Publisher's Note: Unity
By Jody Reese
In school districts, towns, cities, counties and state governments, public employees are faced with a difficult task: How to deal with the recession.
As less revenue has flowed into public coffers, government at every level is looking at some crummy options: raise taxes, lower services, lay off staff. To make matters worse, many public servants are getting a raise, negotiated when times were better.
In Manchester a fight is brewing between Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta and the unions over Guinta’s plan to have all city employees take a week off without pay. The move is said to save 70 or so jobs. The unions are resisting.
While I understand and sympathize with the unions, they need to take the lead on this issue and make real concessions — not to Guinta, but to their customers, the people of Manchester.
So what could the unions do?
For starters they could delay automatic pay increases and look to find efficiencies in what they do, including the reduction of overtime. This would set the right tone going into a budget cycle and an election year. It would also reduce the threat of layoffs. It seems hard to defend your most senior employees getting a raise while newer employees get laid off.
Of course, those employees were promised those raises and expect them. Like all of us, they have mortgages to pay, kids in college and may be dealing with a lost job in the family. This isn’t a question of value, it’s a question of fairness to all involved. Taxpayers are stretched and more junior public employees need their jobs — and we need those services.
Unions need not sit by and let politicians set the terms of how to deal with budget shortfalls. They have an active role to play and should come to the table with ideas.
One example of a union taking the lead is in the Hollis School District, where the Brookline Teachers Association is foregoing some raises and lowering the cost-of-living increase. This wasn’t some plan shoved down their throat by a politician, it came from their own concern about the effects of layoffs on the school system.
With hope, their leadership can be an example to everyone that for the good of many sacrifice may be necessary.
However, and this is a big however, it’s not only public employees who need to sacrifice; it’s all of us. Perhaps there is more we as citizens can do to lessen the burden on government. Can we volunteer? Can we help keep the parks clean? Can we sacrifice some money to pay higher taxes?
I hear some people have signed up to protest the federal stimulus package and are sending tea bags to members of Congress. Have these folks sent any money to their local YMCA or Boys & Girls Club? What are they doing to help their community thrive in this down economy?