Would you give up purchasing a doughnut and cup of coffee each morning to save the job of a co-worker?
How about 10 co-workers?
Apparently the union representing Essex County would not. And it is wrong on many levels.
Faced with a looming budget shortfall, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas approached union leaders back in July and asked them to consider concessions to avoid layoffs.
Supervisors asked the local chapter of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) to reopen negotiations in the final year of a four-year contract, and consider foregoing an agreed-upon 4 percent raise in 2012.
The concession would have saved the county $750,000, avoided layoffs and helped control taxes.
But the union dug in its heels, and now 10 Essex County employees will help further pad the county’s 10.4 percent unemployment rate.
Let’s put this in context. A 4 percent pay increase to a county employee making $30,000 is $1,200. After taxes, that is a little more than $2 a day.
But the local CSEA chapter, no doubt fearing it would create a statewide precedent, opted not to re-open talks until mid-January when it negotiates its next contract.
Ten jobs in a county of less than 400 workers was apparently worth the sacrifice.
Let’s hope supervisors do not forget those 10 workers, or the local union’s unwillingness to give during the next round of negotiations.
At the same time, most of the unionized county workers stood behind the decision.
Do Essex County workers deserve raises? Absolutely. They work very hard and definitely deserve cost-of-living increases.
But so do a lot of people. And the reality is a lot of public and private sector workers are having to make concessions in this economy.
Very few workers will be getting a 4 percent increase next year. Meanwhile, the taxing burden to pay public sector salaries and benefits continually grows.
Something’s got to give.
We are seeing sacrifices taking place all around us — from school teachers agreeing to pay freezes, to town employees picking up more of their health insurance to private sector workers taking unpaid furloughs and pay reductions. People are doing more with less to avoid more people in the unemployment line, including themselves.
It is time the local CSEA and its members stepped to the plate and did the same, just as the unionized workers at Plattsburgh City Library did last week.
To save four positions on the chopping block, the 15 union library employees voted unanimously to a host of concessions that included a four-year pay freeze; a reduction in hours from 37 to 35; a 15 percent contribution toward health insurance and a 50 percent cut in sick days.
Similarly, CSEA-represented state workers have agreed to no salary increases during the next three years, and modest 2 percent increases in the final two years of a five-year contract.
Can you see the local chapter laying anything close to that on the table this January? They have lobbied in favor of giving paid days off to employees on their birthdays. What is that all about?
It is that type of thinking and the reluctance of our elected officials to put an end to it that has created such a divide and has driven taxes to historic levels.
As a country, we simply cannot afford the benefits and luxuries we once did in either the public or private sector, and it is time unions face that very real fact.
In a reader’s poll posted on our website, www.denpubs.com, 75 percent of those who responded — no doubt some of the very people they represent — said the CSEA should have conceded on the 2012 pay raise to save the county layoffs.
Another 20 percent said the union should be disbanded altogether.
With that in mind, we have just one thing to say to county lawmakers as they engage in contract negotiations later this month: The ball is in your court.
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