Archived Story

Needs of many outweigh needs of few

Published 12:00am Sunday, June 24, 2012

I’ve recently been called a communist, a left-winger and even a Nazi. Several people have accused me of being anti-union, but I prefer to think of myself as pro-taxpayer or citizen-first.

Recent newspaper editorials and my opinion commentary regarding the city’s ongoing contract negotiations with its labor unions have drawn the ire of some, although the positive feedback from dozens of taxpayers certainly outweighs the negative comments I have heard.

Let me be perfectly clear: I have nothing against labor unions in general or the city’s unions specifically. The members themselves deserve praise. Most of them work hard and are overworked and underpaid.

But, that goes for me and almost anyone else in the workforce today.

The difference is taxpayers are asked to foot the bill when it comes to public labor unions and, therefore, have the right to expect reasonable division of costs when it comes to the salaries and benefits of those individuals.

The city still faces real financial challenges. Although leaders have to look at a variety of changes in how it operates and who pays what for services, the primary focus has to be fixing a benefits system that is essentially crippling the city.

Two of Ironton’s three labor unions — the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Fraternal Order of Police — have basically refused to accept any concessions in their new contracts and have said they are fine with recent layoffs, despite the fact that these cuts greatly diminish the ability to provide the services needed.

Massive layoffs shouldn’t even be an option until other changes are made.

Some within the city’s leadership contend that the layoffs cut the needed dollar amount to get within the city’s 2012 budget — a flawed document that did very little to really address the city’s problems; and did even less if these two unions don’t come on board.

Right now, the police and AFSCME employees contribute nothing to their retirement and only pay 5 percent of their health insurance premiums.

This has to be addressed if the city is ever going to move forward.

Continuing to cut personnel to the point that it is impossible to provide services is an unacceptable solution when nothing is being done to fix the root problems.

The city council and the mayor would be just as culpable because approving new union contracts like these only continues the trend of asking the citizens for financial Band-Aids while doing very little to address the real disease — an unsustainable benefit system and refusal to live within its means.

Thankfully council tabled these contract proposals and have asked for something better.

Now is time for Mayor Rich Blankenship to show some real leadership and the backbone needed to stand up to the unions. The mayor must be the one who determines the city’s staffing needs, not the unions.

The citizens of Ironton deserve this from the man they re-elected to lead them.

The city can no longer ask the citizens to continue to pay increasing fees for services that continue to diminish.

Anyone who thinks the citizens can do more fails to realize that most citizens are already paying their share. This year alone the city added nearly $600,000 in fee increases and income tax hikes for some residents.

Although the city council says it cut more than $300,000, without the layoffs or concessions, the city is still facing a deficit that could be as high as $250,000.

The median household income in Ironton is $28,000. This is hard to raise a family on. According to the 2009 census, one of every three Ironton resident falls below the national poverty level.

We cannot continue to ask people who make less money, pay more for their insurance and have inferior retirement options — if they have any at all — to subsidize benefit packages that are out of touch with reality.

The firefighters’ union and non-union employees all made significant concessions — and also seem to understand that more will be asked of them in the future. They should be commended for their willingness to do the right thing to get the city back on solid financial ground.

Some people argue that concessions are asking employees to take pay cuts. That argument simply does not hold water.

They are being asked to pay a proportionate share of the expenses associated with benefits they receive. It happens all the time in private sector employment and the public sector should be no different.

It would be safe to say that nearly all of Ironton’s employees work hard and likely deserve more than they are getting right now. But the reality is the city has to live with what it has and still provide adequate services to make people want to live here.

This issue really isn’t about fewer than 100 employees. It is about the nearly 12,000 citizens of Ironton. This skewed focus has gone on for far too long and must change now.

The city of Ironton cannot afford for these practices to continue. The citizens of Ironton cannot afford it either.

 

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.

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