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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Should Shadtown's Sal Panto Cross That Providence Picket Line?

This year's 77th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors is slated to start Friday in host city Providence, R.I. One hundred eighty-four mayors are pre-registered, including Easton Mayor Sal Panto. But Panto is being pressured by the LV Labor Council to stay in Shadtown.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline has tangled with union firefighters since his election in 2003, primarily over copays for health insurance. The International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed Obama, plans to picket the event. Rather than cross that line, Team Obama has elected to skip the event. "We have always respected picket lines, and administration officials will not cross this one," announces President Obama's spokesperson, Robert Gibbs.

Panto still thinks he should go, and this is what he told the Labor Council.

"Please be advised that I am attending the US Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in Providence. As you are aware, I have been a member of two labor unions - Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Easton Area Education Association (where twice we picketed while on strike).

"However, these are difficult times and while I may understand that the Obama Administration may choose to not cross as a member I will be attending.

"In the last 18 months I successfully negotiated a contract with the FOP and we are currently in negotiations with AFSCME. However, on Monday we will commence Act 111 Arbitration with the IAFF. As I said these are difficult times and I inherited a city that was several million dollars in debt, pension deficits beyond $23 million and a healthcare budget unfunded by more than a million dollars. We have taken serious steps to bring our city into fiscal balance and must continue to do so. Remember, Easton residents experienced a 66% increase in property taxes under the former Administration. Our residents have had enough of the post retirement benefits, the excellent benefit package as well as a salary that rivals the private
sector. The end result is that past Administration have CUT POSITIONS. My goal is to hire more unionized employees to deliver the service that our residents deserve, and expect.

"I began this term with 52 police officers ands 4 code officers and today we have 58 officers with a goal of 64 and an additional code officer with 2 more being hired in the later part of this year (provided revenues continue on their current level.)

"We are currently short 3 firefighters. THERE IS ONLY SO MUCH MONEY. I CAN'T SPLIT THE PIE ANYMORE so depending on the arbitration award, the reality of adding those three positions is slim.

"Mayors across this country are saddled with the most important services our residents need and require yet we have the most regressive source of revenue.

"It will bother me to cross the line but I am the mayor for 28,000 residents and they deserve to have me learn as much as possible --- especially in these times.

"I am more than happy to discuss this with you further at anytime. (And if you could implore and encourage our local IAFF to be more reasonable in their demands it would be much appreciated).

"As always, I am available to help and support the Local Labor Council and look to a time when all employers will be able to give valued employees the wage and benefits they need and deserve."

Unsatisfied by Sal's salvo, Labor Council Prez Greg Potter is asking Panto to reconsider.

"Organized labor appreciates your commitment to negotiating in good faith the way that you always have. That is why we are so disappointed in your decision to attend this meeting and cross the picket line of the IAFF. Having been a union member, twice ---from different unions and locals, you certainly are aware of the dangers and mixed signals that can be perceived and realized by crossing a picket line. Crossing a picket line shatters the most sacred of values held by union members. Many have given their lives while attending a picket line. My union wears read every Thursday in memory of a member who was killed by the child of a NYNEX manager who broke our line and subsequently killed a member. We do not forget!!

"I believe that your negotiations with the IAFF would be enhanced by your decision NOT to cross the line in Providence and in fact could give you an advantage while negotiating with the Easton Firefighters. You would be leading by example, and from a negotiating standpoint, it would be difficult in principle to beat you up on this issue.

"As a fellow union member, I urge you to reconsider your decision and NOT attend this function. President Obama, politically has much more than you to lose by abstaining to attend this conference. I hope you can take some of his courage and choose to stay away from this venue in the name of decency. You have proved yourself to be a man of principle and I hope that you can choose to do the right thing on this important issue. This is your chance to lead by example and I hope that you don't miss this historic opportunity."

Bethlehem Boss John Callahan and Allentown Czar Edwin Pawlowski never planned on attending this conference in the first place, so they're home free on this one. Both Panto and Potter state their cases well. But what's the right thing to do? Should Mayor Sal cross that picket line or stay home? What would you do?


