These have been tough years financially for local governments across America. Revenues dropping from all sources. Obligations taken on during boom times still coming due. And a lack of financial reserves, as too many officials failed to grasp that good times never last forever.
That's the situation Oak Park's village government has faced since the economy tanked and its response to containing the cost of daily operations has been fierce and necessary. Jobs have been outsourced. Jobs have been cut. Salaries of some staff have been frozen.
Now with a union contract for a wide swath of village hall administrative and public works staff being negotiated hard on both sides, the tensions of these tough years are boiling. We get that. These years have been no fun for either managers or workers. Compound that with the massive pounding public employees and their unions are unreasonably taking nationwide and we have a situation locally that is escalating beyond the normal tensions of a contract negotiation.
Already the two sides are meeting with a federal mediator (the most recent meeting was Monday after our early press time). Already the union won an overwhelming vote of members to authorize a strike declaration if leaders deem it necessary.
To date, only the union is talking about the substance of the negotiating points. Our read is that the village's reported positions seem reasonable both in the immediate financial trough and in shifting the pendulum back somewhat from previous contracts.
We believe in merit pay for employees whether they work in private or public sectors. Yes, there are challenges in creating a balanced approach to merit. Does not make it impossible or a bad idea. We think paying double time for weekend and holiday work is excessive. And we know that workers everywhere sometimes exploit the confluence of overtime pay with sick days, holiday pay and vacation days.
Believing these things does not make the newspaper, or the village government, into Scott Walker clones. You can support public employee unions and still want a better deal for taxpayers.