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The Mechanics
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Chicago Mon Jun 08 2009

Public Employees = Services for the Public

The big widely-known secret about the city's financial situation is that revenues are down and there are budget shortfalls, but the Mayor does have access to reserves built up through privatization over the last few years.

The Mayor has made efforts to balance the budget by cutting services--although this is couched as asking for givebacks from city workers--with disastrous results (e.g., the unplowed side streets). I think its important to always remind people that when you ask workers to take unpaid days off, or cut their pay, you are cutting the services that we often take for granted, and that make our city work efficiently, and better. The Reagan-era stereotype of the lazy public employee needs to die, because it's inaccurate. The reality is that your average public employee works in understaffed situations and is overworked. The reason your DMV lines are long is not because the DMV workers are moving in slow motion but because there aren't enough of them.

Here's AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer talking about city workers' negotiations with the Mayor.


It's getting harder and harder for Mayor Daley to get away with his constant request for givebacks and furlough days as his "efficient city manager" persona disintegrates. The sheer quantity of financial mismanagement and wastefulness scandals over the last few years has robbed him of the benefit of the doubt that came with that persona.

Here's an anonymous "labor leader":

"We went through this six months ago and we were very creative in preserving jobs. Now, we're at it again. What are they gonna do next time, take a kidney?" said a union leader, who asked to remain anonymous.

I almost feel bad for Dennis Gannon, who on the one has to balance a good relationship with the Mayor to benefit the building trades (particularly the Ironworkers and Plumbers) with the need for real adversarial stances to benefit the service workers, like AFSCME, the Laborers, Teamsters, SEIU, and others.


Disclosure notice: I was employed by AFSCME Council 31 between 2005 and 2007

 
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Richard / June 9, 2009 1:58 PM

Ramsin,

Good read.

But I have a question.

"The reason your DMV lines are long is not because the DMV workers are moving in slow motion but because there aren't enough of them." I understand the DMV being a symbol of public employees.

The DMV lines are always slow. Dealing with public employees has always sucked...for generations it has sucked.

No matter if there is a budget shortfall, or the budget is not in the news...dealing with public employees suck.

I can never remember a time when it has run smooth.

With that, are you saying that the DMV has **never** been fully staffed?

Ramsin / June 9, 2009 2:47 PM

Good point Richard; DMV lines have always seemed slow (though, neither of us is really referring to any data sets), so it's a bit of a caricatured example to use.

There are probably systematic problems with some or much of government service delivery; my point would just be that cutting the staffing levels in the name of efficiency surely won't be a solution. (Not that featherbedding is a solution to anything, either). And privatization of services so that public operations are geared to serve shareholders rather than the public have generally been abysmal failures, too. The answer is somewhere between: some government systems need to be adapted to run more efficiently, but that efficiency won't come from cutting staffing levels or injecting more highly-paid pseudo-corporate bureaucrats at the top. I generally feel like democratic workplaces will, eventually, operate more efficiently because individuals become stakeholders in decision-making; but I don't know if I'd be willing to say that that would definitely improve the DMV, as an example.

Richard / June 9, 2009 3:37 PM

The DMV **is** the black hole of public services.

Good points, Ramsin.

"cutting the staffing levels in the name of efficiency surely won't be a solution"...agreed, sir!

Chicago Tonight last week had a couple guys on talking about the budget shortfall...one who talked about cutting staff as a solution...the other guy talked about cleaning up the mis-management of government as a solution.

The second guy seemed to make much more sense.

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