Anonymous said...

I have only ever worked in corporate professional environments where Unions are something remembered in college history books so I am no one to comment on this sitatuation because it's so foreign to me. I just had to say that I do have friends that work in County and municipal governments and I've been present when they get into talks about salaries and benefits. Besides having amazing benefits, better than any I've ever seen in corporate environments, I am always amazed at the power the employees have in regards to salaries and benefits. Salary surveys, manipulations of careers to get the best pensions, ("Well, he won't go for that job because if he stays then he can accrue enough time to get blah blah") plus Union contracts, etc... it's amazing to me to hear them talk. You would never hear those discussions in the corporate world where you just work hard and you get what you get- especially now during layoffs, employees get screwed and are powerless. I was just laid off along with two others in my dept. and I got paid for my vacation accrued and they didn't. That's that. Try to fight it when Corporate is 3,000 miles away. I don't think I've ever seen anyone get raises without taking on new responsibilites or new titles in any of the five corporations I've worked for. No one expected a raise just because a year passed by. What are we? Canadians? I'm not saying one way is better than the other but it amazes me the huge difference between the corporate world and the Unionized municipal employee world. They both seem to be at extremes. A nice balance between the two might be nice.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Great points. Now what do you do? Do you cross the picket line or honor it?

Rising Sun said...

Anon 12:50,

I don't know who your friends are, but most unionized workers I know are as blue collar as they come, and hardly "have it good." They earn every dollar they get.

Anonymous said...

All Hail the mighty Corporate world. GM, Chrysler, Bethelehem Steel. All examples of the best Corporate America can be. Examples we should all aspire to.

Anonymous said...

Anon 345am, you just gave great examples of management and labor working together to torpedo great companies.

Rising Sun, you're right about blue collar workers. However, regarding government employees Anon 1250 has a point. Example - Ted Kohuth retired from the PA State Police at about 50yrs old (he put in his time, retired with full pension), then became Chief of the Whitehall Police - full salary and he'll retire with a pension from there in a few years. "Retiring" at age 50 with a full pension does not exist for other unions nor any private sector employee. Why should it exist for public sector employees?

Mayor Panto should cross the picket line. With everything cities face, now is not the time for unions to pull this, and it's not the time for anyone to honor it.

The Banker

Sal Panto, Jr. said...

Those individuals who choose to respond please don't equate my wilingness to cross to not knowing what it is like to be out of work. No one understands the constraints on people out of work better than I do. I was out of work for more than 7 months due to "downsizing" in the private sector.

However, this is not about crossing a picket line where someone is not working. These firefighters are not on strike, they are being paid, they are working. This "picket line" is more of a protest line in which they are protesting the fact that they still do not have a "negotiated" contract. That is much different than workers striking and not working.

The city of Providence and the IAFF have been through binding arbitration hearings and the latest award is due in September. During that time they are still negotiating and an offer letter was sent to them by the Administration as recently as May 26th.

The issue with municipal unions is management's need for the employees to pay some form of healthcare co-share. In Easton our non-union employees have been paying a co-pay for the last five years. The FOP (police union) just agreed to the same co-pay this year and we successfully negotiated their contract. We are asking for amounts far less that that paid by non-municipal employees. We are also asking them to take more ownership in their healthcare program. For example, a 90-day mail-in prescription saves both the employee and the city money but yet very few of our employees take advantage of this for their maintenance meds.

Like Easton, the city of Providence, is facing tremendous financial difficulties. Municipal government provides the most needed services yet we have the most regressive form of revenue collections. We have a mandate to bring fiscal soundness back to Easton and we will hold true to that commitment. We will continue to support our "Clean and Safe" program and do it in the most cost-effective manner possible. We will continue to be responsible to our residents.

