Re #1 to a Question from the Woonsocket Fire Department Restructuring Discussion
In response to Monique’s post on the restructuring of the Fire Department by the Woonsocket City Council, commenter Tom Kenney asked…
Are you willing to negotiate with the unions for those concessions or is your answer the same as many conservatives are proposing…do away with collective bargaining altogether?Here’s how I would answer the first part of that question, if it had been addressed to me.
1. I would not be willing to “negotiate” when obvious mistakes need correcting. For concrete examples of what I mean by obvious mistakes, think of 1) substitute-teacher pay in Providence 2) the stories from Massachusetts about firemen going out on disability at a higher pay-grade than their official rank, because they were doing a higher-rank desk job as a temporary fill-in when they became injured.
If there are practices that increase costs to the public, without improving the effectiveness of public services, then the public doesn’t have to “give something back” to have them fixed. Relevant to the original conversation in Monique’s thread, if it is true that there are contracts that allow overtime to be paid because of some paper-distinction about whether someone should be on or off duty during a particular hour of the week, not because of the total numbers of hours worked in a week, this is the kind of provision outside of any legitimate need for negotiation. (This is different from saying there shouldn’t be any such thing as overtime).
2. I would not be willing to enter negotiations that begin with unions taking a position that “we’re entitled a big piece off-of-the top of the tax-levy beyond the salaries for the positions that are established because of decisions made 20 years ago, and this cannot be altered except maybe by changing the size of the piece off-the-top by a percentage point or two”.
I believe that history teaches that this dynamic is a major source of the poisoning of relations between public unions and the public; a full explanation of the historical dynamic I am referring to is here. This does not mean that I do not believe that steps have to be taken to take care of people who have relied on the good sense of the “negotiators” of Rhode Island’s past (ha ha ha ha) to provide for their futures, but going forward into our future, steps need to be taken now to prevent this issue from continually recurring.
Finally, I believe that if the barriers between public safety unions and the public described above were to be removed, members of public safety unions would find a base of support for their work that is broad and strong amongst the public, and that is a better long-term bet than is relying upon promises made by top-down and very shortsighted political machines.