When Mayor Joe Ganim and city bean counters crafted a budget in the spring that was eventually approved by the City Council for the spending year starting July 1 it assumed $4 million in union concessions. Mayor Joe’s an experienced negotiator, better than most sitting on the other side of the table. Okay, he told financial officials, let’s plug in a reasonable number and squeeze unions for concessions to balance the budget. He’s been in that position before. Except rank and file union members, many of whom had supported Joe over Bill Finch (against their union leadership) in last September’s Democratic primary, are tired of giving back, especially when they see so many of Joe’s discretionary hires earning around six figures.
Labor peace comes with a price. Let’s turn back the clock.
It’s early winter of 1986 and young Democratic Mayor Tom Bucci who had defeated Republican Lenny Paoletta a few months prior running on a platform of labor peace because Paoletta could not come to terms with organized labor on contracts, decided he wanted to settle union business.
Bucci’s appointed labor negotiator David Dunn cried foul, “If you do that it will break the bank.”
The mid 1980s was a different world with a burgeoning economy. Municipal chief executives handing out 5,6,7 percent annual pay increases to unions was not uncommon. Bucci urged to upgrade the pay scale of folks who had voted for him. Dunn argued it was nuts because it would come with a cost down the road that would cost the incumbent, especially with a dwindling city tax base. Those industrial powerhouses such as Bridgeport Brass that had employed thousands were closing or leaving the city.
Bucci told Dunn to cut the deal he wanted with the unions. Dunn, chain-of-command-oriented, did what his boss ordered.
A few years later Dunn’s prescience materialized. The budget blew up, a tax increase followed, and Bucci sought a state bailout. It was not all on Bucci who was fighting a number of factors he had inherited, a smaller tax base, less state and federal support to keep the tax rate in check. In 1989, he was defeated by Republican Mary Moran, the first female mayor in city history.
When Ganim was elected mayor, just 32 years old, in his first tenure in November of 1991 the city was literally in federal bankruptcy court placed there by Moran who wanted to break the back of union contracts. A federal judge ruled against her; she appealed and Joe, the youngest mayor in city history, was left with an extraordinary mess.
Ganim and his Labor Relations Director Dennis Murphy went to work appealing to city unions to swallow zero increases so the city could regain its financial footing. Everything is relative, right? Back then the mayor’s pay was a whopping $52,000 a year. Most of Ganim’s department heads were in the $40 to $50k range. It was harder for union leadership to argue, try as they may, that you have a bunch of fat cats on the payrolls.
It’s a different story in JG2. Most of Ganim’s discretionary appointees are in the $100K range benefiting from modernized pay scales approved by the City Council over the past decade. The mayor’s entire pay package including salary and extended benefits is now valued at roughly $160k.
Make no mistake, if the unions don’t offer concessions amendable to Ganim, he will authorize painful layoffs. But Ganim will be in a stronger position with unions if he sacrifices, or cuts back, a couple of his discretionary appointees.
What will Joe do?