9/23/2011

Seeking Union Concessions

Posted by MJ

The LUSJ reported that Mayor Tucker will be seeking some union concessions as the budget process moves forward:

Mayor Mike Tucker’s administration will approach all five city employee unions asking for concessions in health care benefits in order to stave off a double-digit tax rate increase, layoffs or both.

After talking with department heads about their 2012 budget requests the past few weeks, members of the Common Council on Wednesday had their first look at hard numbers — total expenses, income and impact on the tax rate if every department gets what it says it needs to function.

The numbers weren’t pretty.

Even after revaluation, which raised citywide taxable property value to $714 million from $635 million, the preliminary general budget drives a gag-inducing 17 percent increase in the city tax rate...
Notable is that the rate increase would have been higher with out the increase in valuation of the city. Not that it really means much. When it comes down to it, the budget $$ value is the budget $$ value and  we all have to pay into it.

The biggest cost are employees and benefits. Cutting all the things around them will cost us more than the small savings we get. Jack Smith is quoted with a sentiment I have shared:
Jack Smith, 2nd Ward alderman, doesn’t believe a zero increase is possible, or wise. Layoffs will put the city on a “slippery slope” to reducing services, he said, especially if they’re in departments whose services are “felt” daily: streets, forestry and building inspection, for example.
The biggest issue is medical benefits. As nice as the 2% cap is, it is no help when medical premiums are increasing in the double digits.
...Average pay raises of 3 to 4.5 percent for nearly all employees are not subject to change, as they were given in writing through 2012 in five union contracts. Fringe benefits — from vacation time, longevity payments and clothing allowances to city-paid health insurance, disability, Social Security and state pension contributions — aren’t much subject to change either, as they’re negotiated with the unions or required by the state.

One of the biggest expected line item increases in the 2012 budget is in medical spending.

In the general fund, which covers all departments except water and sewer, Budget Director Dick Mullaney is penciling in a 15 percent/$600,000 increase, to $4.7 million for insurance for all workers and over 100 retirees. When water and sewer workers and retirees are included, the health tab could rise to $5.9 million.

Fifteen percent over this year’s tab is a ballpark figure only, as Community Blue hasn’t confirmed its 2012 rates to the city yet, Mullaney said...
We as a city need a plan to get investment going again. Otherwise we will always be facing tax rate increases as the budget grows and we are left with nothing new to pay into it. The weight comes unbearable for those who remain and the downward inertia continues. No different than the salary stagnation that many residents may be feeling themselves.

24 comments:

Liz said...

Absolutely agree. You can't sit back and say the 2% cap isn't possible and then also not try to spur economic growth from someone other than Ulrich. The city really needs to get on top of pushing more investment and bringing more stable jobs to this area. The town is doing so, why not the city. Get those people moving into the city and contributing to the tax base, they are high paying jobs. (Yahoo is of what I am speaking)

The unions and city workers have GOT to bend on benefits or this city will go bankrupt and we'll have nothing but derelict rentals because property owners like myself won't be able to afford the taxes to live here anymore. We're already in the top tier of taxes in the entire country. Somethings gotta give. My property value is going down and my taxes are doing nothing but going up.

george2012 said...

- it would be nice if the mayor led by example and put the job back to a part time position without benefits.

- sounds like the concerts have to go unless they come up with a way to collect money at the gate. $150,000 is a 1.5% tax bite.

-Garbage privatizing was a great idea until they decided to keep the 10 un-needed employees. The deal with modern should have included having to hire some of these guys. 10 guys times $60,000 (guess of wages plus benefits) is $600,000 or a 6% tax bite.

- Are they going to talk about keeping ambulance service but adding volunteer fireman yet? Even if they did it to eliminate overtime it would help.

-Will dispatch go to the county now? A problem I see though is now that the county is fighting to make the 2% tax I would be if they have to add people to dispatch they will charge us. A year ago that wouldn't have been the case.

Xavier said...

I like the Mayor idea - only problem is he works more than a 37.5 hour week now. I don't see how he should take a cut while all the Union folks are out the door at 4:00 - NOT ALL - many work until they are finished.
Don't lose the concerts - charge a nominal amount and PLEASE keep the drunken teenagers out of there. Also, cut off beer sales half or two-thirds of the way through. It would cut down on a lot of b.s. Allow people to bring in water. Have a place set aside for the handicapped and elderly.
I have no answers re: the 10 useless employees. All I'll say is we'd better see a much cleaner City when Modern comes in. The guys no longer throwing garbage can pick up trash and trim the trees and bushes.
Andy Chapman came out with a committee to deal with the fire department - that's the last I heard of it. Is he going to share his conclusions?
Dispatch? Woulda, coulda, shoulda - move forward. I don't have an answer on this one.

george2012 said...

Yes but if we went back to the days that the mayor didn't try and micro-manage the city, instead allowed the professional department heads to maybe it would be a part time job.

Another totally facetious idea would be to eliminate the newly created job of 'court room cleaner', is it really needed? It costs us another .5% tax raise. Oh, it's Tuckers sons job, can't be eliminated....

