Management, labor may never find common ground


“In the past, I have agreed with you maybe once,” writes Eugene J. Voight of Port Angeles, who described himself as a retired IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) lineman, $46 an hour plus the best medical and $6 an hour annuity, “and I read the paper agnostically.

“True to form, you complain about unions while assiduously neglecting to ever point to the carpet bagging professional business and hereditary classes which have gotten us into the decline we are in for.

“Usually you attack union leadership but this time it’s the rank and file. Public sector employees have always and will continue to receive far less in hourly (not salary) compensation than their private sector counterparts for the same work. Traditionally, earlier retirement and good benefits (medical, vacation) was their compensation equalizer.

“Since the Reagan revulsion (sic) they have increasingly paid their medical and wages have not kept up with inflation. For you to cite some ratty stooge of management who belongs behind a McDonald’s counter is just your style. And over 2 % that has already been agreed is pathetic.

“Where were you when the port gave away those multiple pieces of the people’s birthright to the wealthy? When Gregoire and Hammond finalized the ruination of our ferry system? I can only imagine what you did during your productive years. What a bitter old fool you are.”

Mr. Voight is referring to a letter I ran from Laurene O’Brien Hooper, also of Port Angeles, who responded to a column in which I questioned whether the state employee labor unions would offer to forego a 2 percent salary increase this year that Gov. Chris Gregoire has not funded because of the expected $5.8 billion shortfall in revenue.

The Washington Federation of State Employees has instead filed a lawsuit against her seeking restoration of the raise they negotiated with her, as have a couple of other state employee unions.

Mrs. Hooper identified herself as a 15-year state employee and proud union member who would forego the 2 percent raise if the other elements in the contract remained, such as additional time off, personal leave days and allowing employees to share sick leave with those who have used up their own and need it.

What the Federation would really like, I was told by Tim Walsh of WSFE, is to have a sit-down with the governor and renegotiate the contract. My comment was “better late than never” which I do not regard as attacking anybody.

What’s really too bad is the fact that two factions, management and labor, each of which cannot function without the other, are constantly at each other’s throats. I get just as angry as every other working stiff when I read of the gargantuan salaries, bonuses and pensions paid by management to its managers, as I do when a union like that at Boeing walks off the job knowing the damage it will do to the employer.

I agree with Mr. Voight that the 2 percent raise to state employees was pathetic, but it was better than nothing. And it isn’t lost yet. It may yet be funded. Most state employees also are in a step system of pay increases whereby they will get them even if they don’t get a raise. That’s not generally something available in the private sector.

Mrs. Hooper is not a ratty stooge of management, she’s a pragmatic state employee who is willing to take what she can get when the going is rough.

As for you, Mr. Voight, hate is debilitating. Get over it.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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