Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oakland Police Shoot Themselves in the Foot

By Robert Gammon
Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 10:07 AM

The Oakland police union’s demand of no layoffs for three years in exchange for pension contributions ended up costing the jobs of eighty cops last night. In addition, the union’s hard-line stance has now jeopardized the jobs of at least 120 more Oakland police officers who may be out of work on January 1. Plus, the city may be forced to lay off even more cops next summer. In short, the union’s no-layoffs demand has completely backfired and is now threatening the livelihoods of more than 200 police officers — not to mention the safety of Oakland residents.

Police union officials and their supporters are trying to blame the city council for the layoffs and for the city’s financial woes. And the council does deserve blame — for agreeing over the years to incredibly generous wage and benefit packages for public employees that are now bankrupting the city. Police officers were the biggest recipient of those overly generous packages and so it’s absurd to now blame the council when it’s finally showing some fiscal discipline.

The council also deserves credit for rejecting the unreasonable no-layoffs demand. In reality, it was a poison pill. The reason is that if tax measures planned for the November ballot fail (a definite possibility even if the union had given up the no-layoffs demand), the city will have to lay off 120 cops — or request even more concessions from the police union. Both options would have been impossible if the city agreed to the no-layoffs plan. As a result, the council would have been forced to decimate other city services — including closing parks and libraries.

The no-layoffs demand, coupled with the loss of the November ballot measures, also would have put the city on a path to bankruptcy. Without the ability to lay off more police officers, or to get the cops’ union to agree to more concessions, it might have become impossible to balance the city’s budget — short of declaring bankruptcy. And if that were to happen, the cops’ no-layoffs agreement would be thrown out the window anyway, along with their expensive wages and benefits.

Most importantly, the no-layoffs demand has now seriously threatened any hope of tax measures passing this November. Getting voters to agree to tax themselves more, especially in the current economic climate, would have been a tough sell anyway. At the least, it would have required a united front among city officials and the police union. And although union officials say they will help the measures get approved, their no-layoffs demand has already cost them the support of one influential councilmember.

“There’s no way I’m going to support a ballot measure,” Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who represents the Fruitvale and Glenview districts, told the Express. “It’s probably impossible to get it approved now. And they have no one to blame but themselves.”

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