Sharing the Load: Both Non-Union and Union Employees Must Do Their Part

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I am an active supporter of our local County Representative, Jim Maisano, who, allied with his Republican colleagues in the County, urged us to take issue with the Democrats in the County Board of Legislators, who oppose, or are throwing up roadblocks to an County Executive Astorino’s proposal to have 400 non-union county employees begin to contribute 15% percent to the cost of their health-care benefits.

Maisano mentions not only the need for such an action given the state of our economy, but also the fact that people throughout our nation are seeing the need for expense management and that people across the political spectrum are coming together on the need for decisive action to share in the actions designed to address the issue. Astorino and his Republican colleagues are correct on this point and the Democratic opposition seems petty and simply delaying the inevitable. There are some out there who see a more sinister picture such as protecting a certain few individuals and that seems to be simply guesswork on their part. I am sure that Maisano being a fair man, would have no difficulty as minority leader in the County board of asking a point blank question where that the point. I think that this morbid view of human nature does not for a good idea — clearly on this issue, I support Maisano and urge you write your county representatives to pass this proposal.

I responded to Jim not only mentioning my support but my feeling that it cannot and should not end with exempt staff. My wife is exempt in an organization where contracted increases are granted to union members but exempts take their chances on the economy. She falls more and more behind relatively to people she supervises. While I support the right to organize and get representation, I told Jim that even a larger threat to county and city property taxes lies with the bloated contracts carried by union staff. They are bankrupting city and county and their leadership use the power of the purse to contribute to politicians of all parties as well as emotional scare tactics to the public to achieve selfish ends.

A week or so ago I advised you to read Catherine Wilson’s column in the Westchester Guardian to get some frightening insights into just how serious of a problem union contracts are to the financial well-being and security of the taxpayer. This is something that you will rarely hear from politicians who fear a drain of political contributions and/or a loss on election day. Wilson and I invite you to go to the internet and look at www.seethroughny.net. It will frighten you and maybe put some steel in your spine. At least you will be in a position to make informed decisions.

I have read the example she cites in great depth, the White Plains School District Contract of 2007. I can tell you that it is similar to the New Rochelle/FUSE agreement expiring in 2011. In a week or ten days I will highlight some aspects of the agreement as well as the agreement with Principals, Assistant Principals, etc.. This is not to caste aspersions, or state anything negative about our overall fine teaching cadre. It is simply to point out that we have, as Maisano suggests, an enormous tax burden and worse to come. My point is we all need to kick in without casting aspersions. But, when taxpayers are blocked from their rights and obligations by any member of the district to obtain basic information, the old, often misleading or incorrect responses will no longer apply. You have the right for a reasonable degree of disclosure, you are not going to disturb collective bargaining if you ask whether settled contract areas will be tabled for discussion and you have the Taylor Law as I reported earlier in the Talk of the Sound for assurances that your Superintendent and the district’s attorney; Organisciak and Kehl, are charged with bargaining fairly on your behalf and that the union cannot strike without penalty and, so fair and aggressive bargaining is certainly not prohibited by the State in protecting the interests of taxpayers who contribute two thirds of the school budget funds annually. This system is punitive and broken as it is and the property taxpayer doesn’t need further obstacles in h/her path.

Catherine Wilson says it best: “the County government is asking non-union county employees to contribute to the cost of their benefits. Such a solution ignores the real problem. The major reason for the increases in taxes and government deficits are the union workers’ packages.”

When I give more data on what is actually in such arrangements I will follow her outline.

1. average teacher salaries – from step 1 to step 20.
2. other ways to get additional money such as acting as a coach
3. stipends for running student clubs, faculty advising, and so forth.
4. Getting paid during the day for non-teaching work.
5. Work schedules and free time during work days and working after hours.
6. Paid sick leave
7. summer work, actual annual work schedule, time off with pay – in 2007 White Plains allowed for 67 paid days during an abbreviated work year of about 180 days.
8. Leaves of absence for various reasons.
9. Welfare trust funds and stipends
10. health insurance
11. fully funded pension plans

I will take a similar look at the leaders covered under separate contracts – principal and assistant principals, and so forth.

I actually admire Marty Daly the FUSE representative in the district for being such a strong advocate. I also respect and admire most of the administrators and teachers I met. I feel very good about the promise for change I sense in the new board management team Sara Richmond and Chrisanne Petrone and think Jeffrey Hastie will rise to the occasion. I see some change in one or two other long serving people but the entire system needs an overhaul.

In any event draw your own conclusions and remember that it is not enough to expect a small percentage of the community to sacrifice; all must share in the effort. If only Richard Organisciak would have turned in his annual contracted increase (the amount escapes me); how much better it would have been to start the healing process.

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