Our supervisors make decisions. Their decisions often create controversy. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, supervisorial decisions please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but, never, all of the people all of the time.
But we have no entitlement to supervisorial decisions we like. The only thing to which we are entitled from our supervisors — and which we should demand — is fair treatment. And, to be clear, fair treatment can be accorded without regard to outcome.
Of course, our supervisors are human. As such, they have shortcomings. We all do. In recent weeks, I have publicly expressed the belief that our supervisors have fallen short as far as fairness is concerned.
They are falling short again. Those now suffering unfair treatment are approximately 1,600 county employees represented by SEIU Local 620.
Regardless whether or not you know a member of Local 620, they are our neighbors. Therefore, we all have a vested interest in seeing them treated fairly. When any of us are treated unfairly, all of us suffer.
Please note, this article is not about arguing whether we have too many or too few public employees; whether pension plans should be defined benefit plans or defined contribution plans, nor whether public employees should belong to a union at all. These are topics worthy of discussion, but at another time and place.
This article focuses upon the ongoing negotiations regarding the terms of future employment for members of SEIU Local 620 who work for the county.
Both the county and Local 620 want a three-year agreement. In the simplest terms, the county has proposed a 2 percent pay increase in year one, zero percent in year two and one percent in year three. Local 620 has asked for a 2 percent increase in each of the three years.
Since each one percent represents approximately $1.6 million annually, the two sides are separated by approximately $5 million over three years.
Given that both sides have proposed 2 percent in the first year, Local 620 offered a one-year alternative, but the county declined the overture, opting to continue seeking a three-year deal. The discussions have been underway since April without success. When is it logical to conclude that an impasse exists?
When does continued negotiation become unfair to both taxpayers and employees? The answer is subjective.
Also subjective is the criteria by which one judges whether the supervisors’ treatment of county employees is fair. Voters expect our supervisors to be good stewards of the taxes we pay. At the same time, everyone should be treated fairly. Taxpayers should expect high-level performance from public employees just as employees should expect reasonable compensation.
Unlike past years when the poor economy led Local 620 to make concessions to help close budget gaps, the economy is now rebounding. Generally speaking, financial experts are upbeat about the county’s finances in the coming five years, certainly more upbeat than they have been in the last five.
If our economy continues to improve, this may be the time to agree to terms proposed by Local 620 and make a three-year deal. On the other hand, forecasts are often wrong. If the supervisors want to guard against that possibility, a one-year deal would make more sense.
The supervisors must take into account both their duties as stewards of the public purse and their role as managers of public employees. With that said, it is hard to grasp how either the public or the employees are well-served by endless negotiations.
The supervisors need to decide. It’s their job. Fairness demands it. Fairness is good for everyone, always.