Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Raises really about ‘letter of the law’

A labor arbitrator on Tuesday ruled in a way that will offend so many people – except for those who think logically on issues.
QUINN: Pay up, says arbitrator

Because the arbitrator’s ruling that says the state must provide the pay raises called for in its contracts with some 30,000 employees in 14 state agencies is such a no-brainer.

THE STATE APPROVED a contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and it must live up to it. The fact that the state is having financial troubles (who isn’t!) doesn’t get them out of it, just as nobody would by sympathetic if the state were doing well financially and the workers decided they wanted an extra raise.

You live up to the terms of the contract. Come the next round of negotiations, the state will have every right to take a hard line on what it is willing to pay and to try to seek something in the way of concessions. Just as the unions will be anxious to hold the size of financial givebacks to a minimum.

That’s just the way things are.

The fact that Gov. Pat Quinn thought he could pull off a move such as ignoring the terms of the contract that called for 2 percent pay raises for the state fiscal year that began July 1may be evidence that he is just as capable as Rod Blagojevich of operating in an outrageous world of political fantasy.

NOW HAVING SAID all that, keep in mind that I realize the state has financial problems. I realize that somewhere, later this year, the General Assembly and Quinn are going to have to figure out just where to come up with roughly $75 million – the amount of extra money needed to meet the payroll for the full fiscal year.

There will be some serious cuts. Somebody is going to be hurt. And someone inevitably is going to try to stir up the rhetoric against the “greedy” labor unions by claiming that cut is all the fault of the workers who should have been thankful to even be employed – instead of expecting anything resembling a pay hike.

That, of course, is nonsense.

When those ideologues say it later this year, I will call them on it. Just as I’m calling them on it in advance. Because we have to keep in mind that these people just have an ideological opposition to organized labor.

WHICH MEANS THEY’D be complaining about “greedy” unions no matter what the circumstances. Just because they have a right to speak does not mean we are obligated to take them seriously.

The state made a deal, and must now keep it. If times remain tight (and I fully expect they will for the next few years), then when the contract expires and a new one must be negotiated, that will be the time to put on the political pressure to get financial cutbacks.

It is something I have seen in countless units of local government in the past couple of years. Nobody gets a pay raise. But on the other hand, everybody keeps their job.

These are labor unions willing to be responsible and accept the current economic realities.

IF IT TURNS out that AFSCME officials play hardball and try to demand significant increases for the next contract despite current conditions, THEN we can consider lambasting them for being irresponsible.

Although we should keep in mind that anybody who makes knee-jerk reactions to situations involving organized labor most likely is being a dink. Because the specific conditions of each situation need to be studied before determining what should happen.

For now, we have fortunate state employees who will get their 2 percent pay hike for this year – which is something that those workers ought to enjoy while they get it. Because I suspect the state will take a hard line the next round of negotiations, and will have significant public support to do so.

Until then, we have arbitrator Edwin Benn writing an opinion saying that the pay raises stand and that back pay for the past couple of weeks will have to be paid within the next 30 days. “These are hard fiscal times for the state, no doubt,” he wrote.

“WHEN THE STATE did not pay the increase,…the state did not keep its promise,” Benn wrote. “The state must now keep its promise.”

Somehow, I can’t help but think that line of logic is a statement of the incredibly obvious, like something we would teach children to understand as early as Kindergarten.

Perhaps what that really means is that we have officials in our state government who are capable of behaving as though they still belong in pre-school. Perhaps we need to have someone pull out the floor mats so they can take a nap.

Because their fatigue seems to be making them cranky and illogical.


No comments: