Political Demonization of Phoenix Labor Unions

Politics | 5 Oct, 2011 |

It’s Wrong To Demonize Labor Unions As The Sole Source Of Pain To Taxpayers

September 11, 2011 was the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Almost 3,000 innocent people lost their lives during those terrorist attacks. 411 of those killed were emergency workers.

Stop and think about that for a minute.

411 people died because after the planes hit, they were called and asked to rush into the danger that these terrorists had created.

343 were FDNY firefighters and paramedics.

23 were officers with the NYPD.

37 were police officers with Port Authority.

Eight were EMTs or paramedics from private emergency medical companies.

411 of these people weren’t in danger from these attacks until they went to the scene to protect other people, and while there, they lost their lives.

I think every life lost was tragic. Most of the victims went to work that day or boarded planes and became casualties of al-Qaeda because they were the targets of these murderous terrorists. 411 of these victims died because at some point in their lives, they chose a vocation to help people. They agreed to answer the 911 calls that would send them into chaos. They decided to share in other people’s dangers with the hope of helping protect those people, and they knew there would be risks. They are often called heroes. They were mostly government employees.

Right now in the City of Phoenix, there is a public-relations war being waged against the public labor unions. As Phoenix has faced major budget shortfalls in the last few years, there are critics that think the source of all of our woes are these “greedy unions” that are costing us too much money.

Problem is, these union employees make less now than they use to.

Phoenix negotiates its union contracts every two years. They negotiated their last contracts in 2010 while Phoenix faced a $277 million revenue shortfall. Normally during labor negotiations, the issue isn’t will labor get a pay and/or benefit increase, but how much. In 2010, Phoenix labor groups conceded (or gave back) 3.2% of their wages, amounting to $100 million a year that they agreed Phoenix didn’t have to pay them. The labor unions did negotiate $31 million in longevity and merit pay increases for 2012. This is what they normally have. All of the politicians in Phoenix supported this. These contracts were approved by the mayor and Phoenix City Council on an 8-0 vote.

Now, in a campaign year, many candidates and some members of the Phoenix City Council have joined in with this mantra that Phoenix labor unions are the problem. The claim is that the labor unions are running City Hall. They talk about the $31 million merit and longevity increases given this year without mentioning the $100 million pay cuts in both 2010 and 2011. And this rhetoric is spreading. I talked to a citizen who called the campaign office I was working at a month ago who told me Phoenix firefighters are being overpaid. I asked him how much they made. His response was, “I don’t know, but it’s too much.”

So are these two issues related? How do we connect the heroes who sacrificed their lives in 9/11 with the current political demonization of Phoenix labor unions? What is the cost of asking men and women to train and equip themselves to respond to the emergencies that we face that might put their life in peril?

Statistics show that people in high stress jobs (such as emergency first responders) have higher rates of divorce, alcoholism, depression, and suicide. They have higher rates of cancer and live shorter lives on average. And every now and then, someone else has to go to their homes to tell their families that they won’t be coming home anymore.

If they didn’t organize into labor unions, would we appreciate them more? Without public labor unions, would we better recognize their sacrifices? Would things be better if we could just pay them less? Why is it that we seem to mostly appreciate the ones who die and not the ones who are ready to respond and don’t die?

Many of the very people who like to wrap themselves in American flags with the very thought of 9/11 are also the same people claiming that Phoenix labor groups that represent Phoenix employees (of which Phoenix police and firefighters make up a big portion) are bankrupting our city (which isn’t going bankrupt, by the way). These men and women who have made the same vow as the 9/11 heroes are being demonized as the sole source of pain to Phoenix taxpayers.

I think there is a major disconnect.

In case you’ve never seen it, there is an employee memorial outside of Phoenix City Hall that honors the fallen employees who died in the service of our city. A lot of the names on that memorial are for city employees that belonged to labor unions. Last time I checked, there were no names of politicians on that wall.


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