Monday, July 06, 2009

Feed the world firefighters

For Steve LeClair, the world's smallest violin just got smaller. And it's still playing "My Heart Bleeds for You."

Can he hear it?

I didn't think so. I'll bet years of sirens and fire alarms haven't helped his tin ear any.

TIN EAR may be an understatement. With Omaha facing an $11 million budget deficit and thousands of his fellow citizens already having their paychecks frozen, cut or eliminated altogether, the president of the city's firefighter union had the nerve. . . .

Wait, why should I soften the impact for you? I want you to come across LeClair's quote in the Omaha World-Herald just as I did -- cold. And I want you to get just as angry when you read it.

The notion of an extended wage freeze is a sore point for city employees who feel they've become the whipping boy for all of the city's budget woes. Too frequently, they say, their paychecks become an easy target when revenues slow down.

Employees say they deserve raises that let them keep pace with inflation.

“When you ask me to take zero percent in consecutive years, you're taking milk out of my baby's mouth and food off my table,” said Steve LeClair, president of the Omaha firefighters union.

In 2003, civilian workers in Local 251 accepted a virtual freeze. In 2004, police and firefighters had no raise.

The freezes helped avoid proposed layoffs, cuts in services and the closing of facilities. But the contracts also included raises in subsequent years and other costly provisions, some of which have contributed to the city's current $500 million shortfall in its police and fire pension fund.

Even considering those earlier freezes, the unions kept pace with inflation from 1997 to 2007. The cost of living rose an average 2.6 percent per year during that period, compared with average wage hikes of 2.6 percent for civilian workers, 2.8 percent for police and 3 percent for firefighters.
YEAH, THE MEAN, MEAN city fathers want to make Mr. Fire Union President take a pay freeze, thus making his widdle, biddy baby go hungry. So said the righteously indignant Mr. LeClair.

To a World-Herald reporter who recently took a 5-percent pay cut and watched dozens of his colleagues thrown into the unemployment line. I wonder how much milk got taken out of their babies' mouths . . . how much food off their tables?

But apart from the sheer offensiveness of LeClair's remarks to the newspaper, how incompetent can you get as a union president? How public-relations unsavvy?

Apparently, Jim Suttle is contagious. Somebody better quarantine city hall before the whole damn city comes down with a bad case of the stupids.

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