John C Marty W Roxbury

^ The Budget Master versus the Union Master : who will do a better job of untangling City union contracts ? (photo by Chris Lovett of BNN, posted at FB)

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Who knew that the labor contract concept of “pay parity” would become a defining issue in this year’s mayor campaign ? I doubt if many voters know even what “pay parity” is. I sure didn’t, and I’ve spent half a lifetime swimming in Boston city politics. Yet we DO know that negotiating contracts with the City’s public employee unions — some 33 of them, I think — is one of the Mayor’s top responsibilities; and the two finalists both come well equipped to master such negotiations. Marty Walsh is himself a labor leader, and John Connolly a master of the city’s budgets and finance. Thus the “can he negotiate a city worker contract ?” question would seem to be easily answered “Yes.” But it isn’t.

The question became hard to answer on the day, about three weeks ago, when the arbitrator deciding the new Boston Police Patrolmens’ Association contract announced a raise of 25.4% over six years. The City heard the news and went into emotional hemmhorage. $ 80,000,000 this award would cost ? And what now when the Fire Fighters Local 718 came to the table next year ? how much would they want ? After all, their last contract negotiation had gone past arbitration to rejection by the City Council and, finally, a raise that just barely missed forcing the City to close its libraries.

Dropping this bomb into the middle of a heavily populated Mayor campaign looked sure to affect the outcome. Suddenly everyone wanted to read Arbitrator Buckalew’s 1-page decision. In it we meet the concept of ‘pay parity.’

The decision does not explain how Buckalew applied the concept, but — I beg you bear with me — it goes like this : ( 1 ) most agree that Boston’s Police and Fire fighters should get something like pay parity ( 2 ) but do we apply parity to their base pay, or do we factor in their second job income ( 3 ) if we factor in the extra income of both groups, the award achieves pay parity : each union’s members earn 107,900 to 109,000 a year in total ( 4 ) but wait : the Fire fighters’ extra income isn’t from public employment, it’s from second jobs; whereas the Police extra income comes from overtime and details, most of it public payroll work ( 5 therefore it’s unfair to include the Fire Fighters’ second job income in calculating pay parity ( 6 ) but if you don’t, then the Police pay is almost 60% higher than what the Fire Fighters earn from public work.

You got that ? Read it again. Then cough.

A link to the Arbitrator’s Decision follows. i know that you cannot WAIT to read it, but just in case you do want to read it, here it is :

Click to access Scanned%20BPPA%20Award.pdf

Unhappily, the only mention of pay parity in the entire 11-page award is found on page one, in which the arbitrator awards a “one time parity adjustment” of $ 2000 payable on January 1, 2014. Other than that, he does not talk of parity, but simple math says that he based his parity award on base pay, not total pay. The 25.4% six-years of pay raises, too, build upon base pay. This seems fair enough — were it not that both the Fire fighters and the Police earn an average annual pay about 40,000.00 higher than base. By what justification do these two work groups merit pay raises much more generous than those granted the City’s other 30 unions (Boston Teachers Union not included) ? Given the outsize award, the certainty that the Fire fighters will next year demand their own base-pay parity adjustment, and the high degree of union activism in this year’s campaign, what avails the City’s voters but to expect a large attack upon City budgets and solvency ?

After all, Tom Menino, even with his 83 % approval rating assuring re-election every four years, could not halt the growth of Police and Fire fighter pay awards. How will a Mayor who depends utterly on union support do so ?

Still, why need it come to this ? There is another scale for determining workers’ pay ; pay equity. We apply it when measuring how workers in approximately equal jobs are to be equally paid. Can we not find a way to apply pay equity to the contract negotiations of Boston’s police and Fire fighters ? (not to mention the City’s other unions.) Fire fighting isn’t police work, and vice versa, but the two careers share much ; on duty, off duty; life-threatening work; calls upon a moment’s notice; working from district stations. Both careers require passing an exam. Both require skill in emergency response. It would be so much easier to settle both unions’ contracts in one negotiation applying pay equity. And more : the pay equity principle would, eventually, once the City’s tax revenue can fund it, bestow a needed raise upon workers in the unions not blessed as are the Police and Fire fighters.

But that would mean change — reform — thinking outside the box : a concept just about as foreign to Boston City governance as scientific evidence is to a Creationist.

This must change. City governance needs to be re-thought, and soon, because as the society it governs is changing rapidly, if city governance does not change, it will be an obstacle rather than an empowerment. Much of Boston governance already is an obstacle. That much has been made clear by at least half of the 12 Mayor hopefuls who competed in the Primary.

Which leads us to the question ; who can better untangle the City’s labor conundrums : the Union Master, Marty Walsh, or the Budget master, John Connolly ? Guess we will soon find out.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere