Saturday, April 18, 2009

Unification isn't the real threat

It's not unification that is most likely to destroy the "way of life" people who live in the village want so desperately to protect - it's the lack of solvent taxpayers.
The village board is trying to find another $300,000 or so in budget cuts, and they're running out of things to even consider.  I was told that they might even consider laying people off - people like the ones that are busting their butts cleaning up after us this week.

I was dumbfounded that the situation is so serious, and asked if they had considered other options to keep the full work force, like furloughs and shortened work schedules and pay cuts.  Less of a job is better than none, I would think.  Apparently the unions don't see it that way, and they aren't willing to reopen the contracts.
Now I'm all for collective bargaining, but if this is true it's a case where the members are not being represented by their union.  How does it help anyone?  $300 might mean four to six people (I'm not sure exactly, because benefits have to be considered in the total employee cost) that are out of work.  It will probably mean the same reduction in services as any of the other options I asked about, but with more people jobless.
The only problem I have with collective bargaining is the idea that you can be required to be a member of the union.  This is why unions sometimes - often - don't have their members' interests at heart.  If employees could freely join and leave - and for that matter, freely create and dissolve a union - then groups like CSEA would see enrollment dip when employers are humans, and rise when they become monsters.  There's no reason why union membership needs to be a protected class, and there's plenty of reasons why it shouldn't.
I wonder if that's a contract negotiation point?


Martin McPhillips said...

Unification, no matter how it's played, eliminates the discreet inner municipality that is the village. So, I would say that is indeed more of a real threat to the village than a budget shortfall.

As for a lack of "solvent taxpayers," the school district doesn't seem to think there's a problem. It will be taking another 4.5% hike from them.

Perhaps the village government is dealing with its citizens like people in an economic downturn instead of like dairy cows who will give milk or be removed to the taxpayer slaughterhouse.

Anonymous said...

Unions may have their issues, but never forget the job protection a union provides against the politics we're seen in recent years from some God awful "leaders." Sometimes civil service protection is just not enough from the likes of Toni Hokenson.

Anonymous said...

Contracts aside, it is unfair to say what shouldn't be cut without also suggesting what SHOULD be cut. Look at Gov. Patterson who is trying to find a responsible way of balancing the state budget, yet the only way he can do it is with cuts to many sacred cow programs. If you howl and scream when something you like get's cut, but don't offer a real world alternative proposal, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of union shops where employees are free to be free-riders. they don't join the union, but benefit from the collective bargaining that the union undertakes. Perhaps if closed shops were forbidden, as you suggest, the raises and benefits that the union negotiates for accrue only to their members and the free-riders have to fend for themselves

Terence said...

I think it's perfectly appropriate for non-members not to benefit from collective bargaining - that's part of the market system. When economic conditions make the union's bargaining power more attractive, memberships will rise and the bargaining power will be greater. At other times, when employers choose to give non-members the same benefits, unions will diminish in influence. Grumman was the only defense contractor without unions for many years, and they did so by matching the benefits of union shops. I certainly would have chosen to be in a union in one of my jobs when I was younger, and in another I paid union dues and never saw any benefit whatsoever. It's just a freedom question.

pete healey said...

I'll try a second time to repond to the original posting about the budget and the union. We're not "running out of places to cut the budget". We have certain board members who are unwilling to cut their personal priority items and are more than willing to keep these items and try to wring concessions out of blue collar workers for whom they have little or no respect. For example, there is a lot of sentiment to hire a new employee and to force work hour reductions and/or job cuts on others. I won't support such inconsistent and counterpoductive actions. We can get this budget down to a 1 or 2% tax increase if we're willing to look past our personal agendas and maybe with the deadline looming next Thursday we'll get a more realistic outlook on this board.

Terence said...

Well, Pete, I wouldn't want to have to make those decisions. Whether it's board members that think "pet projects" are more important than people, or unions that would rather defend their cash cow than their members, it sounds like a mess.

Martin McPhillips said...

Peter, that formula can be used about anything. "Some want to protect their pet projects, but are willing to cut the funding for playgrounds." "Others want to protect pet projects, but would gut funds for the homeless." Everything can be framed like that if you're willing to project bad faith onto the other board members.

I'm a huge fan of the village Department of Public Works. If you've ever seen them in action, responding to a water main break, for instance, you'll know what I mean.

That does not, however, make the DPW a sacrosanct budget line. Also, there are many private firms around the area that I'm sure would love the opportunity to bid on some of that work. They are small business blue collar workers, and most probably don't have the kind of guarantees that the DPW workers have. I would in fact recommend broad privatization of services way before I would give up the discreet political authority of the village government (in reference to unification).

