Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

August 24, 2012

OUR VIEW: Public contracts getting out of hand

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Years ago there was a one-line joke that went something like, “I can’t afford that, I’m a public employee.” While it’s no secret that the times have changed, there’s been plenty of recent evidence that public employee mercenariness has gotten out of hand.

Witness two stories right here in Niagara County on which we reported this month. 

In the Town of Lockport, the Civil Service Employees Association members rejected by a 12-3 vote a contract that would have provided employees a 12.5 percent raise over five years and a fifth week of vacation for employees with 25 years of service in exchange for employees contributing three percent of health care costs in 2013, reaching a 10 percent cap in 2015.

In Pendleton, a stalemate continues between the town and the Teamsters Local 264, representing 10 town highway, water and sewer workers. The previous contract expired Dec. 31, 2010. The sides are divided by two sticking points: wage hikes and health care; the Town offered a raise of 1.25 percent but the Teamsters are seeking a continuation on their 3 percent annual raise. Health care? The town wants a 50-50 split, the Teamsters offered a 3 percent contribution from new employees.

Three percent? Are they kidding?

With higher wages, skyrocketing health care and a higher public pension contribution, it’s been obvious for years that this is not a sustainable model. Why don’t the public employees get it?

People seem to have forgotten there was a time when public employees weren’t paid the huge amounts of money that they do now. As a result, many municipalities offered health care and pensions as a perk; a token of thanks for serving the public. That’s no longer the case, and in many instances public employees are paid more than the average salary in their hometowns.

Meanwhile, most who work in the private sector haven’t seen a raise since before the 2008 stock market crash, and it’s nearly impossible to find a private business that offers free health care. In this day and age, it’s not reasonable to continually ask residents who are treading water financially to pay more and more to public employees.

Asking a public employee to contribute to his health coverage is not an unfair demand. It’s the way the private sector has been operating for years.

The public employees are making out on these deals, and planning retirements and golf at age 55 in Florida.