Thursday, April 16, 2009

City Attempting to Shaft Unionized Workers

Budget pressures may mean up to 1,400 job cuts, Barrett warns, by Larry Sandler, in the March 26, 2009 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, is not fully contextualized and seems to have the usual underlying tone from the media regarding workers in this country – take what you get and shut your mouth.

The article begins with doom and gloom reporting that up to 1,400 jobs may be cut from the city over the next four years. It then goes on to highlight factors weighing on the budget. Thereby setting the ominous scene for the article, implying that union workers must be insane to think their wages should at least keep up with inflation, especially during these tough times.

[Increasing taxes, removing exemptions, discontinuing business tax breaks, and other revenue-increasing options are not even mentioned in the article as a possible way to fill the budget gaps.]

Alderman Murphy and Mayor Barrett’s use of such words as - “astounded,” “unrealistic,” and “incredulous,” - regarding the contract demands is duplicitous and ridiculous. The contract in question (the old contract expired December 31, 2006) should have been resolved in 2007. The same time the aldermen were voting to give themselves and the mayor a raise. The article makes no mention of this hypocrisy.

When discussion about the aldermen’s contract (in negotiation back in 2007) began, the aldermen initially wanted a 12.3 percent increase over the 4-year term. Alderman Murphy referred to this as “fair compensation.” This is a 3 percent yearly raise. Inflation was 2.8 percent in 2007 and 3.8 percent in 2008. Is it wrong that workers are asking for their pay to keep up with inflation (which it seems the aldermen want for themselves)? Or do workers have to take pay cuts so that management can have their raises? City officials feel workers should receive no pension increase (the union is seeking a 2 percent increase) and a 2.5 percent yearly wage increase (7.5 total for the 3-year contract).

From a previous column of Sandler’s (Top cop’s pay closer to mayor’s), he notes, “The measure to increase elected officials' pay was approved, 10-4…That would raise the mayor's pay from $143,883 a year now to $147,336 next year and $158,665 in 2011. For most of the 15 aldermen, salaries would increase from $71,506 now to $73,222 in 2008 and $78,852 in their terms' last year. Pay for the council president would rise from $80,810 now to $82,749 next year and $89,112 three years later…Voting for the raises were council President Willie Hines Jr. and Aldermen Joe Davis Sr., Ashanti Hamilton, Robert Puente, Willie Wade, Jim Witkowiak, Terry Witkowski, Mike D'Amato, Robert Bauman and Murphy. Opposed were Bohl, Donovan, Dudzik and Zielinski.”

Sandler draws no connection nor discusses the flawed reasoning of city management in this matter. Why does management deserve a pay increase while city workers should go without?

The mayor’s pay initially increased 2.4 percent, but by 2011 it will have grown by 10.3 percent. The total percentage point increase over the life of the proposed 3-year contract for union members is 9.25 (as reported above, the City is only offering 7.5). What justifies this double-standard that city management can have their raises (on top of their salaries which are already nearly double the average unionized city worker), yet it is “unrealistic” for the workers to expect (near) the same?

How is it that the city has money for - or will create taxes to raise money for - TIDs, baseball stadiums, convention centers, motorcycle museums, private business parking garages, and a host of other private sector giveaways, yet they can’t find any money to pay city workers? Give me a break!

I hope the city workers remember the names of the alderman and council members who voted for their own raise but feel the workers shouldn’t get the same during the next election. I hope the city workers also remember Mayor Barrett and his unflinching contempt of city workers, in their want for a contract that keeps their pay in-step with inflation, during the next election. What kind of mayor and aldermen scorn their own workers, resist paying them, and simultaneously reward themselves?

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