Unions picket Louisville’s Metro Hall [Opinion: The Arena]

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Teamsters picket Louisville Metro Hall

It didn’t take long for Teamsters Local Union 783 to respond to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s State of the City address.  On Tuesday, we reported that the mayor released a report indicating that taxpayers spend nearly $14 million a year on unplanned overtime pay for city workers; some of which could be reduced with better management and long-term changes to union contracts.  At the end of the piece, we predicted:  “Stay tuned for picket signs around Metro Hall.”

ems pickets 012612.jpgBy Thursday, Emergency Medical Services and Metrosafe Teamster Union members were picketing in front of the Mayor’s office at Metro Hall; carrying preprinted signs saying “Stop The War On Workers.”  Union representatives told FOX-41 reporter Tamara Evans that the protest was over the fact that the Teamsters had been negotiating almost 19 months with the City, without a contract.  Mayor Fischer ordered a halt on contract talks late last year, pending a resolution of the overtime problem.

But the Teamsters are being a bit disingenuous in claiming that their lack of a contract with the City provided the impetus for their protest demonstration.  Since they have gone almost two years without a contract—and this is the first time they have picketed in protest during that time—they leave the clear impression that their real beef is with the mayor’s plan to reduce wasteful overtime pay.

To illustrate the nature and extent of the City’s overtime problem, Mayor Fischer released a list of more than 1,000 City workers who earned more than 25% of their base pay in overtime during 2011.  Some glaring examples from the list:

  • Willa Geraldine Grider, employed since 1992, annually earns $47,112, and last year earned $55,370 in overtime; 118% above her base salary.
  • Ann Deniece Patmon, employed since 2005, annually earns $40,186, and last year earned $30,741 in overtime; 77% above her base salary.
  • Tari Brooks, employed since 2001, annually earns $49,005, and last year earned $26,935 in overtime; 55% above her base salary.
  • Mary Brown, employed since 1996, annually earns $47,112, and last year earned $26,246 in overtime; 56% above her base salary.
  • Viola Brown, employed since 1993, annually earns $47,112, and last year earned $26,153 in overtime; 55% above her base salary.
  • Patrick Riordan, employed since 1999, annually earns $49,005, and last year earned $23,715 in overtime; 39% above his base salary.

These are all EMS workers, but other City agencies have similar records of excessive overtime payments. 

Now, no one is suggesting that these City employees are not hardworking, valuable civil servants; or that they did not earn their overtime payments.  Clearly, when a large percentage of government employees are working overtime—at time and one-half, and sometimes double-time pay—there is a management problem of serious proportion. 

The City of Louisville is facing a $12 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year ending next June 30; and officials are predicting deficits of $20-30 millions in subsequent years.  Under state law, the City must operate on a balanced budget; so Mayor Fischer is indeed justified in finding a management solution to the problem of $14 million a year in unplanned overtime pay.

Fischer SOTC_0.jpgMayor Fischer has indicated that he will be meeting with union representatives to ask for new and amended agreements to handle this problem, and predicted dire consequences if an accommodation cannot be reached.  "There have been some cities that declared bankruptcy. There are others that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. We are not going to allow that to happen here in our city. So we have to take action," said Fischer.

Union leaders will meet with Mayor Fischer next Thursday to talk about cutting costs.  Teamsters Union officials would have the community believe that their protest is all about protecting the safety of Louisville’s citizens.  Sandra Chesser, a dispatcher for MetroSafe, told reporter Evans that, "If you called 911, and someone doesn't answer the phone, how would you feel about that? You have to pay overtime, and the positions have to be filled.  There's no questions asked."

But, as with most labor/management imbroglios, it’s really all about the money.  Mayor Fischer is to be commended in his attempt to protect the safety of Louisville’s taxpayers from this onslaught of union greed.

FOX-41’s Tamara Evans reports:

 

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Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).

 

About Thomas McAdam
At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.
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