1. Over 100 positions were eliminated, and 40 workers were pink-slipped on Northampton County's Black Friday, February 6, 2004.
2. Those that remained have seen no payraises for nearly four years, and the layoffs mean they do more work for less money.
3. Although county employees have seen no pay increases, inflation has sky-rocketed in the Lehigh Valley. The consumer price index in the Lehigh Valley rose a whopping seven per cent in 2005, the largest annual increase ever measured in the 22-year history of The Morning Call/Kamran Afshar Consumer Price Index.
4. New employees like Director of Administration John Conklin have been hired at astronomical salaries, but the rank and file are ignored.
5. County council just gave its staff 18-20% pay increases, while doing nothing for the county's remaining employees.
6. In August, county council very nearly gave itself a $2,500 payraise, a 35% increase, and would have succeeded had it not been vetoed by county exec Stoffa.
7. Judges have been provided plush new quarters on a "private" floor in a public courthouse while many rank and file employees have seen their working space shrink from the supposed "expansion."
8. It is nearly impossible to park anywhere near the courthouse, and until recently, the county actually was considering charging its underpaid employees for the privilege of parking.
9. Many row office workers became ill from mold, dust and Fiberglas particles accompanying the new construction, and no one cared until state health inspectors were involved.
10. Employees with frozen wages watched incredible waste as perfectly good furniture and equipment were "thrown away."
11. Employees with frozen wages see another, and often mentioned, example of government waste in the form of the court's garish wind-sensitive fountain and accompanying landscaping, complete with inlaid irrigation pipes.
12. When county council timidly suggested that extravagances like that fountain or the marble floors be eliminated, judges paraded en masse before county council to demand every penny allocated, and then some. But they made no similar pitch for the lifeblood of this county - its workforce. (I wonder if they're busy tonight).
13. While judges enjoy their catered lunches in a private dining room, the cafeteria for the masses has been taken away and employees must eat in hallways or at their desks.
14. Some rank and file employees, even those with 12 or 13 years of seniority, seek some form of assistance with home heating and for food.
15. Courthouse workers with serious safety concerns, like prison guards, have previously been denied the right to address council because some of what they discuss might be part of labor negotiations. This is a blatant violation of the Sunshine Act, which gives any resident the right to address council on any matter of concern. I expect council to try to shoo workers away tonight, too. But they have a right to speak. And council has an obligation to listen.
After three years, it's time somebody listens. This mess was inherited by both John Stoffa and our current county council. But they've had nearly a year now to resolve what should be the county's top priority. It's becoming their mess. And by the way, the rumored 3.3% offer is a joke that actually amounts to a pay cut. If the county can raise taxes to buy some swamp land or build roads in Bethlehem and Wind Gap for fat cat developers, it can pay its employees a living wage.
In all my dealings with county executive John Stoffa, he has been fair and honorable. He wants to do what's right. And our new county council is union friendly. Charles Dertinger is a third generation union electrician. Lamont McClure positioned AFL-CIO union members to hand out pamphlets during the last congressional campaign. Diane Neiper and John Cusick both belong to teachers' unions.
Just do it.