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Plug In A Number, Figure Out The Rest, Ganim’s Challenge With Unions

June 29th, 2016 · 11 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, City Council

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?

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Bob Walsh

    Don’t forget to thank Council President McCarthy. He was the experienced labor negotiator. He helped sell this $4 million to the Council along with the $20 million deficit from Finch. I guess that make it $24 million and counting the taxpayers can thank him for. I repeat, $24 million and counting. Thanks Tommy. We will show our appreciation on Primary Day.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Can we take the Mayor at his word? Perhaps some day, but not on the basis of the first eight months. Why not? Because the Mayor has not talked to the taxpayers directly telling them ALL THE FACTS. While campaigning he ran on STOP RAISING TAXES. He wins and sends an INCREASED BUDGET without considering the concerns of parents whose 22,000 children will face a DECREASED SCHOOL EXPERIENCE in the coming year. He did not put out a City Employee Table of Organization as has been normal, so we have no idea whether “net on net” there has been any reduction in city employees, and if so, where? And permanent or not? And BIG GOALS FOR OUR GREAT CITY that were unshared and cost this much? And now he is asking the unions to belly up to his bar and make adjustments to make his plan look good. But he is doing so without showing what the Finch administration and TOM MCCARTHY created for Police and Fire personnel in terms of retirement benefits, based on overtime pay over a career, that have already pushed the City balance sheet into the “red” and will keep it there for years to come, have incredibly increased fixed costs in the out years but never shared same with the City Council (except Tom McCarthy, formerly in Labor Relations would have known about these funding implications but never told his fellow Council members–”conflict of interest?”).

    We are in a financial mess. Nothing that has not been said to the Council two times per month and then posted on OIB for several years. But Ganim was to be a solution. Instead, he has covered his tracks and access to fiscal info in the first budget. The new fiscal year begins on Friday, July 1, 2016. What will the FINAL Finch year look like? Will Ganim become more OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE, TRANSPARENT and HONEST? Time will tell.

  • Ron Mackey

    JML, sad but true, many voters were hoping for better but Mayor Joe Ganim has not been OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE, TRANSPARENT or HONEST. You would think he would let the voters in on what is going on with this financial mess like you have stated. Time has already told us.

    • Andrew C Fardy

      Joe Ganim is just going through the motions of being mayor. Right now Bridgeport is a rudderless ship. This is not the same Ganim we elected the first time. Could it be this time out his core governing group is made up of people with terminal dumb ass?
      Before he went after the unions he should have shelved the majority of his political hires. Do we really need a guy going around checking potholes for $91K? Do we need Stallworth at a high figure? There are more than enough political people whose salaries will close the gaps. Get rid of the meter maids and use cops on restricted duty to empty the meters. If you try, you can find the savings.

      • Lisa Parziale

        Andy, this is getting scary; I’m agreeing with you all the time. Joe2 is not the same as G1, he seems to be isolated in his office with safe people around him. By now he should have had experienced professionals in his inner circle who can look at issues with objectivity and knowledge. The energy and confidence he once had is gone, and Andy I agree he’s going through the motions. I believe once he realized he could pull off getting elected that was his only focus. He had no plan, and chose only those who pledged their loyalty in blood. The only authentic person is AJ Perez, and I think if he thought G2 would be open to advice, AJ would do it. Get ready for the ride!!!

  • Harvey Weintraub

    Have to agree with most here, very disappointed with JG2 so far. He has shown us nothing in the way of figures, nothing to justify his repeated calls for givebacks, etc. In the winter he was repaying his supporters with six-figure jobs, never mentioning givebacks. And now he is threatening layoffs???, further reducing what little service we the taxpayers will receive. Hey Joe, how bout cutting your buddy Chapman loose? How about taking away the ridiculous $9000 a year each councilperson gets to ultimately donate to the charity of their choice? How about getting rid of Tiago, the $96,000 position checking potholes Finch created for him as payback for his support? Start with these and then show us some numbers. This is bullshit.

  • Michael Bottillo

    You are so right, Andrew. How much does Joe want from the workers? Everything is going up, but not the pay. Joe, time to cut out your top staff.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    First off, I would like to thank Joe Ganim for dropping my assessment $25K.
    Now I want to tell him what a phony he is. Sure he made a token gesture by laying off a few lower-level people but no real effort was made to cut the political appointees. MOST OF ALL I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR RAISING MY TAXES $480, Asshole.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    I just thought about what I just wrote and I am the asshole for staying here.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Andy, since you and I met each other about eight years ago and formed a coalition of two under the title, Budget Oversight Bridgeport (BOB), we have learned a good deal by our “watchdog” activities each year, and connecting many of the dots. We have also tried to provide accurate information in our comments to the public, especially when comparing or connecting comments from those in power with the reality/lack of truth of what they are saying. My taxes are up, your taxes are up, what’s up Mr. Mayor? Time will tell.

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