Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Blame council, not unions, for Tacoma’s budget crisis

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Dec. 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm with 7 Comments »
December 23, 2011 6:19 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Give the Tacoma’s public unions credit: They’re stepping up to help soften a budget disaster created largely by their bosses.

Last Tuesday, the leader of Joint Labor – a union coalition – complained loudly that city officials weren’t negotiating job-saving contract concessions with anyone beyond Tacoma’s police and firefighters.

“Not once,” said Alice Phillips, “has the City of Tacoma come to Joint Labor or Local 483 and said, ‘Would you take a reduction in wages? Would you take furloughs?’”

Despite the angry tone, that appears to be a public offer to give up compensation to avert some of the 167 layoffs the city now faces as a result of a “surprise” budget shortfall. Joint Labor may be softening under duress, but it’s softening. Some unions in similar circumstances wouldn’t give up a dime from their hard-bargained contracts, even if scores of their members lost their jobs.

This seems to be complicated dispute. The city’s labor negotiator, John Dryer, says he’s been talking with the unions all along; Phillips says the administration has been chiefly interested in dealing with the police and firefighters, who’d have to absorb roughly 100 of the proposed layoffs.

The Tacoma City Council gave the public safety unions something it didn’t give the others: 30 days to work out contract concessions to save police and firefighter positions.

For everyone else, the calendar marches relentlessly forward. On New Year’s Day, one week from now, the targeted non-firefighters and non-police officers will be out in the cold. The City Council has scheduled a meeting to deal with their situation – on Jan. 10, after the layoffs take effect.

All the city unions might be blamed for obtuseness. The current budget was balanced in part on the assumption that they would accept an across-the-board pay freeze and give up some of their existing compensation. They refused to fulfill that dubious prophecy.

Regardless, unions don’t write their own contracts. Everything they get is given to them at the bargaining table. The job of their leaders is to negotiate the best deal possible for the rank-and-file. Nor do they necessarily trust administrators’ claims about expected revenues and expenses.

Ultimately, responsibility for this debacle all falls back on the City Council, eight of whose nine members bought into former City Manager Eric Anderson’s bizarrely optimistic expectations about sales tax revenue and union docility. Council members and their predecessors also presided over round after round of salary and benefit increases that saddled the city government with exceptionally high overhead costs.

Many city employees now stand to suffer from the council’s recent bout of magical thinking. All of the unions appear open to givebacks that could reduce that suffering. They may be late in arriving, but thank heaven they’re at the table.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. takhoman says:

    Finally The News Tribune has come around to The New Takhoman’s years of logic. Oh! Happy Days

  2. Wherrett says:

    Didn’t the fire chief just get a raise to 183,000/yr so that he is paid more than his subordinates in the union?

    Doesn’t anyone else feel this is excessive????

  3. quiller4 says:

    John Dryer may have been talking IAFF 31 and Police Local 6 but not to Joint Labor. Not only has he not spoken to IBEW 483, he’s had zero discussions with Teamsters 313 and 117, IAM 160 or IFPTE.

    Phillips criticism is on the mark and I’m glad to see The News Tribune note that.

  4. tree_guy says:

    Let’s stop the blame game. Regardless of why the city unions won such generous employment contracts with the city it’s time to put an end to it. We can no longer afford to pay above average wages just to prevent a few people from leaving for greener pastures. It was a stupid idea that has proven to be unworkable. Roll back wage levels to a price Tacoma can afford.

  5. BigSwingingRichard says:

    Isn’t it the unions’ responsibility to look out for all union members and thus the unions’ responsibility to contact the city with alternatives to potential lay-offs, if they wanted to?

    Are these complaints all for show and an attempt deflect criticism away from themselves and to the city?

    I noticed the union’s have not criticized the city council members for approving pay increases and unsustainable budgets and for allowing this problem to grow by delaying action until one year into a two year budget.

    It looks to me like the strategy of the unions paying the council members political contributions and political endorsements in return for the council approving pay increases for the unions has finally threatened to bankrupt the general fund.

    The unions and the council have made their beds, now they have to sleep in them.

    The best long term solution is to get rid of the unions and vote out the city council members.

  6. I may be mistaken, but I’m sure IBEW 483 has asked for meetings to bargin impact. Help me out Brothers and Sisters. We don’t sit around waiting for an invite; and we wait for a reply only so long be for legal recourse.

    Still as of 12/06 Local 483 is in the process of bargaining the impacts.

  7. Why not make this a more easily solved problem by giving out choices.The choices would be to lay off workers or reduce the pay of the still employed workers.Let the workers decide what would be best for the situation.

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0