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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why Are Northampton County Employees so Damn Mad?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingTonight, Northampton County employees will rally outside the courthouse after work, and then march into to county council chambers to demand fair treatment. Why are they so damn mad? You'd be mad, too. Here's just some things that have happened in the past four years.

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.


LSTresidentPIA said...

Let us get something straight about Mr. McClure and how he makes his living. He is a lawyer who makes his living winning damages for those who got lung cancer mesothelioma (sp) from absetos exposure, Other than county employees, most of his clients have to be blue-collar workers from say an old industrial area like the valley where there might be a lot of clients who were once unionized workers like steelworkers.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, Lamont McClure is union friendly. I think the entire council should be friendly to the worker as well as John Stoffa. That's why I can't understand that this has become an issue.

And it should be the county's top priority - more important than new buildings, roads for Walmart, buying environmentally sensitive land for Upper Mt Bethel swamplands, a parking lot for luxury apartments at Riverport, or a road in Bethlehem for an industrial developer.

Anonymous said...

People first...absolutely. But I thought you were all for preserving "enviornmentally sensitive areas," Bernie. By the way, "swampland" is not a bad four-letter word...its an old-fashioned synonym for wetland. I know you know that...guess you're just using the "s" word here for negative effect.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 11:38, We're on the same page. I don't mean to minimize the importance of purchasing environmentally sensitive lands. But as you point out, people should be first. The county has immersed itself in these projects, but its first priority must be the welfare of its workforce. I, for one, do not feel any sense of satisfaction when the county buys open space when I know its employees are forced to seek public assistance for food and heating.

House of Crayons said...

Now we are singing the same tune Bernie!!!
People come first.
Special interests and hobbies are convienience items that should be rationed and budgeted.
The people are important.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Someone please explain this concept to Lower Saucon Township. Trees are not more important that people.

RadCenter said...

Bernie, I know you know this, but "environment vs. people" is the same false choice that "pro-growth" lobbyists are always bringing up. In fact, without trees and wetlands, there would be no people. They are the lungs and kidneys of the planet.

And it is invariably more expensive fix the damage caused by neglect of the environment than it is to care for it in the first place. Witness the recent catastrophic flooding along the Delaware. Witness New Orleans. Witness western wildfires and midwestern droughts. All partially the result of human destruction of ecosystems.

Open space preservation was overwhelming supported by countywide referendum; therefore the county has an obligation to those citizens who voted for it to follow through on its promises. The fact that the county is disgracefully underpaying its employees is a separate issue entirely.

But fear not! The Sands BethWorks Casino will solve all of the Valley's fiscal problems [sarcasm]!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Radcenter, Listen., don't get me wrong. Of course I think open space is very important. And I have no desire to get involved in a jobs v. environment debate. My sole point is timing. Take care of your people then take care of these other things.

For example, the very distinguished Dave Maguire from the Sierra Club was in front of council tonight demanding funding programs for open space. Now there were also about 100 angry workers there, too, and they have sen no raises and some would be paid better at Taco Bell. Needless to sat, Maguire's was not warmly received by the audience.

But the ironic truth is some of his projects have already been funded while employees suffer.
I don't buy into destroyin environmentally sensitive areas because of jubs produced. That's bull. But this situation is a little different.

Take care.