Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Raises amidst layoffs leave a sour taste

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm with 16 Comments »
November 3, 2011 9:55 am

By the end of 2008 most Americans recognized that our country was in real financial trouble. In the ensuing months we watched as the politics and corporate greed led to runaway unemployment, a huge bank bailout and a growing unrest culminating in the current Occupy Wall Street movement.

Meanwhile, back in Tacoma, we should all be pleased to hear that the implosion of our national and state economy over the last three years has yet to trickle down to the coffers of the City of Destiny.

As crazy and sarcastic as that sounds, that seems to represent the reality for Tacoma’s unionized city workers.

This situation is best exemplified by the raises recently given to the city’s fire and police chiefs. In close second come other higher-ranking officers (non-union positions in most agencies) who reportedly have garnered 10% wage increases during the current recession. Even the rank and file police and fire unions, who have not profited like their superiors, nevertheless failed to lock arms with affected city employees by accepting even a minuscule pay cut during this national crisis.

For the rest of us in the workplace, from construction sites to pharmacies, from the cockpits of airliners to the E.R., the pay curve has fallen. Or at best, flatlined.

That includes many of us likewise employed in public service. My police guild has spent the last two years coughing up money and benefits in heaving gasps. On the heels of giving up an agreed upon raise, we have spent the last year negotiating strenuously for the status quo.

True, it sucks. But on the flip side, at least we have a job.

The same might not be said for many of Tacoma’s current city staff, according to a recent Trib article. According to Tuesday’s story, approximately 130 non-union employees are at risk of losing their jobs due to the current unanticipated budget shortfall.

Leaving aside the troubling fact that a projected $26 million somehow never showed up, there still remains this: The jobs of 130 municipal employees are at risk while city unions are either holding their current salaries or piling on more.

None of us likes to give up money. But the loss of 130 jobs represents a living wage for the families of employees who will soon be trudging to the exit with their pink slips. To do nothing in such circumstances is the workplace equivalent of cannibalism.

Since none of us has a Ouija board we should assume that the current crisis isn’t done. Given the potential for future cost-cutting it would be wise for city officials to reconsider pay raises for high-ranking officials.

Call it sour grapes, but it would make me feel a whole lot better if the police guild would offer to forgo even a symbolic amount of compensation. That would tell me, as a taxpayer, “We’re with you, in the good times and the bad.”

And why not? Sour grapes are the flavor du jour.

Leave a comment Comments → 16
  1. StrglngStdnt says:

    This is similar to the Admin situation at Community Colleges. The Vice Presidents are the slashers, and while they slash away from their bloated lofts, they think more VP’s are needed. It’s especially true at Pierce College. Valuable programs have been cut, faculty cut, classes cut. But who cuts the 80-90 grand a year VP’s? Nobody. Sour grapes, for sure. But the only thing happening to the VP ranks in these difficult times are more VP’s. Time for someone, somewhere to do something about it.

  2. So what is the plan? Should we balance the budget on the back of city workers, or should we ask all taxpayers to share the burden or something in between? Should we have the remaining city workers make a mandatory donation by making less so that more people can have a job? (some would call this socialism)

    Culpepper Compensation reports that in the private sector, average base salary for the U.S. (excluding those for CEO and top management that rose much higher) increased slightly from a 3.05% raise in 2009 to 3.08% raise in 2010. Salary freezes went from 32% of companies in 2009 to 12% in 2010 for private industry. (Total net salaries went down a bit because of less overtime and more deductions for medical).

    While I have no problem laying off workers if we do not need them, paying the workers who are left a wage at least equal to what they were getting seems to be reasonable. A wage and salary study might be conducted to see if what we are paying city workers is comparable to the private sector since the law of supply and demand is not working right now with so many people laid off.

  3. Chippert says:

    I am a “public servant” but I have a problem with the suggestion that we need to “see if what we are paying city workers is comparable to the private sector”. Public service is a different alligator altogether. Salaries should not be totally based on salaries in the private sector when the taxpayers are paying that salary. The tax base has eroded and part of that tax base goes to pay my salary. It is only fair and reasonable that my salary should reflect that. Yes, it hurts, but it is part of the package of public service. All other government employees, whether union or non-union, management or rank-and-file, city, county, state or Federal should be doing the same. It is and was a travesty that any government worker received a general raise in these times. The union that represents the city employees should be asked to re-open negotiations immediately. Their members should demand it. Police Chiefs, fire chiefs, “chiefs” of any ilk should be voluntarily and immediately rolling back raises they received and reducing their own take home accordingly. It is not only the expedient thing to do but the right thing to do.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Your opinion on chiefs voluntarily forgoing raises also mirrors my own, Chippert. I can’t think of a better way of demonstrating leadership in these tough times.

  5. So, Chippert, would you like your salary donations back to government to be targeted to allow other workers to keep their jobs, to allow goods and services to be bought, or what? Do you think we should require private contractors to donate back some of their payments or reduce their fees charged to government? Should corporations that charge government fees for services be required to reduce their salary payments and re-open negotiations under their contracts wkith the governments we are talking about? Are the increases they charge due to increasing cost of living and higher labor and material costs more sacrosanct payments to public workers?

  6. Chippert says:

    First, I do not consider my salary deduction as a way to keep more workers employed (although it does that). I consider it as a way to keep as much “lifeline” government service going as possible in tough times, among other things.

    As for the private sector who do business with the government, there can be and should be no mandate that they adjust their business because of the budget of the government. The amount of money the government has to spend will (or should) take care of altering or canceling contracts (properly negotiated of course) and will dictate contracts awarded in the future, just as it always has.

  7. Chippert, I appreciate your conversation with me. I was asking questions, and not attacking, by the way.

    I think that contracts negotiated in good faith by both sides should be honored. I think that employee contracts should be just like private contracts and negotiated the next time to be more in line with reality.

    I own two small businesses. Even though revenues are down, I haven’t had to lay anyone off so far or reduce their salaries. However, costs have gone up dramatically for goods and services. Knowing that corporations are making their biggest profits ever during this recession with executive salaries going through the roof makes me angry. The costs of living and of doing business keeps going up for everyone, and we have to take it all out on government employees and the poor.

  8. staples says:

    “According to Tuesday’s story, approximately 130 non-union employees are at risk of losing their jobs due to the current unanticipated budget shortfall.”

    Actually according to Tuesdays story “about 130 of the city’s 1,226 union and non-union employees covered under the general fund would be targeted”

    I agree unions should take a paycut or go without a raise but your article makes it sound like the unions not taking cuts can result in 130 non-union employees losing their jobs when in fact the union employees are just as vulnerable to being laid off.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Staples- Typically the largest unions in any city are the fire and police departments. They are also the last ones to lose bodies during layoffs. Thus, at least indirectly, I stand by my comments.

    Thanks for your comment.

  10. Objective says:

    Brian,

    Didn’t you hear biden? Women are going to be raped and people are going to be shot. If the jobs bill is not passed. Sounds like job security for those in law enforcement.

    Back to pay cuts and so on. I would like to see all members of congress take a paycut reflecting their approval rating. So lets say they have a 13% approval rating, they get 13% of what they get paid right now.

    I would also like to add for those interested. Check whatever source you wish, check the networths of the members of congress. They can take a cut and still live very well. Who knows, they could possibly keep 130 people from losing their jobs somewhere. When you check all that out, I bet Murray, Cantwell and the rest would like to hear from everybody demanding congress to take a pay cut.

  11. Chippert says:

    tuddo, while I totally agree with you that contracts should be honored, I see nothing wrong with the government (or anyone else) asking to re-negotiate contracts when conditions change. Obviously both parties would have to agree to re-negotiate. And I also agree with you about corporate profits. It seems that even though real earning power has taken a dramatic downturn, the cost of living is going up. Groceries are more expensive, fuel is more expensive – just about everything has seen price hikes. I am not sure how much more of this can go on before we see a true economic crash.

    By the way, kudos to you on being able to manage your businesses and keep your employees working at full pay during these tough times! Before my current employment with the State of Washington I was working for a small private company where we laid off 20% of our employees while the rest of us, from CEO on down, took a 20% pay cut for a year to help the company survive. Finally the company was forced to downsize to just the bare minimum of employees to keep the doors open. That is where they still are, over two years later.

  12. Chippert, the reasons my businesses have not been totally devastated was I was slow in making a decision to expand and to accept a big debt load in 2007-2008 right before the big slowdown. I just didn’t believe the economic forecasts coming from Wall St or from the administration during those years. I lost out earlier for not moving quickly enough, so I was having second thoughts about why I was reluctant to jump in big time, (like Prium?)

    I also am fortunae enough to have other sources of income, so I have not paid myself from these businesses for four years, now. My staff work extremely hard. I’m 75 and am very active, but they do almost all of the work. Medical benefits are going to be the hardest to continue. I hope the reform act allows me to continue that benefit, or my employees will be hurting even more.

  13. mjcrites says:

    Funny, the CEO of Viacom got a $50M raise and there’s nary a word about, but a union guy gets a raise and it’s the end of the world.
    http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2011/news/companies/1109/gallery.pay_raise/index.html

  14. Chippert says:

    The CEO at Viacom is not being paid with taxpayer dollars but the city workers are. And I think a $50M raise is absurd in any case.

  15. mjcrites says:

    Chippert, the people attacking up employee wages tend to point to declining private wages and say “see, they’re taking a pay cut, why shouldn’t you?” I’m saying why should the workers get pay cuts when the bosses are getting raises? The now ex head of HP got an $11M payout after a year on the job, a year that was an unmitigated disaster for HP. His total compensation for that year of (non)work was around $23M.

    How is it that we can afford to give a CEO a $50M raise or an $11M bonus to a CEO that’s getting fired, but we can’t afford to give raises to teachers, firemen and cops? Which one’s the out of touch person motivated by greed?

    Brian O’Neill’s probably right, we probably can’t afford the raises, but the working people shouldn’t be the only people feeling the pinch.

  16. Sounds like a clear-cut case for limited collective bargaining “rights” for public employees is going to be the only solution here, as it was 6 years ago in Indiana, and was the answer this last year in Wisconsin.

    Tuddo-Kudo’s on running your businesses within their means. If our state(and our President) would operate under those simple premises, we could prosper once again.

    The unions are making me and most other taxpayers sick with their greed. And to point at some CEO making 10s of millions is great-but the big picture is the hundreds of millions and billions being poured into step raises, pay raises, and out of control pension benefits for public workers. This is where the tax dollars are being obliterated on the State level. Hopefully we can get behind Rob McKenna, and start to get our state and local governments under control.

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