Saturday, March 06, 2010

Walking Backwards

Once again, labor is expected to bear the load in saving a rapidly failing enterprise. We saw that in Detroit, where UAW workers were forced to make concessions, including wages and retirement benefits, before the US government would step in and bail out the automakers. No such concessions, however, were required of bank executives before their employers received TARP monies. The people who brought us the economic disaster, after all, had contracts. So did the assembly line workers at GM, but apparently that was different.

The latest failing enterprise of note is the City of Los Angeles, which is facing a nearly half-billion dollar budget deficit for this year and an even larger one next year. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has already promised to lay off 4,000 city employees (see my post here), even though the move will adversely affect the providing of services such as open libraries. The mayor isn't finished, however. He wants the city's union workers to agree to a 10% pay cut so that the sacrifice can be shared.

Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten thinks this is a terrific idea. Now Tim Rutten is a bright enough man, but I've found that his columns fall into two categories: those that show a grasp of the issue and those that suggests he suffers from cranio-rectal inversion. This column falls into the latter category.

As mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Carr puts it, "It's simply a math problem: There's a $485-million deficit, and no matter what some people say, there's just not that much bureaucracy or waste to cut. So, to close the gap, you need to make massive layoffs, draconian cuts in services or get significant concessions from labor -- or some combination of those things." ...

Not long ago, Villaraigosa told a group of business leaders that he saw "no scenario where the city survives without layoffs or some concessions by the city unions." In that and other conversations, he said he would ask the unions to take pay cuts of between 5% and 10% in the coming year. "We can minimize layoffs if employees agree to a cut," he said. ...

What's required is a labor coalition, including police officers and firefighters, willing to put voluntary wage concessions on the table. If that were to occur, Carr said Friday, the mayor's team would begin rewriting the proposed budget and demanding similar concessions from elected officials and nonunionized staff.
[Emphasis added]

Tim Rutten is just fine with that. In fact, he thinks that's a smashing idea because California has been so good to unions. Evidence of that is in the fact that California is one of the few states in which union membership is on the rise. What he doesn't seem to understand is that the unions have increased their membership because the state has been such fertile ground. Workers have joined unions because no one in the government sector was looking out for their interests.

Now the City of Los Angeles wants the unions to step up and voluntarily be the first to sacrifice so that maybe elected officials and department heads will be guilted into making a similar sacrifice. Union members are being asked to walk backwards, away from their union contracts. The problem with that is walking backwards makes it easier to get stabbed in the back, something Mr. Rutten doesn't seem to understand.

I wonder how Mr. Rutten breathes with his head located where it is in this column.

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