The City of Redding’s Privatization Evaluation Committee died a quiet and unmourned death on Dec. 14.
The committee, which had been urged by Redding business interests to outsource city jobs, discovered two important things during its brief existence:
First, cities that have outsourced jobs typically don’t save any money and often end up taking the work back from contractors. Second, business interests who hope to profit from cockeyed privatization schemes will face stiff resistance from IBEW Local 1245, which represents over 200 City of Redding employees.
The Redding Record-Searchlight, in noting the Privatization Committee’s demise, observed that the group had met more than a half-dozen times since September “without finding any ways to save the city money by outsourcing or privatizing public services.”
Unfortunately, City employees remain under attack.
Even before the City’s Privatization Committee ran up the white flag, Redding Mayor Rick Bosetti began to promote two local ballot initiatives targeting city employee benefits. The initiatives would seek to end retiree medical benefits for future hires and to force City employees to pay the employee portion of their Cal-PERS benefit. The City currently pays both the employer and employee portion.
The IBEW Local 1245 Executive board responded swiftly to this shot across the bow by authorizing up to $50,000 for a media campaign to oppose the Mayor’s ballot initiatives. In November the union marched onto the airwaves with ads attacking “needless ballot initiatives that do nothing.”
Calling the initiatives “bad government,” the union’s ad pointed out that “It is the job of the City Council, not working families, to research these complex issues of employee retirement benefits.”
Two members of the Redding City Council were blunt in their criticism of the Mayor’s proposed initiatives.
“I think it’s a horrible decision,” Mary Stegall told the Record Searchlight, saying she fears the proposed ballot initiatives would “create a firestorm in the community” and tear it apart.
“We’re asking for more trouble than we can handle,” said council member Dick Dickerson, also quoted in the Record Searchlight.
The newspaper itself challenged the initiative proposal in a Nov. 29 editorial, which echoed the argument made in the union radio ad—that the City Council shouldn’t dump its difficult issues onto the voters. Entitled “Ballot measure is a bet the city can only lose,” the editorial noted that the City Council already has the authority to negotiate contracts with its unions, and that it would still be obligated to negotiate even if voters approved the proposed ballot initiatives.
“The risks far outweigh any possible benefit,” the newspaper editorialized, concluding that “A ballot measure won’t be worth the paper the mail-in votes are printed on.”
On Nov. 19 the IBEW negotiating committees for both the Electric and Maintenance units met with the City Manager to discuss the ballot initiatives proposed by the Mayor.
“On behalf of our committees and membership I notified the City Manager that IBEW had no interest in forfeiting negotiated benefits that our members had paid for through wage concessions past,” said IBEW Local 1245 Senior Business Representative Ray Thomas.
The public wrestling match between the union and City officials occurs against the backdrop of contract negotiations that have dragged on since the summer of 2008. Although members of the Maintenance Department voted last May to ratify a contract extension, negotiations are continuing on the agreement covering members in the Electric Department.
The IBEW negotiating committee met on Nov. 19 to consider ways to kick-start those talks. The next scheduled date for negotiations with the City is Jan. 5, 2010.
Meanwhile, the privatization movement is down, but not quite out. Although the City’s Privatization Evaluation Committee has hung up its jersey, the City Council is keeping the idea alive. The City of Redding Community Services Advisory Commission has been tasked by City Council to look at the possible outsourcing of jobs at the Civic Auditorium and the Parks Department, where twenty-four full time IBEW members are employed.