Effort can find common ground
Saturday, June 30, 2012View full version
Confrontation is easy. Refusal and defiance require no more effort than it takes to shout no. Cooperation and compromise, that’s work. Finding the common ground, the mutual benefits — that needs mental and physical investment. A mind made up needs nothing. A mind is changed through effort.
Wenatchee’s firefighters, their union, and Mayor Frank Kuntz have been very hard at work. Just a few weeks ago the mayor revealed a city budget in crisis, virtually drained, with $1.5 million in cuts urgently required before the summer was out. He proposed to do this by laying off 16 city employees, including eight firefighters, and having the fire department cease responding to medical emergencies. These were drastic measures, and naturally caused shock and sorrow and resentment. It could have ended there, in bitter ugliness.
But no. Flexibility, an exchange of ideas, willingness to compromise soon surfaced. The mayor and firefighters and their representatives are building a plan to spare firefighters from layoffs while sharply cutting city expenses, and maintaining services to taxpayers. An agreement is said to be near with substantial reductions to the firefighters’ health care benefit, with buyouts and early retirement for some, added work days and other concessions. According to reports on a preliminary agreement, the city will pay 90 percent of the cost of health benefits for firefighters, and 60 percent for their families, instead of the current 100/90 percent split. That benefit is still above private sector standards but a significant giving of ground for the firefighters and collectively tens of thousands of dollars in lost compensation. The city in turn will agree to pay for the early retirement and buyouts of six willing employees, including a firefighter and battalion chief, and will send firefighters on EMS calls. Together, with layoffs, retirements and cuts in other departments, city savings reach $1.1 million, according to reports before a deal is finalized.
This movement, this effort, this willingness to work together for beneficial results deserves praise for mayor, firefighters and union. It is an example of what can be accomplished when both sides realize they have a common goal. It is an example for other public employees and employers, caught in similarly sorrowful situations. Some public employee unions faced with cuts have been more defiant, and sacrificed their members to avoid concession. The firefighters gave ground to save their co-workers, and just may have saved their department. The mayor was open and flexible, to the point of donning a turnout coat and helment, with Councilwoman Linda Herald, and joining in firefighter training. “We’re all trying to get to the same spot,” he said. The city’s citizens, with their depleted treasury, are the ultimate beneficiaries.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.