A City Run for the Benefit of its Union Employees

Pittsburgh is in serious financial difficulties because of a long history of signing generous contracts with its employees. And now City Council wants to abandon what little progress that had been made under Act 47 over the last five years. Council just voted to amend the Act 47 coordinator’s latest plan by restoring pay raises and a 5th week of vacation for long time employees-a week that was removed under the original Act 47 plan. Final approval awaits and faces objections by the Mayor.

From news accounts it appears labor leaders have been lobbying Council members for labor friendly changes in the coordinator’s plan before it goes to a final vote. And right on cue, Council has decided to go along. After all, in Pittsburgh maintaining labor peace with City unions is job one.

How to pay for the new found generosity while still trying to figure out how to cover previously incurred legacy costs? Impose $26 million in fees on all-day parkers, hospital admissions and university students. And hire a delinquent tax collector to see if he can wring $13 million from tax scofflaws over the next five years.

Rather than facing up to the real need to reduce employee costs-which are nearly 60 percent of total expenditures-and the further buildup of legacy costs, the City Council apparently believes that it can spend more, tax more, and hope state and federal generosity will be there when the inevitable crunch comes. Evidently Council members are admirers of the philosopher Alfred E. Neuman who in times like these would say, "What, me worry?"

One of America’s great cities indeed.

Act 47, Scene 2

City workers sure regard living under Act 47 distressed status for another five years (at minimum) a tragedy. Many of the City’s labor contracts-including those of police and fire-are expiring at the end of the year and having an Act 47 plan means that collective bargaining agreements negotiated by workers and management cannot violate the terms of the recovery plan. That’s why after Council’s petition to have Act 47 lifted was denied in July of last year workers knew that there would be controls placed on wages and benefits in upcoming contracts.

That’s why the whaling and gnashing of teeth seems to be surprising. It is not as if the City’s labor unions were blindsided. Following the DCED rejection last July the City held a series of meetings over the winter and spring; the separate oversight board has studied issues like workers’ compensation, health care, police, and fire staffing.

Yet the police bureau is unhappy that wage limits and civilianization would lead to City officers leaving for jobs in the suburbs or grow the perception that the City police force is not the place to join. "If we have a mass exodus, how are you going to replace [officers that leave or retire]?" asked the FOP president. The head of the fire union expressed displeasure about the plan to close one station and eliminate deputy chiefs. He can’t be very happy about the fact that the plan will try to end the benefit of firefighters counting overtime into pension calculations, the only union in the City who can do so.

Much like the state budget negotiations, the Act 47 plan is coming down to a June 30th deadline for approval. But unlike the custom of the Chief Executive convening the legislature into a special session, it looks like Council is going to compel the Mayor to appear before them for a special meeting on the plan.