First off, let me say that I am a supporter of unions. Unions are the last defense we have against the government-supported corporations that have such an enormous impact on our economy and on the welfare of American workers. Most modern unions have changed with the times in order to remain viable. Public unions, however, are not in lock-step with these trends.
Elected officials in Scranton have just finished negotiating a concessionary contract with the police union. Mayor Courtright decided to pick the low fruit, emphasizing only the positive side of the new contract. But make no mistake about it; there were concessions made by the city as well. The overall net savings will be less than we were originally led to believe.
Opening the contract early, gaining concessions in shifting and staffing, and increasing employee payments to their pension fund are all surprising and positive aspects of the deal. On the flip side, the city provided for, among other things, greater payments to retirees based on accumulated sick leave. This was done in order to incentivize officers to save sick leave which decreases the cost of overtime. They are exchanging decreases in current operating expenses for increases in future one-time payments.
Considering that the City of Scranton is near financial bankruptcy, many believe this settlement to be less than concessionary.
Here is the reality. The system of arbitration in Pennsylvania has proven itself to be very one-sided and skewed toward public unions. In negotiating contracts, city leaders are playing a balancing act. Push too hard for big concessions and you can easily lose everything in arbitration. A look at past arbitration awards against the city is telling.
This is as good as it is going to get! Blaming and/or praising doesn’t change the fact that this contract is a both a reflection and a symptom of a broken system.