Confusing Economic Realities with Imperiousness
A caller to WPRO’s John Depetro today reproached the East Providence School Committee for failing to engage the teachers union in substantive negotiations and, instead, simply “dictating” terms of a contract. Anthony Carcieri, Chair of the EP School Committee and John’s guest by telephone, explained that, faced with a $3m shortfall, the School Committee had given the teachers union free rein to work out that reduction any way it saw fit, presumably meaning: keep the same number of employee and reduce their pay, reduce the number of employees or a combination of both.
When a company in the Dreaded Private Sector (as Howie Carr calls it) hits bad times and has to reduce labor costs, it doesn’t generally “negotiate”. If it has the luxury of keeping all employees, it goes to them and says, “Sorry, we have to reduce your pay.” At that point, the employee can choose to stay or quit.
This is the situation that East Providence and many communities now find themselves in. As with private sector employers, cities and towns do not seek, on some arbitrary basis, to place themselves and their employees in this difficult position so as to showboat or “dictate”. The position, rather, is imposed by stark fiscal realities. The sooner this critical distinction is recognized (and some public labor unions around the state have done so, to their credit), the sooner steps can be taken to avoid even more stringent measures – measures, again, that would be dictated not by an arbitrary government body but by certain fiscal realities.