have expired.
Contracts need to be negotiated in good faith, by both sides of the bargaining table. Employees must be guaranteed fair treatment. But the taxpayers must be protected also. Benefits must be in line with what the public sector offers, not generous freebies paid for by the taxpayers. Raises must be tied to COLA.
A lot is being said about furloughs by the county as well as local municipalities. The plan is to force employees to take seven unpaid days off a year. Yes, every option needs to be considered. However, I have a better solution.
Most of the workers affected by a furlough are the lower echelon, lower wage earners. These are also the people that would be less likely able to afford that minor loss in take-home pay. Salaried persons do not get paid by the hour or day, but that is where the big savings would come. Also the higher paid persons would be better able to afford losing pay. The problem with both the county and local budgets is that salaries are not the major expense.
Perks and overhead are the areas that need to be considered. Overhead – the cost of running a government building. The savings of shutting down the buildings for one extra day a week are respectable. California did it, as have many private companies. The plan? Go to a four-day work week of ten hour days for all non-essential departments.
The employees love it because now they have three day weekends every week, and those that commute save in fuel. The savings in energy and overhead of maintaining the buildings is substantial. The public benefits due to longer daily afternoon/evening hours, despite the one day closure.
I suspect that the savings of a four-day work week would exceed anything saved by forced furloughs, and there would be less ill will involved. Then when at the bargaining table the next time, the insurance and employee contributions can be looked at and brought slowly into line with the real world, private sector. Pay increases can be tied to COLA and not some arbitrary number devised by lawyers and union heads without consideration to the people that are actually footing the bills. It is inherently unfair that the taxpayers, the ones that will have to pay for the wages and benefits have absolutely no say at the bargaining table.
I wonder if there is a case for a class action lawsuit? What a precedent that would be? But this is a pipe dream. So, while Lou Magazzu and his friends throw union employees under the bus after vacant promises to get re-elected, the best we can wish for is an honest debate, some give and take, and the hope of a stronger and faster economic recovery.