Karen said...

I really don't understand why the cost of healthcare is not ever addressed at the insurance company level or at the doctor/hospital level. If the cost of insurance is what is bankrupting everyone (individual people, businesses, cities, etc) then why isn't that cost being addressed at the political level? There is no reason why insurance companies need to continue making crazy profits while everyone else is struggling to pay (I feel like I'm talking about the Oil/Gas companies too).

gijoe2012 said...

The KEY to most of the problems in the US is CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM. I've been saying it for a long time.
1. when you cut off the money supply to the politicians you change their motivation for running for office.
2. When you cut off the outside influences some originating from out of state thanks to the Supreme Court and their decision on "Citizens United" decision you break the chain of influence and break the chain of 'Cronies Capitalism"
3. when you control the flow of money to politicians, whether it be Union or big business you level the playing field. The problem is EVERYBODY that's been in politics for awhile is under the influence of the "Money Drug".

A great example is the campaign contribution made by guess who? MODERN..you know our new trash collection company...to the campaign of Michael Tucker for mayor. What a freakn' shock...ya ..right

gijoe2012 said...

the choice is simple. The "Unions" either face the reality that the legacy costs have to change, or I'm in favor of having the city reach insolvency then file Bankruptcy making all of the contracts and pension programs null and void. If the alternative is a 24% hike in taxes, and them more next year, Lockport will be a Ghost Town before the end of the decade.

And what does it come down to? who has the guts to offer a different solution? Tucker? not a chance he's responsible for letting most of it happen in the first place. Pillot? who's entire career has been supported and is still supported by tax dollars?
....we're screwed

if it comes down to those two guys..I probably won't vote at all.

Xavier said...

GIJoe - you MUST vote. For someone. It's my opinion that if you don't vote, even vote for my dog, you lose your ability to b***h about the government.
I like Mike Pillot, but am getting more than a little sick and tired of the "garbage anti-campaign."
There's a heck of a lot more to running this City than NOT liking the way the garbage plan was rolled out. I don't like the way it was rolled out - it's done, move along and see how it goes. And yes, I knew it would be Modern before anything re: bids was submitted. It is also true that they have the best set-up in Western New York despite their campaign contribution history. The pick of Modern was a no-brainer.
I NEED a professional EMT crew, like the LFD provides. If I have to wait for some volunteer to show up, particularly in the middle of the day. I'll be dead before they get here. (My son's a Volunteer so I'm not biased either way.) I'd just like to know what Chapman came up with and did he ever present his findings to the City.

george2012 said...

- Besides the lousy roll out the garbage issue is where's the savings? Tucker kept the 10 guys on the payroll so there isn't any savings. Did he keep them because hils son would have been bumped out of a job?

-My earlier post talked about keeping the emt service but looking at volunteers for firefighting, or at least use volunteers to totally eliminate overtime. We could though contract with Rural to provide full time emt instead.
But I do know unless the city goes bankrupt we will never be rid of the fire department it's just something to talk about.

gijoe2012 said...

I never thought insolvency was a good idea, but I'm not so sure anymore. We're going to collective bargin ourselves right into the "poorhouse". Like the Vampire who keeps taking what it needs untill it destroys it's life source. I'm not anti-union by the way. I'm anti stupidity.

Xavier said...

Having had to use both the LFD and Rural Metro - LFD "wins" hands down.
My personal position is keep the EMT's and supplement the firefighting aspect with volunteers. (The overtime alone is killing us.) We don't need as large of a department as we have - but I don't want to cut down on response time, either.
A lot of communities in our area have been doing this for years - and the volunteers are VERY well trained. They're no longer the beer swilling chubby guys of our youth.

MJ said...

1) "- Besides the lousy roll out the garbage issue is where's the savings? Tucker kept the 10 guys on the payroll so there isn't any savings. Did he keep them because hils son would have been bumped out of a job?"

They were kept because they would have been kept either way. Garbage was a bargained for city position/task. It needed to be bargained out. Part of that bargaining was keeping them employed. It seems to me to be a reasonable compromise that reduces costs long term. These employees can fill retirements etc as time goes by all while getting the city our of the trash business.

2) The concerts. It may seem easy to put them on the chopping block but consider: they would not be there to cut next year when benefits jump up again plus you remove a huge hand's on promotion that should be part of creating/ advertising investment in the city.

3) Insolvency. It would be interesting to see what a modern day city employment contract would look like. Would it involve a pension or a private 401k type system? Where would benefits fall? Would aligning with the private sector increase turnover at city hall?

4) New investment - New growth areas have it easier with no legacy costs and automobile use making it easy to grow off of an older established municipality. There is a reason Albion etc did not become Amherst. To compete the older areas need to focus on their unique offerings and expand them. Make it about the experience and not the low price.


Thank you all for the civil conversation.

george2012 said...

MJ - it's all in the past now but every company that out sources or privatizes work has to bargain with unions. The city should have been tougher negotiators. They should have made sure the Modern contract called for some of the displaced workers to be hired by them.
And with Tucker creating a new job for his son at city haul I do wonder if that was a factor.

