Which Road Will the County Take?

Wages and health care: those are the two "biggies" for Allegheny County as it negotiates with collective bargaining units representing more than 5,100 of the County’s more than 7,000 employees. Both the County and at least one union leader are in agreement on the importance of wages and health care, and for good reason: personnel and fringe benefits are typically the largest share of expense for government. Based on the County’s 2013 financial plan and the statement of revenues and expenditures personnel and fringe benefits represent 53% of the general fund, 46% of all funds (general, debt service, liquid fuel, and transit support).

One of the bargaining units with whom the County is negotiating represents personnel who do a lot of the County’s road work (spreading rock salt and asphalt) which is housed in the Public Works Department (a good portion of that Department is being spun off into a new department called Facilities Management). Based on Public Works’ 2013 budget of $19 million, $13.1 million is tied to personnel cost and the remaining $5.9 million is identified by the County as non-personnel (services, supplies, materials, repairs and maintenance, and minor equipment). Note that Public Works has almost 70% of its departmental budget into personnel and fringes, higher than the County as a whole.

One of the "Strategic Goals" for the Department is for "Continuous Improvement" and within that goal is an emphasis for the Department to "practice greater fiscal constraint". It’s not clear exactly how the fiscal constraint is to be practiced, but one way would be to be judicious with labor agreements, including the one that would be executed with the aforementioned union representing the road workers.

Upon seeing the County’s initial offer of annual 2 and 2 ½ % raises over the four year contract the union head said it was "…hard to swallow that the county‘s best offer is less than what the city gave under Act 47 (state supervision)."

Pardon us, but we did not know that a local government had to be under state watch to be restrained with its spending on labor contracts. Perhaps the County has learned something from watching the events at the City-County building and does not want to jump into the same fiscal boat. Overly generous contracts and above the norm legacy costs are what got the City into Act 47 and state oversight-is the County supposed to follow suit? Will they?

Chicago Teachers Give Strike Notice: Pennsylvanians Take Note

Taking a page from Pennsylvania’s normal role as the nation’s leading teacher strike state, Chicago teachers have just issued a 10 day notice of intent to strike. Not happy with the District’s offer of 2 percent raises, the 26,000 member union threatens to send 400,000 students home for a longer holiday.

The head of the school district pledges to meet with the union every day to avoid a strike if at all possible. Teachers are upset with Mayor Emanuel’s rescinding last year’s pay raise-something that cannot happen in Pennsylvania. They are also unhappy with the new, longer 7 hour school day. Just wait until negotiations over how to determine pay raises other than automatic increases based on seniority begin. Seniority is among labor unions’ most sacred cows. This could get ugly.

And the irony is that this happening in Illinois which has one of the worst financial situations of any state in the country with bond downgrades already announced and more could be coming. After the dark of night, last minute 67 percent increase in personal income taxes a couple of years ago, there is little for Illinois taxpayers to be happy about. Now comes the threat of a strike that could be prolonged and the possibility that, in the end, teachers will get their hoped for raises and no change in evaluation procedures. Such an eventuality will almost certainly mean Chicagoans and Illinois taxpayers are going to digging even deeper.

All this is by way of pointing out the absolute absurdity of allowing teachers to strike in the first place. Historically, Illinois along with Ohio and Pennsylvania, have accounted for virtually all teacher strikes in the U.S. Ohio tried to stop them but lost a referendum vote that repealed the elimination statute. Pennsylvania, the nation’s foremost victim of teacher strikes, has not seriously taken up the elimination of strikes. And one can rest assured that as soon as the economy shows any signs of sustained improvement, the Commonwealth will see its status of national leader return. Wisconsin has outlawed teacher strikes shrinking the list where strikes are allowed even further. And it is important to note that all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states do not permit strikes.