Monday, September 06, 2004

Happy Labor Day

Charles McCollester bemoans the "assault" on city workers that he said will be the result of the Act 47 process. While his defense of labor unions in the abstract is admirable, he chooses to ignore or gloss over several important facts about Pittsburgh's present situation. He implies that any job cuts are bad, but offers no evidence that Pittsburgh's workforce is understaffed. McCollester insinuates that police cutbacks are to blame for recent high-profile crimes, but he offers no evidence of causation. He neglects to mention the city's overpaid crossing guards (now paid for by the school district), who receive health insurance and paid time off, and nowhere do I find a mention of the fact that not only do the firefighters have a no lay-off clause in their contract, but so do the city's clerical workers. And he also trots out the fact that a majority of the city's sanitation workers are African American as one reason not to privatize trash collection. If the city can do a better job collecting trash than a private company, and can prove it, then don't privatize. But the composition of the workforce is no reason to keep a unit operating if it doesn't bring maximum efficiency to city residents. The city is not an employment agency, though it has acted like one for some time.

Of course, unions are not entirely to blame for the city's woes. They occupy only one side of the bargaining table in any negotiation. On the other side are elected officials, who McCollester would have us believe have served us well. If that was the case, why are we in this present situation?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles McCollester is a good researcher, most notably on the plight of coal miners, then and now, unionized and not.

He is right about one thing: The city has not fully addressed the failures of management in the blackhole of debt that is municipal government in Pittsburgh. At your former digs, Conte, Copeland, Ritchie and Prine wrote extensively about how city leaders (both in the municipal services and city council) repeatedly failed the taxpayers with boneheaded decisions.

The work of Copeland and Ritchie comes to mind especially because they warned the taxpayers of a coming bill to pay, and were laughed at by top councilmen and the mayor.

The problem is that we might end up blaming the victims here. Police officers are laid off because hizzoner cut a political deal with the fire and clerical unions? The garage has to be privatized even though workers sought changes that would have boosted productivity years ago but were scoffed at by the mayor? Although the city can't buy asphalt as cheaply as it can melt it, the plant has to be sold to pay the bills? Why sell the water utility when it was a proven boon to taxpayers and city budgeters?

Why should paramedics continue to receive substandard pay compared to firefighters? Is their work any less valuable? Who made the executive and political decisions that divided the city's unions, making them weak and dependent on the mayor and his cronies for patronage and support?

These are hard questions to ask. If their was any sort of competition for public office in the city, and a mayor's office willing to debate truthfully the issues raised by the city's junior newspaper, much of this could have been hashed out during elections years ago.

It wasn't, and now the city is going to be run from Harrisburg. The mayor and his buddies won't be hurt. Only the workers will.

8:01 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Those are all excellent points. The bottom line is that this town is run by an old-school political machine whose time is long gone.

5:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Run, Potts Run!

8:44 PM


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