MJ said...

Would you have voted "yes" to having your job moved from guaranteed public health and pension over to Modern?

Xavier said...

Unions aren't everywhere - in fact the unions have far less muscle than they used to have. If only they would go away completely!
The garbage thrower's contract was (somewhat) fairly negotiated as shown by the men giving up a lot just to retain their jobs. I stand by my suggestion that they should now be put to work fixing curbs & sidewalks, taking down rotted trees, trimming bushes that interfere with sight lines, etc. etc. They aren't going to just hang around at the waste water plant playing cards 'till they can clock out. NOT having them lug the garbage to Modern will also be a huge savings, including their naps behind the old Summit Mall.
Concerts? Tweak them, better and longer line-ups and, again, no beer after they're half-way through - especially teenagers drunk as all get out.

Our history is our future.

Xavier said...

I would find it interesting to see a person who's been in a union half their life go into the private sector where you're judged on merit. Most of them would be fired within a week.

george2012 said...

MJ - Not if I was one of the 10 but if I was one of the other 60(?) workers that should have been told we need to do this or we need to cut your pay or benefits to save some money I would have. Choices are tough, times are tough.

Xavier - If unions went away all together this country would even go down the tubes quicker than it is now. The only thing stopping big companies now from cutting wages down to third world scale are the unions. Right now the Delphi workers aren't even making enough to buy the cars they produce.
The problem is these 10 workers won't be put to use effectively as the highway department doesn't have real management. They have an engineer in charge who is complaining that he has to manage too many people at $80,000 a year working 35 hours. They have foreman who were promoted even though they aren't qualified and haven't passed the required civil service tests. Plus the city is surviving without these extra 10 workers, people are complaining about taxes do we really need the luxury of filling 10 spots that aren't filled right now?
Tucker talked very tough to the police and fireman and managers in the city, but why do you think he went easy on this union?

Xavier said...

I don't think it was all a matter of keeping Sonny in a job, that's what I don't think.
Let's pay attention to what these 10 do from here on out and if they are just loafing around a coffee pot - write 'em up and then throw them out. Keep excellent records of their job performance, or lack thereof - then you can boot 'em to the curb with no protracted legalities by some inane lawyer who's only doing it for his second of fame.
There are proper ways of "terminating" an employee and improper ways. If done properly, with a file full of back-up, they're gone - so long.

As far as management goes - if you can't hack the job - you're not qualified to have it. I'll bet somewhere in the job description it says they have to properly supervise the employees in their charge. I'm with you on the engineer and the foremen. There are a couple I'd like to see gone, myself.

A volunteer with management experience could step in for a couple of weeks and get those guys working - and being happy about it. As long as you're working, you're needed. Coffee is not in the job description and cruddy work is unacceptable. I'm sure they'd rather be putting in a good day's work than constantly being worried about getting fired for this, that or the other thing on someone's whim.

Xavier said...

P.S. - If someone is designated a "Courtroom Cleaner" wouldn't that person be paid by OCA?
Re: Health Insurance - Last I knew, the County had a bundle of different plans. Different benefit levels with different premiums based on those benefits. I hope the City does the same - if it doesn't, it must.

george2012 said...

-I believe the court rooms are city responsibility not oca. I heard a rumor Sonny even has a restriction because of his back that he can't lift more than 10 pounds, highway guys have to go in to even tables for him, yet the union contract says they can't have restrictions.
-How about that the foreman that supposedly can't pass the civil service test but still have their jobs?
-They don't have enough work to keep all the current highway guys busy all winter, so you can count on many of them sitting around at least for the 9 months of winter we have! You can only clean the garage/trucks so many times in the winter.

Xavier said...

Well, George - I have a 10# limit, too - I break it all the time because I HAVE to. The worst time of year for me around the house is around the corner - RAKING! I wind up hurting myself so badly I'm laid up for weeks.
I'd like Sonny to come down and rake my lawn - then he'd be doing something useful for me, and the City.
If that's the case, and i have no reason to disbelieve you, it's ridiculous and he should just get out of the way. You know he'll never be let go.

george2012 said...

Why do I keep reading in the Buffalo paper all these cities and towns with very low tax increases planned for this year without a lot of dramatic statements about concessions or layoffs? Recently I have seen articles on Lackawana, Tonawanda, NT, the Falls and the town Lockport all completing their budgets without problems.
If the city can lay people off at least they can finally say they had savings implementing the new garbage plan!

gijoe2012 said...

Tax Tax Tax....Spend spend spend

Xavier said...

The Lockport mentality, NO CHANGE, has a lot to do with it. (IMHO)
Do you think the Modern guys are looking forward to picking up our garbage w/o knowing whether or not there's a bomb in your bin?

This b.s. has nothing to do with the politicians. It has everything to do with certain gadflies who, if things aren't done exactly the way THEY want it done, they resort to threats and intimidation. Then they have the gall to accuse the current administration of the same thing.
The "people who only want to be on television" are quick to b & moan but don't volunteer to help do anything "for the betterment of our City." I honestly think they just like to sit around in a gaggle and b+++h.

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