If there is anything redeeming about the cult of personality surrounding business mogul Donald Trump, it is his decisive manner of making every day decisions. Most people understand and relate to his hash tag “You’re Fired“ Not so in governmental circles these days. When the State of California, counties, cities, and school districts of the “Golden State” become cash strapped, they often reduce expenses by instituting furlough days. But are furlough days the best decision for cities struggling with structural deficits?
According to Wikipedia this process is defined by “a temporary unpaid leave of some employees due to special needs.” But what makes these furlough days attractive is that they side step negotiations with union contracts and avoid confrontations that politicians would prefer to avoid at all costs. They seem to be the humane way to reduce expenses causing the least harm on the individuals affected. The alternative of laying off workers is considered to be more “Draconian” and a last resort.
With regards to the City of Concord, furloughs given city employees have been accompanied by a pledge not to lay workers off. This has resulted in the work force being reduced by over 100 people in the past few years by not replacing employees that have retired, passed away, or left their jobs for “greener pastures”.
While this arrangement has worked out OK, it doesn’t exactly fit the Darwinian model of “survival of the fittest” As is often the case, the best workers leave for improved opportunities while less talented people are left to hold down the fort so to speak. But then again, we are dealing with government where the public interest outweighs efficiency and profit considerations.
As the economic recession and loss of governmental revenues seems to be more of a long-term problem than previously assumed, the practice of using furloughs for budgetary considerations, needs to be re-examined. Is it best to have employees (who already have a generous holiday and sick leave package) take more days off or try to find some way to restore them to normal yearly work-loads?
This question of dealing with furlough days has become an important issue during current negotiations with labor unions and the City of Concord. It is perceived by City Manager and Council that something must be done for employees who have reduced their benefit and pay packages in their last contract. The question is how this will be structured in their new labor agreements with the city?
In effect the choices are in negotiating the new contract to increase present day salary structures and to institute furlough days as needed: or the alternative to keep the present pay levels flat with guarantees of no or a limited amount of these unpaid holidays.
Present day furloughs were instituted when the City of Concord’s finances deteriorated a few years ago. When it came down to who would be effected by these unpaid days, the City council decided to only furlough what were determined to be “non-essential personnel” This meant city workers took the major economic hit while law enforcement personnel were exempted from having any furlough days accessed.
The only sacrifices on the police force side was the elimination of some overtime and reduced pay and benefits for new hires. This did not work perfectly for the cash strapped city as they had to pay overtime for their people to replace furloughed emergency services workers. This ended up costing the tax payers more money than had they not furloughed some of the non-police staff.
With this experience in hand, the City Council has entered negotiations with the Teamsters Union which is representing Concord’s workers. These negotiations have been made much more acrimonious by a State of California panel that recommended Concord give their employees a 12.3% pay increase. This sage advice was given with no consideration of whom would pay the tab. But then again, consider the source!
What to do? City workers have to be better compensated At the same time these furlough days need to be eliminated. In doing this, the City Council wants to achieve these goals but not at the cost of red ink leaking in their fragile budget projections. It would appear that a considerable amount of compromise will be needed by all parties concerned to reach an equitable solution.
While none of these alternatives is attractive, it beats more lay-offs which would be instituted in the private sector under similar circumstances.
It is very important that the City Council take decisive action in negotiated the current labor agreement with its civilian employees in 2013. Next year, they will be likely facing a similar situation when the contract with the POA comes up for renewal
Negotiating with the police will likely prove to be more contentious than this years go around with the non law enforcement workers. In addition to the previously well documented political influence of the POA with most current City Council members, there is a great deal of sentiment by many citizens that places public safety above all other functions of local government.
The major question is when the next contract with the POA is negotiated, will the public be willing to pay the bill for what the union deems to be fair compensation? With average pay and benefits for the Concord police force currently to be well over $125,000 per officer, the desire for “law and order” at any cost will be severely tested.
Which brings us to the city workers who are well aware of how the budget dollars are being expended in Concord. Even if they accept a new contract in 2013 that is not up to their expectations, will they stand idly by while their law enforcement brothers rack in the majority of taxpayer dollars next year?
A center piece for all of these scenarios with Concord”s cops and public service employees are the dreaded “furlough” days” and if and how they will be utilized in the coming years while the economy remains on shaky footing.