February 18, 2009

Cuts or Layoffs, City by City, Town by Town

Justin Katz

It's going to become impossible to catalog all such stories, but a couple came with today's paper. In Woonsocket:

Woonsocket officials warned the city's two public safety unions yesterday that if they don't agree to substantive concessions on pay or benefits, they will lay off about 40 of the community's 101 police officers and 55 to 60 of its 135 firefighters, possibly by the end of the week.

They did so after a Superior Court judge, ruling on a request by both unions, scuttled the 5 percent pay cuts and 15 percent health coverage contributions that the city unilaterally imposed on both unions two weeks ago in an effort to cut current-year spending by more than $1.2 million.

In North Providence:

In a series of open and closed sessions in the library of North Providence High School, the mayor gave leaders of the police, firefighters, public works and municipal workers unions until 10 p.m. Sunday to accept his demand that they accede to 5 percent wage cuts and start contributing 15 percent of the cost of their health care.

Also, he put the School Committee on notice that the Town Council would unilaterally cut its budget unless the board secures similar concessions from the School Department's unions.

Those developments, against the backdrop of a current-year deficit that threatens to hit $13 million, came out of a meeting at which state Auditor General Ernest A. Almonte warned officials and union leaders that failure to achieve a balanced budget could lead to a state takeover that he said would be painful.

And as the editors of the Sakonnet Times describe:

It happened in New Bedford where the all-but-broke city asked police and firefighters to accept a 10 percent pay cut or else dozens of their own would be let go. Ten percent is a significant loss but with many of the rank and file earning $100,000 or more with overtime and enjoying world-class benefits, the loss seems bearable given what’s going on all around.

When, as promised, the city followed through with layoffs, those same workers who had refused to compromise voiced outrage that the city would put its citizens at risk by cutting police and firefighters.

Faced with similar options, teachers' unions have been just as rigid. Teachers in East Providence have taken the city to court rather than concede the pay and benefit changes asked of them. Since the city simply doesn't have the money to pay what the contract dictates, the price of victory for teachers will surely be the loss of many of their own. They need only look to West Warwick or Central Falls if they think otherwise.

And in Tiverton, teachers celebrated retroactive raises finally won after a long fight with their town. Almost going unnoticed was the school committee’s next act — the elimination of a half-dozen teacher assistants.

One-time fixes will not last forever. Public-sector unionists would do well to do some reading:

God forbade it indeede, but Faustus hath done it:
for vaine pleasure of 24. yeares, hath Faustus lost eternall
ioy and felicitie, I writ them a bill with mine owne bloud,
the date is expired, the time wil come, and he wil fetch mee.
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North Providence is reaping the budget disaster Ralph Mollis hath sown. Those who enabled Ralphie boy's antics over the years are doing likewise.

Posted by: rhody at February 18, 2009 10:59 PM

I work in the "dreaded private sector". For many years now, I have paid 25% of my medical insurance coverage. This year the company I work for in Boston (financial services) will take a big hit because of this economic downturn. Past years, I have always gotten an 8% bonus and a 3% cost-of-living raise. For 2009 no bonus and no cost-of-living increase! You know what? I have no sympathy for East Providence teachas! Oh, and did I say I won't be getting a $50K state pension at 55? Can we say "401(k)"? Sorry, I have no sympathy for whiny Pat Crowley and Boy Jerzyk and their hopes for a Glorious Peoples' Utopia (funded of course by the "taxpayers")

Posted by: bam at February 18, 2009 11:49 PM

"Faced with similar options, teachers' unions have been just as rigid. Teachers in East Providence have taken the city to court rather than concede the pay and benefit changes asked of them. Since the city simply doesn't have the money to pay what the contract dictates, the price of victory for teachers will surely be the loss of many of their own."

I agree 100%. Unlike the Federal Reserve, the city has a shrinking, but finite amount of money at its disposal. That money can either be divided among the existing workforce, or some of the workforce will be let go, in order to maintain the pay and benefits of the remaining workers.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone when East Providence sends out its pink slips, since it does it nearly every year, just to keep its options open. The difference this time around will be that under "normal" circumstances, most if not all of those teachers don't end up really getting laid off by the time September rolls around. Of course, we're no longer talking about anything close to a "normal situation" in East Providence. We're not heading for financial Armegeddon, we've already arrived.

Remember, we have about 500 teachers on the payroll, and that makes up a large part of overall city expenses. Anyone care to guess the number?

I'm not going to say anymore, other than to say, much more to come!

Here's a quote from a story in Thursday's Projo:

EAST PROVIDENCE — Mayor Joseph S. Larisa Jr., a veteran lawyer, predicts the state Labor Relations Board will side with the local teachers union and find the School Committee unlawfully reduced its educators’ salaries and unilaterally docked their checks for health insurance costs.

“Mark my words, the School Committee will lose before the board,” Larisa said at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. “Does it matter? Not a hoot, because we will appeal to the Superior Court and the state Supreme Court if we have to.”

That doesn't sound like someone about to back down and concede, does it? I was at the meeting Tuesday. He's not saying that the EPSC will lose on the merits, but simply because the SLRB has a serious pro-labor bias. In the end, they all know the SLRB can't force them to do anything.

If the union is deluded enough to think that East Providence won't have the will to pull the trigger if need be, they are so seriously mistaken.

"Go ahead, make my day."

Posted by: Will at February 19, 2009 1:37 AM

I offer the two referenced news articles for your review. Note the difference in tone regarding each approach to the town fiscal problems.



This is what is wrong in Rhode Island. School leadership.

Posted by: john at February 19, 2009 7:27 AM

Lots of "talk" but not one cop, teacher or fireman laid-off in this state yet.
Believe it when you see it, not before.

Posted by: Mike at February 19, 2009 8:05 AM
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