Chris’s Corner: Watch the Unions

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Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Council member and can be reached at


By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

With the primary elections moving from September to June, and with the related petition process moving from June/July to February/March, candidates interested in running for office no longer have the luxury of waiting until the middle of the year to announce their intentions.

If they want to run, they’ll need to declare their intentions now, if they haven’t already.

In Niagara Falls city government, there are two Council seats up this year and, of course, the Mayoral election. With the incumbent mayor deciding not to run, as I’m writing this column there are three candidates in the race, two Democrats and one Republican.

There are a lot of moving parts to this race, and it’s going to be quite interesting to watch. You have two contrasting Democrats with seemingly two different constituencies, and a Republican who was a Democrat during the last mayoral election and who is the boss of a union representing municipal employees.

Some observers will bet on the energy of the millennials and others will bet on the power of the older voters. It’s unclear which constituencies the Republican candidate will draw.

I’m sure many observers will contend this race will be determined in the Democratic primary in June because of the large registration advantage the Democrats have.

I’ll be watching to see who the unions support, particularly the municipal unions.

I’m not bothered by union involvement in the political process, so long as their expenditures are reported per law, just as I’m not bothered by other political action groups and individuals getting involved in the process. So long as there is transparency, I believe money mixing with politics is OK. 

As columnist George Will has pointed out, more money is spent on advertising for chewing gum and soft drinks than is spent on the political process, and I believe the political process is more important than bubble gum. So I don’t mind organized political groups spending money to get their message out. 

But I believe watching who the unions support is instructive because, let’s face it, they have a keen interest in protecting the status quo. Eighty-percent of the city’s budget goes to personnel costs. If the next mayor plans on right-sizing city government, of standing with the taxpayers, something I’ve been advocating, he is going to have to go after that 80%.

That could mean health insurance premium contributions, or adjustments to work rules that force up overtime and inhibit productivity, or even wage rate escalation issues. While these things are contractual, a good negotiator who wants to do the right thing for taxpayers could bring the unions to the table to fix some of these problems and avoid dreaded mass layoffs. 

Something needs to be done to reduce and eventually eliminate our multi-million dollar structural budget deficit, and it’s simply impossible to do it without touching personnel expenses.

So if you see the unions line up behind one of the candidates, that should be a clear signal that that candidate is most interested in keeping that 80% of the budget relatively intact. In other words, when it comes to standing up for taxpayers or standing up for municipal unions, they’ve made their choice.

On the other hand, if you see the unions go after one of the candidates with attack mailers and robo-calls, then that candidate just might be the candidate of change, the candidate who wants to right-size government.

Because this race may be determined in the Democratic primary, you’ll likely see intense activity in June, as opposed to the usual activity in the fall. It should be fun to watch.

And remember, I love unions. I just feel there should be a reasonable balance between their best interests and the best interests of taxpayers.


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