The village board has an a priori fiduciary responsibility to village residents. That is the predicate for whatever it does, and comes before and after any contract with a union. And the village government has more things to consider than its role as an employer, especially in a difficult economic period. I'm not saying that it's every man for himself, no, but the board should be able to expect flexibility and be flexible itself. In the end, however, the board is responsible to village residents, and it's on that standard that all measurements of its good faith should be based.

Brittany Turner said...

Uh... if someone gets to renegotiate a contract every time they change their mind about something, then it isn't really a contract anymore.

It's kind of an all-or-nothing and I don't fault the union for refusing to reopen negotiations; I fault the VB for negotiating a contract that they cannot uphold.

Oh well, time to look elsewhere - a contract is a contract and it's final. You wouldn't see them suggesting a renegotiation of other VONP contracts and the contract for VONP employees should be managed with the same respect and finality.

Martin McPhillips said...

It takes two to tango, Brittany. Neither side can breach the contract (which I haven't seen, so I speak abstractly here about its provisions) without consequences.

But I believe that if Party A says that Workers X, Y, and Z will be laid off if Party B doesn't allow for some relaxation of work rules, which would allow X, Y, and Z to remain on the job, then that's an opportunity for Party B to examine its own vital interests in the terms of the contract.

I would think that the workers themselves would be chief among the union's interests. But unions, like governments, often take themselves to be more important than their constituents.

The village, like any other party to a contract, anticipates future conditions. If those conditions change rather drastically, then it has to look at the options it has within the scope of the contract. I'm assuming that layoffs are one of those options. In lieu of that action, an offer to relax certain requirements in the contract to avoid the layoffs is a good faith offer.

The first order of responsibility for the village is always to village residents and their interests, not to its role as an employer, much as the first responsibility of a corporation is to its shareholders (owners).

Both the village and the union negotiate a cotract in that context. A perspective which elevates the union to the top of the hierarchy in that arrangement might fit the union perspective, but it doesn't conform with reality.

Steve Greenfield said...

I think it's very unfair, and a sign of having stepped into the carefully laid and continously, expensively reinforced trap of the right wing to take the easy fallback position against unions and their tendency to stand by their contracts. Nobody is suggesting that the Village call the vendors who sold the DPW its trucks and see how they feel about renegotiating the price at which they were sold. Nobody suggests calling New York City and asking if they'll cut the water rates so the Village and its residents can make it through this hard time. Nobody's getting all up in arms because banks aren't coming to Village Board meetings offering to lower rates on outstanding debt. Etc.

Labor is only one input in the Village expense package. Why is it always assumed that unions are being hard-asses and not caring about what happens to others when they take the exact same position as the owners of the other inputs? It's not like Village employees are getting rich, like the owners of the major equipment we buy, who are in a much better position to renegotiate downward. How so many well-meaning people arrive at the facile assumption that somehow labor is different than capital in this regard shows how many of us, no matter how progressive we endeavor to be, are as much proudcts of our environments as we are of our intellects.

As far as the union shop rules, sadly, without them, there's no point (in most cases) in even having a union. Open shops destroy the only bargaining chip labor has, which is control of the supply of labor. You're all assuming that the "free" laborors should not benefit from the union contracts, and that sounds good on paper. But you're overlooking the fact that management is free to give the "free" workers a better deal than they gave to the union, and thereby chip away at the union's value to its members until there's no union left at all, at which time management is then free to dispense with each individual worker as it sees fit, and we're right back to the Charles Dickens capitalism with which we started. No thanks.

Come on, gadflies. We can do better than this. Reach down deep and innovate.

Martin McPhillips said...


Privatize village services.

Most DPW work out to area contractors. Buy locally! (Actually, just get the best price. Don't be a sucker.)

Building inspection out to qualified private firms (the home inspector I hired, for instance, is a former building inspector). Property owners billed where they initiate a required inspection (as opposed to, say, enforcement inspections that are routine and find no problems).

Get out of the deal with the town sharing the police force. Major crimes: state police. The downtown bars: campus police. Miscellaneous: Ulster County Sheriff. For day to day village policing: a village constable's office. Jail: Ulster County jail.

Look hard at every service, every expense, and every law that carries any constant expense with no significant reward (I can't think of any offhand, but I just know they are there).

And a distinctly non-fiscal innovation: Get that hideous red and turquoise sculpture out of Peace Park. It will have a tonic effect on the community. Leave the rock garden; it's lovely.