Wednesday, March 15, 2006

False Emergency

When a State of Emergency is called it's something which alarms people. Obviously, the name is meant to call out something serious. However, the declaration is usually made so that a criterion is met enabling further action.

For example, after a natural disaster, the state of emergency declaration is needed for certain relief funds to be made available or to allow police to take certain actions.

Recently, the Oakland City Council has toyed with the idea of declaring a State of Emergency. When I first heard that I thought, "Man, is it really getting that bad in Oakland that they need to bring the national guard in?"

Alas, the problems in Oakland are being caused by something much more simple: Union Contracts. Now before you get all hippie on me, I'm a supporter of unions...but only to a certain extent. Unions have done wonders for the average worker to enable him or her to live a decent life. Even though I'm not a member of any union, I know that the accomplishments of various unions have enabled me to earn what I earn.

But certain things about union contracts really rile me up. A few years ago there was an MTA transit strike in LA. One of the main sticking points was the pay that drivers received during off-hours between shifts. So if they have a morning shift and an evening shift on the same day, even though they're not working during the afternoon they'll still get paid. I'm sure the contract was a bit more complicated than that, but that's the gist. Then union had used its bargaining power to get pay for its members when they're not working.

So back to the Oakland story. It turns out that the reason for the State of Emergency would be to allow the assignment of more officers during night hours. Apparently crime rates have risen dramatically this calendar year and the city would like to put more cops on the streets during prime crime hours. Makes sense to me. But the union contract only allows a certain number of cops on duty during certain times. Generally, that makes sense since the union wants to ensure officers aren't on duty all the time and overworked. But apparently, the only way to assign more cops during night hours is to break the contract. And the only way to break the contract without legal troubles is by declaring a State of Emergency.

Makes sense to me.

No Really.

It Does.


What I actually don't get here is why the policy union doesn't simply agree to a short term variation in scheduling. Maybe this is part of the negotiation process that's described here, I'm not sure. But what really gets to me is why these things seems to always come down to each side digging in their heels and not being reasonable. The police union says that adding more cops on the streets at night wouldn't reduce crime rates. I really don't buy that argument. But let's say they're right. Why not just agree to a one month variation in the scheduling. Allow cops to be put on extra night duty for a month and proove it out. If crime rates don't go down, then the union can say "I told you so", if crime rates DO go down (which I presume they would), then the entire city wins.

Instead, we've got no real action plan to address the increasing crime rates in Oakland and I've gotta blog about this nonsense. What we need here in David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, to come in and crack the whip. These stupid arguments always seem to happen with unions covering public servants and it's a complete shame that both sides would rather argue than just come to an agreement, even if it's short term, that will help everyone out.

So should the City of Oakland declare a State of Emergency? Well, if the policy union doesn't budge, then yes. If I were on the city council, I'd give them an ultimatum and declare the emergency by the end of the week. I don't care if it would create bad blood between the police and the city. Everyone's in the position because they want to serve the public and arguing about extra 8 hours shifts isn't helping the public in any way.

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