Public Sector Wage, Benefit Givebacks – It CAN be done!

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There is a view held by some that governing bodies of cities, counties, special districts and states must impose budget cuts upon their workers in order to deal with budget shortfalls. The logic goes that negotiating at the bargaining table over such reductions is futile as the public sector unions will strongly resist any reductions in pay and benefits and will obfuscate the issues.

The recent disruption in the State of Wisconsin is a good example of bull-headed and disruptive imposition by electeds who seem to think they should not concern themselves with process.  There, salary and benefit reductions were put before the Legislature along with  legislation to reduce or eliminate public sector collective bargaining rights under state law. Months of confrontation and disruption in the State Capital over this move was followed by lawsuits and now recall efforts directed at certain State legislators. Wisconsin is an example of how not to do it – unless you seek headline grabbing disruption and a public backlash.

The latest example of how to do it is New York State, where Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo has hammered out a 5 year agreement with the State’s largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association that implements a wage freeze, furloughs for workers and provides for an increased employee contribution for their health insurance. So reports the New York Times in a June 22 story headlined “Cuomo Secures Big Givebacks in Union Deal.” The article says savings will be $73 million this year and as much as $ 1.6 billion over 5 years.

The article points out that this union represents about one-third of the state’s 186,000 employees, and that “the process was largely free of the public rancor that accompanied efforts to reduce spending on labor in New Jersey and Wisconsin.” It also notes that the Cuomo administration is negotiating with a number of other unions representing about 56,000 state employees, and if that effort is not successful they are likely to see layoffs in their ranks.

So it can be done.  The NY State agreement with its Civil Service Employees Association is testimony to that.  The question that seems to surface is whether Republican electeds elsewhere can be as successful as Democratic Governor Cuomo in bringing public sector unions to the bargaining table to work out salary and benefit reductions or if the confrontational style found to date in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Costa Mesa is the only Republican approach to dealing with government budget shortfalls in these tough times.  Perhaps all electeds should ask if this is about headline grabbing confrontation, or getting to results that everyone agrees are a reasonable approach to dealing with budget problems.


About Over But Not Out

A retired Orange County employee, and moderate Republican. The editor seriously does not know OBNO's identity as did not the former editor, but his point of view is obviously interesting and valued.