The ongoing battle between Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and...well...just about everyone, may end up costing the city more money than necessary.
Several times, the mayor has blasted the city unions for not agreeing to his terms for savings. When the mayor announced to the media that he was going to furlough non-essential city workers for single days around the holidays, he forgot about his contracts with city unions that don't allow for such an action. The unions went to court to force the mayor into arbitration over the issue and, not surprisingly, the mayor lost that battle.
Then the mayor announced he was going to shut down the city for the week of February 16th, and then sent out the layoff notices. He also claimed in his state of the city address and in various public statements and press releases, that the unions were not working with him to address the dire financial situation.
That set off AFSCME Local 2058 president Alan Cox who held a press conference to set the record straight.
I spoke to Cox who explained the various proposals they suggested to help save the city money.
AFSCME offered to have a one-hour furlough per pay period in 2009, if at least 75% of the city staff did the same. City workers are paid for two weeks at a time. They also offered a one-hour per week furlough if 100% of the city staff did the same.
If all city employees went without one hour per week, that would be a total of 52 hours per person, certainly more than the 40 hours that only non-essential workers would be giving up with the one-week February layoff. Additionally, as Cox emphasizes, this would prevent the shutdown of the city while being less burdensome to the individual finances of city workers.
How could Carty not accept such a proposal? If AFSCME agreed to do this, it would put the other unions in the position of also having to embrace the concept for the 'good of the city' as well as the good of their own members.
Cox also suggested modification to the pension pickups they've negotiated over the years. AFSCME offered to reduce their pickup to the same level as all other employees along with some trade offs that would give them better standing in the pension system but not cost the city any money.
Unions don't usually give up anything without asking for something in return. As these are negotiations, you're probably wondering what the cost of these concessions would be. Me, too. So I asked Cox what he wanted in return and it's a doozy: reduce the administrative/management staff to 1993 levels, before we had a strong mayor form of government. That would require the elimination of 20 management positions but, according to Cox, would save the city $1.8 million.
"We trying to come up with a solution all of us can live with," Cox said. "We're talking to the judges and clerk in Municipal Court to see if they can support the one-hour furloughs, as well. But at least we're talking to each other. Carty isn't talking to anyone."
Cox emphasized that these proposed concessions have been shared with his membership and they overwhelmingly support the plans if everyone else goes along.
The mayor, in response, said the following in a press release:
"Yesterday, Alan Cox, President of Local 2058, held a press conference stating that he had presented the City with a plan that would save $21 million. Absolutely false. His plan was as bogus, in terms of saving money, as a three-dollar bill."
As ends up being the case most of the time, Carty got his facts wrong. Cox didn't propose $21 million in savings. He proposed savings to help with the $21 million deficit. The total savings they projected if all the concessions were agreed to, according to Cox and his discussion with the city's finance department, would total about $6 million. Certainly a good start to address what Carty calls "the grave economic conditions we are confronted by."
But Carty isn't talking to Cox or the other unions. He's calling them names saying they are "incorrect," "misleading," "unwise," and "living in an unrealistic dream world," ... words sure to promote conversation and cooperation.
In the meantime, Toledoans and taxpayers, who could see savings which actually help put us on the right path, are left wondering just what kinds of decisions are coming from the 22nd floor of Government Center. Obviously, they are not based upon what's good for the city, but rather on the chest-thumping, egocentric emotions of a 'strong mayor' who appears to reject good ideas when he doesn't come up with them.