Anonymous said...

let's not forget that this trip is for the citizen's of this great city, not a union bashing trip, Time are tough out there and anything this mayor can do to find ways to cut cost without underlining the safety of our citizens, why not go ? I am a working union worker and i dont see this trip as a crossing the picket line type of trip, The mayor will be meeting with hundred of city mayor facing the same problem that all small towns are experiencing, if he come home with some new ideas and the city benefits from it, so be it. This mayor is doing a great job and if you look at his comments he is not going to eliminate jobs, Tell me who is downsizing in these time, any little bit of information that comes out of this trip should be beneficial to the citizens of this great city

Anonymous said...

I also am a union worker and management and unions never agree on anything, it is give and take , it is a game, and both parties make concession to work out the best contract that works for both parties, Just because a Mayor from Providence is always tangling with the union fighterfighter's in that town doesn't justify that all mayor's agree with his position, Our mayor has had good negotiations with the unions, and just because this conference Host city mayor David Cicilline is not a team player should not be a reflection of what our mayor is trying to accomplish.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mayor Sal,

One reason why you're so good for Easton is because you're willing to share your thinking with others. Instead of hiding behind closed doors, you will publicly explain your actions and beliefs and are willing to listen to other viewpoints. Thanks so much for popping on here to tell us how you feel. It's always an honor, and I will convert your comment into a separate post tomorrow for thise readers who do not usually look at the comments.

While I understand the need for a picket line in many cases, I do think you're doing the right thing. If these folks were out of a job, it would be different. if the issue were not something simple like copay on health insurance contracts, I could see the union's point.

Good luck in Providence.

Anonymous said...

i'm not familiar with RI law, but aren't firefighters legally barred from striking because they're essential services? so for Mayor Santo to state that "These firefighters are not on strike, they are being paid, they are working." is a manner of avoiding the question since such a situation would be legally impossible.

Anonymous said...

You are correct in that thye are not allowed to strike. However the Mayor is correct in that the point is that they are in arbitration, the hearings have been held and a neutral will make the award known in September. It is no different than the local IAFF here in Easton. I know they are in arbitration as well and the next hearing isn't scheduled until October. HOWEVER, as in the case of Easton, once the award is made it will be retoactive to the start date opf the contract. For Easton that will mean if the award comes out in November for X% the FF will receive that amount back to January 1st of this year.

As a former city employee it should be noted that it has been many years since the city of Easton has actually settled a contract with the FF. The norm is for them to go to an arbitrator where "ability to pay" doesn't enter into the formula. Hence Easton is compared to other municipalities that are a lot richer than us.

Anonymous said...

They are a union not legally permitted to strike. They are not picketing for fun. Their concerns are as meaningful to them as any of those of their brethren in similar stages of the collective bargaining process in Easton PA. They expect that sympathizers will not cross and those who do not sympathize will. We now know where Mayor Panto stands on the issue.

Anonymous said...

Tangled primarily over copays? Really, are these health insurance copayments, the whole purpose of which is to have the insurer bear a percentage of health care cost to deter him/her from seeking unecessary care? Are these the same copayments which almost all non-union employees are faced with?

The one word which people should associate with unions is greed. Pure and simple. The rules which apply to hardworking Americans, such as copayments, defined contribution retirement plans, and at will employment, don't apply to the elite members of organized labor. They routinely engage in intimidation and acts of vandalism if they don't get their way.

Long ago the American labor movement crossed over into insanity and infantilism.

Vote against the burlesque known as the Employee Free Choice Act. If passed, there will be a wholesale evacuation of jobs from America.

Rising Sun said...

Anon 7:12,

Save your anti-labor drivel. The average local president of a union lives on a blue collar salary, as do their members, and when it's strike time, they suffer. If they didn't negotiate a better wage and benefits, all of our wages and benefits would drop. Defending anti-worker positions is typical "let's stack the deck for big business rhetoric" from the Reagan era. That day is done. The world won't end though.

Scab Panto said...

Should be noted Mayor Panto worked for a anti-union outfit for some time in scab development and building.

Interesting he is quoting the FOP approved the contract deal. Of course the FOP often backs Republican NOT Democratic candidates for President and Governor.

