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Harlan: Costa Mesa's 'professional city family' deserves more respect

September 08, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

I've been wondering for some time why the Costa Mesa council union bears so much animosity toward our city's organized labor.

The rhetoric coming from the majority on the dais for the past 20 months has been consistently strident, adversarial and divisive.

Their prevailing attitude is that our public employees are simply taking advantage of a system that is designed to benefit only themselves. As Councilman Steve Mensinger surmised in his recent commentary (Re. "Unions are partly to blame for the city's woes, not the workers," Sept. 5), they "have an unending thirst for unsustainable compensation."

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But this statement is often tempered with the refrain that the employees are not to blame ("they are excellent public servants"); it's just their associations that are gaming the system for their own aggrandizement.

Let's first disabuse ourselves of the myth that the city's employees and their associations are distinct and different things. The associations and their leadership are composed of city employees, not some separately hired staff. They're one in the same.

It's insincere for the council union to say that we have wonderful employees, but their associations are to blame. That's just like stating all of the councilmen are great guys, but the council is headstrong, hasty and careless.

So why does the council union have so much contempt for our city family?

It boils down to one word: fairness. The underlying subtext of all of the partisan rhetoric is that it's not fair that the city's public employees make a decent wage and enjoy certain benefits during the current economic circumstances.

If you're a private sector employee today, it's natural to be somewhat envious of public employees.

The litany of perceived inequities is endless: Why do they get vacation days that carry over to the next year, and I'm limited to 10 use-it-or-lose-it days? Why do they get better medical benefits and more paid holidays? Why do they get pensions paid primarily by their employers, when all I have is this lousy 401(k)? Why do they have job security while I'm wondering if we'll still be in business next month?

As someone who has worked in both the public and private sectors, I can tell you that the anticipated (and presumably better) benefits of working for a private business are not guaranteed. The risks of earning greater pay, receiving bigger bonuses and advancing quicker in a career are not always rewarded.

And that's the key difference between public and private — risk.

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