Page One

Don’t Balance City Budget On Backs of Employees

Tuesday August 12, 2003

Space here won’t allow me to reply to all of the recent statements regarding city employees. While some have been empathetic to the plight of workers scapegoated for the budget problems, some others have wrongly characterized employees in labor unions as greedy, self-serving, and equivalent to welfare cheats. 

Workers, unpracticed in the art of manipulative speech and fearful of offending not only the executives but also Berkeley residents, are reluctant to raise a voice in self-defense. Though reluctant, I am compelled to speak. I have hoped that wizened citizens would strongly counter the outrageous moves to slander and destroy the progress made by workers to achieve a decent standard of living, but with the dogs of foreign occupations and economic wars nipping at their run-down heels, the stress-forced tunnel vision of the beleaguered allows malevolent machinations obscurity from intelligent scrutiny. Labor’s reliance on the social consciousness of the harried taxpayers may yet prove misplaced, in light of the history of successes by the ruling elite to shift the burden of their mistakes and reframe the issue of mismanagement consequences. Labor costs too high? Attack the unions and take away the laborers’ pay. Business bad? Sell phone cards and fast food to overseas troops. Vote too close? Get your debtors on the court to say “Get over it.”  

Workers are rightfully skeptical of the call to give away their modest gains. They recall the hedging and shifting statements by officials on the budget picture presented before and immediately after negotiations concluded. The ink on the workers’ contracts had barely dried when the bandwagon started rolling to negate the contracts. Workers have long warned the executives that some operations and practices were wasteful and bound to cause unnecessary expense. It is finally apparent to all that the warnings were not effectively heeded. It is immoral for workers to bear the burden of predictable mistakes made by the executive class.  

Also disconcerting, with this call to decrease our modest living standard, is the observation that the ruling class and non-union profiteers are not sacrificing anything except, temporarily perhaps, the unbridled concentration of economic power. Workers notice that neither executives nor non-union contractors are running to the finance office to return a dime of their executive compensation or profits.  

Citizens have often heard how difficult it is to keep $100,000 executives on the payroll, and how hard the executives work for the money. But even if one were to accept that the physical and psychological toll is necessarily greater for meeting-goers than for blue-collar laborers, and that you just can’t keep good help unless executive-level pay and benefits dwarf those of the peons below, one could question the equity of suggesting one class of employees being forced closer to the poverty line while the other remains comfortably far above it. Workers have not heard a single utterance demanding that the non-union contractors it employs return a percentage of their pay to the city. It is this missing sound, in the presence of the clamor of hogs at the trough, that has workers practically disbelieving that any fairness lurks in the hearts of those allied against them. What many sense is that there is avarice and an underlying desire to eviscerate the power of progressive individuals and righteous organizations.  

In contrast to the demeaning, fanciful image of unionized workers lounging at the overtime trough, Berkeley’s workers have spent much unpaid personal time to develop solutions to our city’s problems.  

A few of the solutions:  

1. Decrease cash outlay by (a) halting the prodding of staff and outside consultants ($90,000+) to install an inferior replacement (cost = $2-300,000) for the newly installed PSB antennae tower; (b) by ending the program to replace every City of Berkeley computer every four years; (c) by shelving the plan to go wireless in City Hall and the PSB until after security, propagation, and interface problems are solved. 

2. Increase revenue by (a) cheaply encouraging COB employees to spend more of their pay in town (many of my co-workers already spend at least $10 each day in town on food and beverages alone); (b) by selling items identified with our widely popular town as souvenirs (official logo on caps, jackets, coffee mugs, etc.).  

3. Improve economic utilization of resources (a) by deferring planned Corpyard transformation and saving relocation expenses; (b) by ending the use of outside electrical and telephone contractors doing work that city employees are capable of performing. 

4. Borrow and spend strategically (a) by borrowing money now while rates are lower; (b) by demanding better deals from vendors. 

Much like hapless soldiers dragged off to the swamps and sands of misadventures, unionized workers and social support agencies are pawns to the machinations of the leading hands. The potential demise of our recent gains is unlamented, and our extraordinary efforts unappreciated, save to further uplift the glory of those who may undermine our ascension.  

But that’s how it often is when you are employed by the government.  

So don’t fall for the line that your brother is too heavy to carry.  

Listen up Berkeley, your mind knows better. 


Patrick McCullough is an employee of the City of Berkeley and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245.