The caricature of newly elected Spokane Mayor David Condon as a union-busting extremist has taken hold before he’s served a single day in office. If this were limited to rhetorical blasts, that would be OK. But the City Council has reacted by affixing budgetary handcuffs.
That isn’t OK. In fact, it’s raw political maneuvering without regard for an electorate that decided it wanted a new mayor and several new council members to direct the city for the next four years.
In an unusual move, Local 270, the largest employee union at City Hall, approached outgoing Mayor Mary Verner well ahead of the expiration of its labor contract and cut a deal that would freeze wages after a 5 percent increase next year and keep benefits off limits in the hopes of preserving jobs. On Monday night, the City Council approved that deal.
The new mayor wasn’t consulted. Incoming council members were ignored. What’s especially galling is that council members are trying to persuade the public that they did the new leaders a big favor. The condescension is palpable.
“It’s hard work negotiating. They’re so inexperienced. They should be thanking us.”
It’s like neighbors hiring someone to paint your house while you’re out of town, even though you’ve told them to wait and that you don’t mind the work and that you really hate the color they chose.
With friends like these …
About four out of every five dollars in the city budget is spent on employees who deliver services. It’s flat wrong to lock down the Local 270 contract for three years without consulting the person who will be living with it. This was a key election issue. Condon won.
Before painting him as an unreasonable anti-union ogre, listen to the words of Willie Brown, who enjoyed strong union support as mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California State Assembly. In a column last year he wrote:
“The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life. But we politicians, pushed by our friends in labor, gradually expanded pay and benefits to private-sector levels while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages that pay ex-workers almost as much as current workers. Talking about this is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide for most officeholders. But at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact that 80 percent of the state, county and city budget deficits are due to employee costs. Either we do something about it at the ballot box, or a judge will do something about in bankruptcy court.”
The voters went to the ballot box. The council ignored them. This could’ve waited a month. But because the council and outgoing mayor wouldn’t wait, the city could have an even tougher battle with the public safety unions when it comes to compensation concessions. And unlike Local 270, they have binding arbitration on their side.
The city’s structural deficit wasn’t eliminated with this deal, so the cuts are coming – one way or another. All the council did was limit future options.
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