Government unions’ refusal to accept a furlough plan in Cuyahoga County has led to several county employees losing their jobs, and, on a larger scale, highlighted the unfortunate reality often confronted by those bound by the inflexible grip of organized labor.
County officials recently asked several unions to consider partial furlough plans in an effort to offset the county’s projected budget shortfall something it had already done for its non-union employees. While some unions agreed, others emphatically did not.
The lack of flexibility from certain union leaders is not altogether surprising, although some elsewhere have shown a willingness to negotiate during these unprecedented economic times.
Last week in California, for example, the state employees’ union accepted two furloughs per month for the next two years (although interestingly, the “analysis” offered as to why union leaders agreed to negotiate at all is simply because the state’s governor, Gavin Newson, is a Democrat).
At the state level in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration is asking unions to propose similar ways to reduce personnel costs during the next fiscal year. It’s unclear if any real solutions will be put forth, but the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA/AFSCME Local 11) has suggested it would rather see Gov. DeWine use the state’s rainy day fund to make up the deficit.
The governor has already indicated his willingness to use the fund, but has stated that more sacrifice is needed if the state wants to avoid layoffs.
It seems then, that union leaders have a choice to make, assuming they’re willing or even able to make it. It may require “giving up” any gains they believe they made at the bargaining table, for example – and they’re unlikely to want to do that.
But who really gains if union leaders dig their heels in and refuse to compromise?
If the writing on the wall is any indication, it won’t be the workers. And it begs the question, does everybody win if some are left out to dry? Operating under the supposed “greater good” principle, union leaders might say yes – they might say it’s worth protecting the “gains” they’ve made under the contract. In Ohio’s case, they might blame the state or county for resorting to layoffs.
But guess what? Union leaders aren’t the ones whose jobs are on the line.
Instead, the economic pain brought about by COVID-19 has been primarily felt by the state’s working class people — and, in situations where union leaders refuse to show any flexibility (as in Cuyahoga County), it’s been felt by the very workers whose best interests they claim to represent.
As recent events show, that’s not always the reality.