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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  • tiger534

    Seems that Stockton was like a lot of other cities in California. The big boom in housing led to unpreceded spending and when that boom went belly up so did the economy of that once booming city. We can talk about what attorneys said this or that but the bottom-line is a city that simply outspend its ability to pay back loans it took on the premise that the so called housing and enomomic boom in the area would continue.

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  • mikehaney

    Stockton’s bankruptcy will probably resemble the 2008 case of another California city, Vallejo, which exited court protection last year, bankruptcy attorney Dale Ginter said . Both cities have been hurt by high labor costs, particularly health insurance for retirees, he said.

    “Retirees are not going to be happy,” said Ginter, who represented retired Vallejo workers in that city’s bankruptcy. “My prediction is that retiree health care is cut. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cut to zero.”

    —-California city——

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  • tiger534

    Unions may not be liked but in many cases needed to defend against administions that hire their own, fire those that do not agree with any of their policies, expect extra demands on some employees and not on others-usually there kin or favorites. Place those that the administration likes in many time positions they are not as qualified to do as many others that have worked longer. This list can go on and on and this is one reason some unions are needed regardless those that dislike them say.

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    • Noesis

      That part I don’t have a problem with. It’s the demands of the public unions and that they basically can strike and negotiate their pay and benefit package with those politicians that they give money to. Make it like the federal government unions. No strike and they don’t get to negotiate their pay.

      (Report comment)

  • Noesis

    AceHouston and after how many years do public union workers get to retire? How much is your compensation package?

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  • AceHouston

    Thanks for your words, Mickakers, and thank you for your efforts in the Labor Movement.

    The whole part about Gross and Net is right on. If agreed to we’d be taking a hit in the gross and the net will be less. This is a fact.

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  • mickakers

    My compliments to the Ironton Tribune on their eye catching headline,”Needs of many outweigh needs of few”. Rather misleading, but does catch attention. Also presents a lack of creditability, fairness and justice.

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  • mickakers

    mikehaney; I concur with the basis of your comment, if you cannot afford it, close up shop. Isn’t this sound fiscal management?

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  • mickakers

    AceHouston; As a PS: I served in the trenches of the Labor Movement for forty two years and am still serving after fifty years of membership for the betterment of the working man and woman. Private or Public sector makes no difference. The working man or woman and their rights can be abused by corporate interests or public selfishness. My utmost respect to you and your obvious concerns for fairness and justice. Without Labor Unions, the workers would be subservient to their employers, private or public.

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  • mickakers

    AceHouston; My compliments on an excellent an informative post.

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  • AceHouston

    A public union worker does not take home more than $60,000 a year. Rounding up, I was taxed $29,000 on my W-2s. Only the Mayor makes that kind of bank. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone can actually think city employees are that rich. Anyways, some do make less than me and and some more than this average median household income of $28,000 as stated but it’s not by much.

    It’s about FAIRNESS. Not getting raises is one thing. Taking a huge pay cut is another. I can’t afford it. That 7.5% that gets whipped around so often seems like a small number but losing ~ $200+ a month in take home pay is too much!

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  • Noesis

    Mick: A fair and intelligent decision cannot be made without knowing all the facts. Since the tax paying citizens of Ironton are paying these salaries, I feel they are entitled to know what they are. It is nice to know what the median income of an Ironton resident is but that is not necessarily pertinent to this situation.
    ————

    Actually Mick it is very pertinent. If the average salary of the citizens is $28,000 a year and a public union worker is $60,000 a year, why should the citizens have to pay more to support somebody that is making significantly more than them? Conversely, if this was Beverly Hills where everybody was making $120,000 a year, they could afford to give more.

    And Mike… excellent article as always.

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  • mikehaney

    In other words, some would rather just close up shop, shut and padlock the door and close the city of Ironton, rather than give concessions.

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  • mickakers

    As an interesting PS: The majority opinion is not necessarily the correct opinion. In fact, rather often, it is the wrong opinion.

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  • mickakers

    I wonder, what is the base pay for city police officers and municipal workers? This fact seems to be a mystery. A fair and intelligent decision cannot be made without knowing all the facts. Since the tax paying citizens of Ironton are paying these salaries, I feel they are entitled to know what they are. It is nice to know what the median income of an Ironton resident is but that is not necessarily pertinent to this situation. There is a distinct possibility there are people living in the city limits that cannot afford all the comforts this entails. I could not help but laugh at the comment “Some people argue that concessions are asking employees to take pay cuts. That argument simply does not hold water.” An individuals take home pay is the bottom line and his or her actual earnings. Gross income versus Net income. If you ask an employee to pay more on his insurance or retirement, this is taken out of his or her Gross income thereby reducing the Net Income (take home pay). If this is not a reduction in actual earnings, I don’t know what is. The interesting aspect pertaining to the “firefighters” union is, they are in a unique situation of their own. In actuality their so called “significant” concessions are not quite as significant as they appear, if you look at it from a take home in earnings point of view. I think they made a mistake in giving up what they gave up, take home pay wise. Along with being “pro-Taxpayer or citizen-first” comes responsibilities.

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  • BILLCO

    Good article mike, your right, I worked union jobs all my working life, but the unions of today are not the same as they were then. Unions today just want the dues each month without giving up the benifits, Its high time they stepup and start giving, and not just collecting dues every month.

    (Report comment)

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