2011-05-20 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

Sometimes A Bad Notion
By Peter Stubben

Last week the Massachusetts House of Democrats – oops, I mean the Massachusetts House of Representatives – passed legislation to end collective bargaining for the Commonwealth’s municipal workers.

Naturally this is going on all across the nation, but in Massachusetts, too? Municipal union negotiating tactics – despite the plight of the nation’s cities and states – remain belligerent and bellicose all across the nation, undoubtedly presuming that since they have bought and paid for their locally elected politicians, why negotiate ... just demand. ‘Never Give an Inch’ – the motto for Ken Kesey’s Stamper family in his great novel Sometimes a Great Notion – seems to have been adopted by these service unions nationwide and by their parent and umbrella union, the SEIU. Now we see the exasperated end result ... from Katonah, a tony NYC suburb, to the states of Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Indiana, California, Wisconsin, and now in Massachusetts. Brian Dempsey (D, 3rd Essex), chair of the Massachusetts Ways and Means Committee that prepared this legislation to end collective bargaining, tells the NY Times reporter, “The Legislature had urged their municipalities and their unions to curb rising health care costs for several years, with no success; and we have to get a handle on this.” Likewise, here in NYC the civil service unions aspire to greatness by proclaiming on their radio and TV ads that they ‘demand respect ‘cause we built this great city!’ Now that’s pretty striking, no? The trades unions, yes – the carpenters, the plumbers, the pipe-fitters, the electrical workers, the iron workers, the masons, and the millions of immigrant labor built NYC into the world’s greatest ... but the municipal unions? The engineers and the architects; the corporate and personal financiers, certainly ... but our city’s civil service bureaucrats? A thousand feet up and blasted by the harbor’s winds, the ironworkers continue to build NYC, and down 500 feet the sand hogs continue to build NYC, but the Human Resources worker who rides a desk for 20 years, and approves and passes on paper work? Or, the Department of Motor Vehicle Bureau employee who tests my eyesight?

These civil service unions, I hope, don’t suffer from air-traffickitis. Back in the 80s the nation’s air traffic controllers thought they were above the law and indispensable. Regrettably, for them, they were proved wrong on both counts.

In another ‘never-give-an-inch’ stance, the NYC teacher unions insist their teachers not be evaluated and remunerated on ability, but on paper qualifications and seniority. ‘It’s all about our Children,’ they say in one breath; but in the next, chant, ‘Seniority, first and foremost!’ Remaining belligerent and bellicose last year paid off ... federal grants bailed out the teachers. Not giving an inch this year now results in over six thousand young, ambitious NYC teachers being laid off.

On the other hand, the painters and allied trades (local District 9) just signed a new contract: there were some pay advances and some givebacks. They negotiated in good faith, and both sides came away unhappy. They did not run TV ads or claim what they are not ... they sat down and bargained fully aware of the city’s construction climate.

Our new Governor ran and won last year with a campaign to cap property taxes at 2 percent. He was subsequently warmly received in the State Senate, but – akin to the service union strategies across the nation – soundly and belligerently rejected in the State Assembly.

Governor Cuomo must now travel across the state to – again – promote the obvious. Interesting and fascinating that Rockaway’s new representative to the State Assembly – to be elected in an upcoming special election – could help plow a path to prosperity for the State of NY by supporting Governor Cuomo; by supporting all the tax payers, rate payers, fee payers and gas payers of New York State; by supporting the people on this peninsula; and possibly putting Rockaway back on the governance map!

Very exciting for Rockaway, no?

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