City, union must seek compromise

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 27, 2013

Even though it was a difficult choice that creates an uncertain future, members of the Ironton City Council made the right decision in drawing a line in the proverbial sand when it comes to new contracts with two of the city’s labor unions.

Ironton citizens have been asked repeatedly to pay more for the same — or even reduced — services in recent years, yet many of the city’s employees refuse to accept the same reality.

We applaud councilmen Aaron Bollinger, Philip Heald, and Dave Frazer for having the courage to vote “no” on new contracts with the AFSCME and police unions, proposals that would have simply continued the status quo of unsustainable perks and benefit packages.

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These negotiations — if you can even call them that since there has been no actual give and take — have been ongoing for nearly a year. The unions have been unwilling to concede anything from the current contract, apparently oblivious to the fact that the city’s financial situation necessitated nearly a dozen layoffs last year and will certainly require more down the road if real changes aren’t made.

The city’s employees are hardworking men and women who are likely facing difficult financial challenges. But this isn’t unlike the rest of the city’s more than 12,000 residents.

Giving in to the unions’ demands now makes the last year of diminished workforce all for nothing and will only further delay any fundamental changes to how the city operates.

Cutting expenses is not an option. The city has to do it, sooner rather than later. The current contracts will drive expenses to continue to outpace any revenue gains. It might take six months. It might take a year or two.

It is only a matter of “when,” not “if.”

The argument that the reduced staffing isn’t saving money because of overtime is ridiculous. If that is the case, then the city is lacking leadership in its management positions. And that starts with the mayor.

The city looks like it will be forced to take the dispute to arbitration. That is a scary proposition for citizens because someone who isn’t elected or accountable is somewhat driving the decisions.

But it may be the only avenue to force fiscal responsibility.

If that happens we urge all involved to look at the entire picture instead of individual components. You can’t say that water rates or garbage rates are low without factoring in the municipal fee or the CSO fee.

Continuing to provide full retirement pickup and paying 95 percent of health insurance premiums is going to bankrupt the city or diminish services to the point that they no longer can be provided at all.

Time is running out, but it isn’t too late for leaders and the union to find some middle ground rooted in common sense and the reality of the city’s financial situation.

The citizens of Ironton are depending on it.