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Here we go again

October 17, 2011 - John Stack
So, it seems like PEF is going to vote on their contract again. The changes in the contract are such that basically we will be voting on the same contract again. Sure there are some changes, but basically it’s not materially different. In the first week after the previous contract was voted down, the leadership of PEF said that a revote on the same contract would yield about the same result. I claim had this contract been submitted the last time, the results would have been exactly the same. Now they’ve renamed something that was Bob and called it Robbie. Basically the same, but a different sound and different letters. I can only see 3 differences. 1) rather than a $1,000 lump sum payment, PEF workers will now get back their furloughed days. 2)The contract is 4 years not 5. 3)We can use more of our vacation time to pay for our increased health premiums. So, the changes seem to amount to letting a drowning man flounder, and throwing him a Styrofoam packing peanut.

The whole problem with this to me is little is done in the contract that makes any actual long term economic or business sense. None of this contract addresses actual current economic reality, future considerations, or what is the actual needed or desired state of the PEF workforce.

The layoffs were done in what seems to me about the worst imaginable way. The cuts were near arbitrary. In my agency alone, somewhere around 60% or 70% of the people in my title were eliminated. Was there a detailed analysis of what function was least needed? Not at all. The top consideration for layoffs was lack of bumping rights of CSEA members. Most of the people in my title started as a PEF member, and there were no CSEA members who would have been bumped. So, in my title they cut to 13 years of seniority. In other titles where CSEA titles were in jeopardy of bumping, some titles were completely left alone. When other companies go through layoffs, they don’t just choose a crazy parameter like ‘people with 5 letters in their first name’. They analyze what is in the best interest of the company. If the company has a factory that is just built and is a cash cow, they don’t cut that factory and layoff those workers. A company doesn’t keep around the employees who only know how to work in Cobol but cut the newer ones who are proficient in writing SQL and newer programming languages.

A real question is tied into Cuomo’s similarly ridiculous 2% tax cap for governments. A really ridiculous part of the 2% tax cap is ‘2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower’. Lower? I have yet to understand the reasoning of this. When the cost of goods and services increases, the law will limit how much a governmental entity can increase their own revenues. The logic truly escapes me. Its odious that the cap has to do with levies which are not directly correlated with spending, but with revenues and rainy day funds, but to go against any common sense whatsoever? The inflation rate takes into account not only prices of goods and services, but wages. If inflation goes up, wages go up. It’s a direct correlation. Somehow, as did the housing bust idiots of the early to mid 2000s believe, they just don’t think inflation will ever increase. In the last 180 months, inflation has been above 4% for only a handful of months. But, during the Reagan years, inflation was in the double digits for years. This will never happen again? Beginning in June 1973, inflation didn’t go below 5% for 10 straight years!

The problem to me is everything is based upon ‘percent changes’ . That to me is a moot point. If an agency has fifty people who can only work on carburetor, and the need for a fleet of fuel injected engines is one carburetor mechanic, why keep all the carburetor mechanics ? What is the right amount to pay for health insurance? Should it just be that PEF members should pay MORE? Is 15% right? Is 35% right? Should workers get a zero raise, a negative raise or a 5% raise? Should not these items be based at least partially on the inflation rate and industry norms? I think so. But contracts and workforce decisions at the state are not decided on these merits or analysis.

Recently I had an argument with Jaybo Fosswoss. He was advocating for lower tax rates. I kept pushing him about what SHOULD be the tax rate. He kept pushing for just ‘lower lower lower’ until he gave up. He then agreed he wasn’t sure what the rates should be. As with the state workforce decisions, there has been little in the way of analysis for tax rates at the national level. Until powerful people start looking at problems on a more economic feasibility and a needs based approach, we will continue to flounder.


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