The Redding City Council on May 19 abandoned a proposal to privatize the Redding Convention Center.
The Council’s decision dropped the curtain on a long-running drama in which several city officials pressed hard to contract out city jobs, but failed to provide evidence that it would be an effective solution to the city’s budget problems.
“This is good news,” said Senior Business Representative Ray Thomas of IBEW Local 1245, which began mobilizing last year to protect the jobs of union members working for the city, including five IBEW members at the Redding Convention Center.
The Council’s hand was forced on May 12 when its own task force — the Community Services Advisory Commission — recommended against privatizing the Convention Center.
“We worked hard to convince this commission that outsourcing or privatization is not appropriate for the Convention Center,” said Thomas. He praised the efforts of all of the IBEW 1245 members who made signs and rallied in force on several occasions against privatization. He expressed special appreciation for the efforts of Gary Moeckli, a union steward in the Maintenance bargaining unit who kept a close watch on the commission’s deliberations.
“Gary attended every meeting of the commission, so even when I had to miss a meeting we had representation there,” Thomas said.
The commission recommended that the city look for ways to boost Convention Center revenues by hiking rental rates and expanding marketing efforts. The Center’s rental rates lag behind those at comparable auditoriums, the commission found during its study.
Many IBEW jobs were on the chopping block last year when certain city leaders put forward a sweeping privatization agenda. Those plans triggered a massive response from the union and its members, who showed up in force at a Sept. 14 meeting of the Privatization Evaluation Committee, which included all five members of the City Council and five other citizens.
About the same time, the union got the matter before the public on talk radio and in an Op Ed piece in the Redding Record-Searchlight. The union pointed to a Cornell University study that poked holes in the arguments commonly made for privatization.
On Sept. 28, the Privatization Evaluation Committee drastically scaled back its planned privatization study, deciding that gardeners and Convention Center employees would be the only IBEW members to have their work evaluated for possible privatization.
In December the committee closed up shop with little to show for its efforts, prompting the Redding Record-Searchlight to observe 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.”
But the attacks on IBEW-represented city workers continued in a new form when Redding Mayor Rick Bosetti began to promote two local ballot initiatives targeting city employee benefits. The union ramped up its opposition, with the IBEW Local 1245 Executive board 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.”
“Undermine Essential Services”
In late November, the Record-Searchlight editorialized against the proposed ballot initiatives, saying the risks “far outweigh any possible benefit.”
The proposed ballot initiatives were dealt a serious blow in February when a study by UC Davis’s Center for Regional Change found that the measures would likely have “little impact” on the city’s short-term budget crisis and could “potentially undermine future government essential services.”
The day following the release of the study, the City Manager requested the Council to put a 60-day hold on the ballot initiatives, effectively ending any possibility of the issue going to the voters in the June election. (Unfortunately, city leaders subsequently voted to put the initiatives on the November ballot, assuring a long, drawn-out, costly and unnecessary fight.)
Meanwhile, the issue of privatizing Convention Center jobs was being deliberated by the Council-appointed Community Services Advisory Commission. When the commission recommended against privatization on May 12, the attack on IBEW-represented employees was dealt a final blow. For now.
“This is a fight that can come up anytime in the public sector,” said Thomas. “We are sympathetic to the problems that municipalities face in the current economy crisis, but we have no sympathy for privatization schemes that pretend to be solutions but in reality solve nothing.”