Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Union Membership Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry for Bankrupting Contra Costa County

It must be tough to be a unionized government employee in California these days. For most of us, when our employer struggles financially, it raises the possibility that we might be laid off or forced to swallow cuts to benefits or salary. It must be hard to, you know, refuse to allow those cuts and layoffs, and to threaten legal action against an employer trying to stay solvent. As a case in point, consider what's going on in Contra Costa County these days.

For years, the county has struggled with budget deficits, usually resolving them by trimming services or employing accounting maneuvers. Yet after five straight years of such deficits, Contra Costa is running out of options, and is now asking for union concessions to help it avert insolvency. The unions, for their part, are adopting the brave stance of refusing to take the problem seriously, and things may be on the verge of getting ugly. The Board of Supervisors is currently negotiating with the Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents the county's 800 or so low- and mid-level managers, and whose contract expired at the end of June. Contra Costa is currently looking for $7-$8 million in salary and benefit cuts from the union, and to prohibit them from buying "air time" to boost their pensions. The Local 21, however, is only offering about $3.7 million in concessions, much of which would be offset by measures like pay hikes for longer-tenured members. Today, the union will ask the Board of Supervisors to rescind its "final" offer and re-open negotiations. If the county refuses, they have the right to impose their proposal on the union.

If we had to speculate, we'd guess that the supervisors will back down and re-open negotiations. After all, holding the line would mean choosing taxpayers' interests over union interests. In California, that's a pretty serious faux pas, and would likely provoke litigation from the union.


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