Most states are facing tough economic times and having great difficulty balancing state government budgets. This is certainly true in Delaware and surrounding states. Pay cut proposals for state workers were floated in Maryland and Pennsylvania but quickly rejected. Other solutions managed to at least temporarily stem the tide of red ink were found without unduly punishing state employees.
In Delaware, the Democratic Governor Jack Markell has put his political weight behind a massive 8% pay cut for state workers. The proposal is almost universally opposed by every labor union in the state and the vast majority of the progressive community. The reception for the massive pay cut proposal in Democratic Party circles has been fairly cool to outright hostile. Opposition to the pay cuts has been growing and getting increasingly organized.
All those opposition groups contend that the Governor did not give enough consideration to alternatives like tapping the Rainy Day Fund, the detailed set of proposals by State Representative John A. Kowalko, Jr. commonly referred to as the "Kowalko Plan" or specific ideas coming from actual state employees. Alternatives have been either under-reported or utterly disregarded by most of the media in the state. Representative Kowalko has offered to present his plan to any group of citizens in the state desiring to learn about the "Kowalko Plan."
The State Workers United for a Better Delaware is a coalition of labor organizations in opposition to the proposed 8% across the board pay cuts for state workers. Included in the coalition are the Delaware State Troopers Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 81, theDelaware State Education Association (DSEA), DSEA-Retired, Teamsters Local 326, the Correctional Officers Association (COAD), Communications Workers of America Local 13101, the State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), FOP Lodge 3, FOP Lodge 10, FOP Lodge 11, the Delaware Attorney General Investigators Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27. The proposed pay cuts will impact 33,000 state workers in Delaware.
According to police sources, an estimated 2,500 state workers and supporters rallied in front of Legislative Hall in Dover the evening of May 6, 2008 to officially launch the coalition. This was one of the largest labor union crowds gathered in Delaware in recent memory.
While there were numerous prominent speakers sharing comments from the stage, workers and allies in the crowd were eager to share their views on the proposed wage cuts and the current economic situation in Delaware.
Jeff Pittman, a spokesperson for AFSCME, stated that "the proposed 8% pay cuts will hurt all Delaware taxpayers. It means 8% less in the pockets of all state workers. There will be 8% less spent with small businesses in Delaware. There will be 8% less from state workers in collection plates at churches and 8% less in donations to charitable causes. Altogether, $91 million will go missing out of the Delaware economy."
UFCW Local 27 Assistant Organizing Director Brian Nesbit said, "An 8% pay cut would have a devastating impact of the spending power of Delaware residents. We already have an income crisis in America. The last thing we should be doing is cutting the wages of working Americans."
Vice President of the Delaware State Troopers Association Thomas Brackin was very positive in his comments about the labor support, "this issue has galvanized the entire labor movement. We have received calls from every labor union in the state. To have everyone together and united on this issue is unprecedented and wonderful."
He went on to say, "Across the board pay cuts are a quick fix solution however this is a long term problem and the only way to get out of a deficit of this magnitude is to grow your way out not cut your way out. When you negatively impact the buying power of the State's 30,000 employees you simply deepen the problem. Frankly I am disappointed that rather then make the difficult and unpopular decisions to enhance revenue the governor and his staff took the easy way out with across the board cuts for State Employees knowing they will be back to the drawing board next year without a better long term solution."
As if to prove Brackin's point on labor solidarity, the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1183 Financial Secretary Alena Bandy was spotted in the crowd. There are no state workers represented by UAW Local 1183.
Although they are not subject to the proposed pay cuts, the entire leadership of ATU Local 842 attended the rally. This union local stands solidly with the state workers fighting the proposed pay cuts.
Wali Rushdan, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 842, remarked, "The thing about unions is that we stick together. This rally and effort shows that unions are coming together in support of state workers. If they fail, we all fail. Pay cuts for state workers puts pressure on all workers in Delaware. It sets a really bad precedent! We have to make politicians understand that we have a backbone and are willing to prove it."
Teamsters Local 326 President John J. Ryan, Sr. was accompanied by at least 15 fellow members of his local. Ryan stated, "Although we only represent 12 state workers (Harbor Patrol Officers) out of our approximately 2,000 members, we are here to support all our brothers and sisters working throughout the state. It is important to note that there are alternatives to the proposed pay cuts. For example, we could save a great deal of money if we changed the way group homes are organized and financed. Doing this would help create more jobs for Delawareans instead of out-of-state contractors."
Delaware Working Families Party Organizer Daniel Charlton expressed his opinion by stating "Delaware's state workers are the ones providing essential services to the rest of our residents. We cannot ask them to sacrifice 8% of their income without looking at fairer options. There are better ways of closing the budget gap than asking only state workers to sacrifice. This is a time when we all need to come together to work for the best solutions and singling out state workers does not meet that standard."
The National Treasurer of the FOP Thomas F. Penoza is a Delaware resident. Recently, he helped found and serves as President of the Delaware Attorney General Investigators Association. Penoza stated "Markell wants us to keep providing services to the citizens of Delaware but is asking us to make an unreasonable contribution to the total sacrifices needed to balance the state budget. The proposed pay cuts are putting too much of the burden on too few."
Doug Watts, President of FOP Lodge 10 said his union represents about 260 members in Delaware. In regards to the pay cut proposal, Watts said, "I do not think this is fair. The Governor said the budget solution should be fair, shared and compassionate. I do not see these features in his state worker pay cut proposal. It is not fair to balance the entire state budget on the backs of 33,000 state workers."
Brian P. Douty, Secretary of the FOP State Lodge, clearly stated his organization's position. "The Delaware FOP represents over 2,200 law enforcement officers in this state encompassing 14 local lodges that include Probation and Parole, the Capitol Police Department, Alcohol and Tobacco, Fire Marshals and DNREC, in addition to municipal law enforcement agencies. All of us protect and serve the citizens of Delaware. We are providing valuable services and facing danger daily. We should not be facing these proposed severe pay cuts in return for doing our duty as law enforcement professionals."
DSEA Executive Board member Tom Chapman shared his views, "We are in full support of the citizens of Delaware during these tough times in the state. We understand that there is a budget crisis. However, we cannot balance the state budget on the backs of lower and middle income workers which make up the vast majority of state workers."
Shula Reaves, Vice President of COAD brought the issue home by explaining how the proposed pay cuts would impact his family. "I think this proposed pay cut is terrible. We really cannot afford it. My wife also works for the state. We are going to take a double hit on both pay and health insurance. This is unfair to my children. We have not had a pay raise in 5 years."
The State Workers United for a Better Delaware in coming weeks will be staging numerous additional events in Dover to fight the pay cut proposal. There will be more Coalition Lobby Days on May 27, June 3, June 10, June 17 and June 24.
Stephen Crockett is co-host of Democratic Talk Radio and author of the Democratic Voices opinion column.