Yesterday a two year contract agreement with city firefighters was ratified by the union membership. It’s a good deal for both the union and the city and its taxpayers. The agreement, which still needs to be approved by the City Council, calls for what is essentially a two year pay freeze with a modest 3% increase at the end of the contract period in 2011.
Other levels of government are using furloughs (which are essentially pay cuts) and layoffs to cut their budgets, but I think the city should take a different approach. After all, the city provides many basic direct services that will have a very noticeable impact for our customers if they are cut back. We can’t shut down the fire department or the police department for one day a month. We can’t just not pick up the garbage for a week. It’s far better for our residents if we can manage our way through these tough budget years while keeping our city staff intact to the greatest extent that we can. But if we’re going to do that, then we’ll need cooperation from our unions on wage and benefit settlements.
That kind of cooperation is exactly what we got from Local 311. The firefighters gave us a responsible start to negotiations with the other dozen unions that represent city employees. I said from the start of this recession that we need to approach our challenges with the understanding that we’re all in this together. This settlement is a very strong indication that we’re moving in that direction.
The Madison School District (Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. is a firefighter) and Madison Teachers Union are still working on a new contract. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
There are at least two interesting challenges to an agreement this year:
- The elimination of “revenue limits and economic conditions” from collective bargaining arbitration by Wisconsin’s Democratically controlled Assembly and Senate along with Democratic Governer Jim Doyle:
To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to
revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.
- The same elected officials eliminated the QEO, a 3.8% cap (in practice, a floor) on teacher salaries and wages in addition to “step” increases based on years of experience among other factors:
As the dust settles around the new state budget, partisan disagreement continues over the boost that unions – particularly education unions – got by making it easier for them to sign up thousands of new members and by repealing the 3.8% annual limit on teachers’ pay raises.
The provisions passed because Democrats, who got control of the Legislature for the first time in 14 years, partnered with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to advance changes the governor and unions had been pushing for years.
Unions traditionally help elect Democratic politicians. The largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, spent about $2.1 million before last November’s elections, with much of that backing Democrats.
Most of the labor-related provisions in the budget were added to provide people with “good, family-supporting jobs,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), co-chairman of the Legislature’s Finance Committee.
“The idea that we’re shifting back to the worker, rather than just big business and management, that’s part of what Democrats are about,” Pocan said.
It also helped that the two top Democratic legislators, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Weston, are veteran labor leaders.