Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday: The Face of Hope

UPDATE: Emboldened by this uncharacteristic support from the Comet, Dan Onorato bursts into the Post-Gazette Editorial Sanctum to demand retribution from ATU Local 85 (P-G, Jonathan Silver, plus video).

The labor contract turned down by Port Authority's drivers union would not have produced the multimillion-dollar savings sought by the transit agency.

The three-year contract recommended by a state-appointed fact finder would have saved the county's transit agency just an average of $325,000 a year. (Trib, Jim Ritchie)

Although Port Authority management for its part accepted the proposal, it would not have come close to the $10 million in savings called for in the new budget, let alone $20 million required to fully balance the books.

(Or so it would seem. See NoComLefBehi. KZ's analogy is eluding us, or perhaps it's the calculus -- we're slow to apprehend how 3 x $325K can = $90M)

Anyway. The message we want to relay is that we're starting to suspect that maybe, just maybe, both sides are hyping up the conflict (and fears of a looming work stoppage) out of convictions that a minor panic will help their own respective bargaining positions -- when they are actually just haggling over the margins of a relatively routine contract renewal.

Maybe the change most opposed by union officials was having workers nearing the current retirement age of 55 to work longer to secure the highest level of post-retirement medical benefits.

We're not loving every aspect of management's approach to negotiations -- in fact, it's high time some meaningful shared sacrifice was offered -- but a retirement age of 55? Followed by free healthcare for life? These don't sound like things that organizations can offer in this day and age, not outside of Sweden.

Yet at the end of the day, no one seems to have the cajones to attempt fundamental reform of the organization and its culture: up, down and across the board. Each side is trying to face down the other and earn its attaboys. Tinkering at the margins.


Since Sarah Palin was unable as mayor or governor to sidestep the "actual responsibilities" of decision-making
[groan], she ought to tackle an issue like, say, "The Bridge to Nowhere" forthrightly by explaining the difference between the giving and receiving ends of the federal "pork" pipeline. A politician's record can withstand a change in responsibilities, her thinking on an issue, or both. (P-G, Ruth Ann Daily)

Yes, but instead she haughtily boasted of having said "Thanks but no thanks" to said bridge. That's not tackling an issue, that's facemasking it -- a flagrant, 15-yard-plus-loss-of-down facemask, not a 5-yard "unintentional" slip-up.

And Mr. McCain? He long ago staked out an unpopular position on the Iraq war, and it nearly ended his campaign. Now that the surge has succeeded, his unwavering stand has attracted gratitude -- and voters.

Has succeeded? Ruth Ann breaks major news in today's paper! When we pass the house in Deutschtown with the lovely garden and the "Mission Accomplished" banner, we must stop in to inquire further.


A cautious reaction today on the part of the P-G Edit Board, which seems confused and bewildered by the array of data points before it -- and as yet ill-equipped to offer much guidance.

A long ordeal at Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority has come to a costly, unsatisfying conclusion. Let's hope cleaner operations lie ahead.


We can only hope Mr. Stephany, now that he is officially in charge, will steer this agency of 100 employees and $100 million a year in city developments in a different direction.


Let's hope they mean it and that Mr. Stephany is up to his new task. It's time to bring good-government practices back to the URA.

Update: Do you think Our Edit Board is being coy and suggestive? Could they really be that mischievous? That would be very blogger of them.


  1. It's always dangerous to rely on newspaper reports to adequately explain numbers...

    Every year, the Port Authority is ringing up $39 million in retiree healthcare liabilities that it should be setting aside money for, but is not. (It's similar to having pension obligations that you'll have to pay someday, but you're not setting aside an adequate amount of money. Sound like any government you know?)

    The cash savings over the 3 years of the contract $17.6 million through increased employee healthcare contributions and other changes. That's offset by an additional $16.6 million in wage increases. So, net cash savings of $1 million.

    But the big savings comes from avoiding future retiree healthcare expenses that the Port Authority would otherwise face. The contract would have eliminated $28.9 million in future healthcare liablities in each of the three years of the contract, or $87 million total over the term of the contract.

    Those are real bills that the Port Authority will have to pay in the years ahead. Retiree healthcare costs already account for nearly 10% of the Port Authority budget. And that proportion will continue to grow, year after year, unless the contract terms are changed. By July 1, 2012, the annual retiree healthcare bill of $48.3 million will represent 13.4% of the avialable Port Authority revenue. And to pay that bill, the Port Authority would have to cut bus and rail service.

    - Ken Zapinski

  2. Thanks Ken, for the clarity.

    Or, PAT could go bankrupt. Then the future liabilities will go poof.

  3. RuthAnn, I heard about the latest casualties and one was a thirty-nine year old father of four who served five tours. What did you say about the surge succeeding? I guess my definition of success is different than your's.

  4. Bram,
    it's not "free healthcare for life." it's only healthcare for life if the DIE before they reach medicare age. Once medicare kicks in the the benefit ends.

    but if we're going to dwell on that particular piece, can we please get Ken Zapinski or Steve Bland or Dan Onorato to comment on why they won't consider having the ATU do what the workers did in Chicago??

    Mr. Zapinski extols the benefits of the retiree health-care trust put in place for the employees of the Chicago Transit Authority. Having drafted and fought to have that trust implemented, I would point out that Local 85 proposed the same type of trust for the Port Authority.

    - Joe Pass in the P-G

  5. That's interesting, Rachel. That was a misunderstanding on my part that somehow did not get corrected until now.

  6. In re:Onorato and PAT.
    Today County Treasurer Weinstein hasstaed that he will begin to list on the County website the tavern bar and restaurant owners who haven't paid their alcohol tax..essentially tax scofflaws.Well I suggest he also list County Exec.Onorato.The Onorato Tax is now collected,but Dan O has stated that he will not forward that tax revenue on to the PAT.He is as guilty as the bar owner who has collected the tax but not paid it,or passed it on to the proper agency.