Chris’s Corner: City Employees and City Workers

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By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

I learned shortly after my last column was published that a lot of city workers read it and understood where I was coming from. They understand our financial predicament, and they want to be part of the solution, and not victims of the solution.

I was at a city facility shortly after the column was published and a city worker there told me that he and others agreed with my thinking, and he pointed out something that I believe we all know, but sometimes we let stereotypes cloud our thinking.

The city worker in question said, “there are city employees, and there are city workers.” That is a profound statement.

I believe the vast majority of city employees are also city workers. They love their city, they want to serve it as best they can, and they want to help out where they can as they know the city is in a financial bind.

People who mock public employees or suggest they don’t work hard are simply wrong. Sure, there are some employees who try to milk the system and take advantage of dual union/civil service protections. Mismanagement may cause inefficiencies that people may witness and then blame the employees, instead of management. And of course there are union contracts that have work rules that sometimes make city employees seem inefficient.

On the issue of public employee unions, there’s some confusion there as well. There are seven different unions that represent city workers. Making things even more confusing, there are two separate unions representing fire department employees and two separate unions represent police department employees. Each department has a union representing the front-line employees and a union representing the brass. When we lump all city employees together and comment on them, we do the hard working city workers a terrible injustice.

I wrote a column on the police and fire brass unions back in September of 2018, and took a good drubbing from the head of the police brass union. (In the interest of transparency I posted his broadside of me on my own Facebook page, so my supporters could see not only my column but also the other side of the story.)

Whatever you think about government employees, the vast majority of our city employees are working hard every day to keep us safe, to keep our streets clear, to keep our local government operating. So let’s not look at city workers with scorn. Let’s celebrate them and thank them for what they do for us.

But let’s also push to make government more efficient, to improve how we manage government functions and to renegotiate union contracts that cause government to be much more expensive than it needs to be.

The taxpayers simply can’t afford inefficient government. City workers know it, and many want to help. Let’s work together on solutions that streamline government and reduce expenses without resorting to threats and scare tactics about public safety.

With a new Republican majority Council coming in January, I’ll push to form a bi-partisan Budget Committee to investigate expense reduction opportunities. 

Working in a bi-partisan fashion with the new administration, we’ll try to find savings that will help us get our spending under control. Or as I’ve been saying for a while now, we’ll put government on a diet.

 

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