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Contract talks in Austintown must face up to fiscal reality



Published: Thu, November 19, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

The president of the largest bargaining unit in Austintown Township government says the one thing he does not want to see happen in contract talks is a reduction in manpower. It suggests a recognition on the part of Lt. Tom Collins, head of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 126, that his union will have to make concessions in order to save jobs.

It should make negotiations between the township and its four bargaining units — FOP, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3356, Teamsters Local 377 and Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association Dispatch Unit — relatively straightforward. After all, township government has nothing to give — other than a commitment to soften the blow of the national economic recession that has been felt throughout the country.

Thus, if Lt. Collins and the other presidents of the unions want to ensure that manpower levels are not drastically reduced, they should be prepared to go the bargaining table with proposals to enable government to make up for the $775,000 loss of tangible personal property tax revenue next year and the refusal of voters to approve a five-year, 0.6-mill replacement levy.

Dave Schertzer, IAFF president, echoed Collins’ sentiments about preserving jobs, saying, “I think we all need to sit down and see where they’re at with their money and hopefully find a common ground. We want to make sure we keep all of our guys working.”

It should clear to all township employees, just as it has been clear to most private sector workers, that pay raises are no longer part of workplace vocabulary. Indeed, concessions have now become the standard during contract negotiations.

Saving jobs

If the goal of the unions in Austintown is to save jobs, they should take to heart these comments from Trustee David Ditzler, who easily won re-election in the Nov. 3 general election:

“A wage freeze is one real possibility. Right now we’re probably balancing the budget by the skin of our teeth, and in 2010 that will be a much different scenario. ... Hopefully we’ll agree to the current salary and benefits, or maybe the current salary and benefits are reduced. Everybody would maintain their hourly wages ... the process of overtime, minimum manning requirements, health care and the percentage of co-pay could change.”

The comments were published in a Vindicator story Saturday about the upcoming contracts talks. It was accompanied by a graphic that showed the pay scale breakdown of each bargaining unit and also the percentage of the health care premiums paid by the employees.

On health care, the co-pay went from 5 percent in 2007 to 10 percent this year.

As for the wages, considering the current fiscal challenges and the median family income in Mahoning County, an objective evaluation leads to this conclusion: Employees of Austintown Township are paid relatively well and should not complain if the new contracts reflect the status quo. In fact, the benefits package they receive makes their employment quite lucrative.

By contrast, holding on to a job in the private sector has become a major challenge.

Public employees would do well to pay attention.


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