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Labor expertise needed

May 1, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council is expected to discuss on Monday the process it will use to hire outside expertise for labor matters.

We agree that the city needs assistance, and we agree that the expense incurred - which is likely to be considerable - will save money in the long run.

Personnel salary and benefit costs burgeoned out of control during the "boom" years and retirement or "legacy" expenditures have come back to haunt us with post-employment obligations primarily related to health care now unfunded to the tune of $13 million.

Council is to be commended for addressing the issue. Its decision to obtain requests for qualifications for a labor negotiator to act for the city on matters related to collective bargaining with the city's seven existing unions and a recently joined collective bargaining unit seeking its first contract is the proper one.

Some eminently qualified and readily recognizable names have submitted packets for council consideration. By culling the best of the best, council can not only obtain the expertise that is needed but also pull emotion out of a process that promises to be painful at best.

Now, we are not among those who demonize city employees who merely - and gratefully - took what was thrown at them when the Cape collectively espoused that the city had to "pay to get the best."

Nor are we among those who do not recognize that employees and the unions that represent them have subsequently made some concessions.

We are, however, among those who accept that the days of double digit increases - perhaps any raises at all for a while - are over because the funds simply are no longer there.

We also are among those who know the status quo in terms of benefits and perks is not financially sustainable.

The choice is pretty simple, really. The city, preferably with employee and union buy-in, can re-negotiate contracts, carve benefits and find creative ways to reduce costs or more people are going to lose their jobs so that others can hang on to what they have.

And under that scenario no one benefits, not the newly unemployed and their families, not the residents who will see another decrease in services and another foreclosed home dumped on the market, and not even the "survivors" at city hall stretched further to pick up additional duties - again.

Yes, the city of Cape Coral needs help from someone with proven negotiation skills, a solid knowledge of labor and contact law, and something more, the ability to expertly analyze each of the current and pending contracts to advise the city as to the best approach to take on each.

This is not a call for "union busting" or contract breaking by mandate - we, in fact, strongly advise council to reject even the appearance of an intention to negotiate in bad faith - but an urge to council to vet the candidate firms, set cost and reporting parameters, select the best-qualified, and then move to open talks with a goal of bringing costs in line with current realities.

We suggest council begin that very process on Monday.

- Breeze editorial



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