An all out assault has been waged against the public employee, the working men and women, who serve the most basic needs of our communities. Our police, fire fighters, teachers, and municipal laborers have been accused of causing the downfall of local and state budgets. It has become en vogue to blame the practice of collective bargaining. The facts as reported by the mainstream media have been inaccurate, biased, and exaggerated. Arguments are being made that egregious pensions, inflated wages, and overly generous benefits are bankrupting our cities and towns. Yet, the problem remains that these arguments are not based on fact.
In Massachusetts and other states across this country, legislators are attempting to solve their budget crises by denying public employee unions the right to collectively bargain. These misdirected efforts will prove even more damaging to our municipalities. Removing the voice of working professionals is not a fiscal move, only a power move by government administrators. An effort to unilaterally impose the administrators’ will upon the workers. Collective bargaining has existed for decades, not because it padded the wallets of the public employee, but because it was a means to equitable resolutions that satisfy our communities’ needs. Since championed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, collective bargaining has been a mainstay of public employee/employer compromise and monies have been saved for municipalities more often than not. The Worcester Regional Research Bureau recognized the value of collective bargaining in 2003. The Research Bureau explained, “The parties negotiate with one another, instead of against one another. They consider problems to be matters of shared concern, where each has an interest in finding a solution satisfactory to both parties”.
In 2006, Worcester Fire Fighters, through collective bargaining, increased their health care contribution by 5%. In 2009, when the fiscal crisis continued, fire fighters increased their contribution by an additional 5%, along with plan design changes and higher co-pays. Again through collective bargaining, the fire fighters agreed to forego a pay raise for fiscal year 2010. Worcester City Manager Michael O’Brien told the Telegram and Gazette, “Even deeper reductions to core city services would be required if anything other than a zero percent raise were granted”. Concessions made through collective bargaining by the Worcester Fire Fighters saved the city in excess of a million dollars annually. In 2009, O’Brien applauded the collective bargaining process, “[Local 1009’s] decision to overwhelmingly ratify this agreement that contains significant reforms is one more affirmation of what can be accomplished through good-faith negotiations and a shared common purpose”. Savings were reached not in spite of the voice of the union, but because of that voice. Through collective bargaining, the union continues to help the city overcome the obstacles of these difficult economic times.
Stripping public employees of their voice on matters such as health care benefits, not only undermines the services they provide for their cities and towns, but disrespects the commitment they have made to their communities, marginalizes their integral role in society, and undermines their professionalism. A voice, a basic right, should be afforded, not because they are public employees, but because they are Americans.
Many Americans have embraced the courage and principles of our forefathers who stood up against the government and staged the Boston Tea Party. These citizens stood strong and said they would not be taxed without representation, not without a voice. It is the same courage that public employees now embody as they stand up and demand a voice, a place at the table, to negotiate in good faith the benefits that they earn serving their communities.
Other patriots of that time wrote the first amendment which affords all Americans, working in the private and public sector, the right to free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The first amendment lays the foundation for collective bargaining. For unions to sit with municipal administrators, speak their voice as a body, express their grievance, and together reach a compromise beneficial for all involved.
Defenses of collective bargaining rights are not being made by terrible people trying to destroy life as we know it. These arguments are being made by the people teaching our children, protecting our homes, keeping us safe in our beds, and providing us with the exceptional quality of life that we enjoy throughout America. Public employees should not be cast as the problem, instead the example, for all public and private workers. Public employees should be afforded a voice within our government and legislators should be working to ensure collective bargaining rights for generations to come.