I wonder if the Democratic big wigs in the Valley and State like Sal Panto playing the role of Right wing scab?

Quoting how non-union workers are paid like pigs, so unions should take it, sounds more Sarah Palin like.

Perhaps the Mayor should reconsider this wasteful trip to have a vacation as a "mayor".

Anonymous said...

Sarah Palin's husband is a proud member of the United Steelworkers. Those two likely wouldn't even cross this line. Don't bash her in order to get at Easton's scab mayor. He's worse than Palin here. His triangular equivocation is insulting. I'm glad Bernie brought the issue to his readers' attention. Having fought for recognition of a bargaining unit in a previous life, I'm surprised his treatment of Panto is so soft. Please don't criticize the next R who does exactly what the D golden boy is about to do.

Anonymous said...

And yes. This is a money wasting junket for a guy who knows how to work the system for a vacation. Easton will not be advanced in the least by his presence. He could accomplish as much via teleconference.

Anonymous said...

Unions strike and then settle and get back pay for the strike period. Who loses...? What a joke! Unions ruined the railroads , Bethlehem Steel , Mack Trucks, the automotive companies and now they`re working on bankrupting all levels of government. They are greedy and protect inept workers. They are the biggest welfare system we have.

Sal Panto, Jr. said...

"Scab Panto said...
Perhaps the Mayor should reconsider this wasteful trip to have a vacation as a "mayor"."

"Anonymous said - And yes. This is a money wasting junket for a guy who knows how to work the system for a vacation."

If I was taking a vacation I would be on a cruise boat in the middle of the Carribean and not in Providence RI.

Why not follow me in my footsteps and see what I do while I am there. Oh How can you do that? Your too much of a coward to give your name. You hide behide these blogs to discredit individuals wanting to do better for their residents.

As a former educator, I can assure you that education doesn't stop at graduation. We never stop learning and I will continue to learn as much as I can to make our city a better place for our residents.

Your words are meaningless to me because you hide behind fictitious names or anonymous.

"They are a union not legally permitted to strike. They are not picketing for fun. Their concerns are as meaningful to them as any of those of their brethren in similar stages of the collective bargaining process in Easton PA. They expect that sympathizers will not cross and those who do not sympathize will. We now know where Mayor Panto stands on the issue."

This Anonymous entry sounds like a local FF. I never said their issues were not meaningful to them or to our local. But negotiations are supposed to be two-sided. If management wants the municipal unions to pay co-pays for their extremely good healthcare plan than the union puts up something they believe is valuable. The issue isn't about being special, ALL employees are special, not just some.

And you are right the FF in Providence are not picketing for fun, they are picketing because they want to embarass the Mayor. What do they really want, the corrupt former Mayor Cianci who gave away the taxpayers hard earned money and landed himself in jail?

Anonymous said...

Unions suck. They need a dose of reality! Most firefighters in Easton just sit around the fire house all day doing nothing. Literally nothing. They should have Terrance Hand do a documentary on "a day as a Easton Firefighter". I bet it will be nothing more than a cat in a tree and internet surfing. Please note that i did say MOST fire fighters in Easton do nothing.

Anonymous said...

Mayor Panto,

Thank you very much for putting your foot down to help our tax burden. Keep it up!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 10:13,

It was around 3:30 one afternoon when my grandson was dropped off to visit his grandmother at a nail shop on Northampton St.

Out of nowhere, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he was on the ground, shaking and rolling around.

The first people who keep on the scene were Easton firefighters. They recognized the eplieptic fit immediately and took measures to calm everyone.

They are dedicated people who saves lives. Pray they have more time to sit around and do nothing.

Bernie O'Hare said...


I notice a number of anonymous personal attacks againt Mayor Panto. I think it's great to tell him you disagree with him or even to suggest he is anti-union. But I will delete anonymous personal attacks. The purpose of this forum is to permit a meaningful exchange of ideas. We only hurt ourselves when we start getting personal.