The issues that divide Oak Park’s village government and the village hall staffers who went out on strike for two days this week are not enormous in terms of the dollar spread. But they are significant when considered in terms of governing philosophy and the moment we live in politically and economically.
We get that village employees — and this is an odd amalgamation of about 75 clerks, public works staffers and parking ticket enforcement staff — are frustrated. Locally, these have been hard years in which overall staff has been substantially reduced, pay raises have been modest and work levels have increased. Nationally, public employees have been vilified in unfair ways, though there remain legitimate and complex issues tied mainly to pensions. We would note that every overly rich pension deal ever agreed to in government had two signatories and that blaming it all on employees is wrongheaded.
Oak Park’s village government, though, has also been through the economic wringer. Cutting jobs, outsourcing jobs, maintaining services, dealing with falling fee revenues, all while keeping a lid on the small portion of the local property tax bill it collects, hasn’t been easy. And while the village gets whipsawed on errors made — poorly managed TIFs, overreaching on streetscaping — it has managed our resources rather well in hard times.
Now the village is properly pushing to hold the line on salary costs, is looking to limit overtime excesses and is keen on having merit components factor into compensation. The SEIU may claim that a full 2 percent wage hike for this bargaining unit would cost only $75,000 per year, but trustees understand that there are, remarkably, six unions and nine bargaining units at village hall. Any raise given to one group is seen as a baseline for the next.
So we side with the village in this negotiation and would urge these employees to return to federally mediated talks to settle this disruption. Oak Parkers are predisposed to side with public employees. That there hasn’t been any notable outpouring of support for this two-day strike action tells us that even liberal villagers are feeling intense pain in this deep recession and aren’t in their typical giving mood.