A city union, in trying to help its members and, to a lesser extent, the city, came up with an idea that has gained popular acceptance in private industry but, for a government struggling to pay its bills, is inappropriate at this time.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees suggested this deal for the mayor and Common Council to chew over:

AFSCME would agree to a reduction in starting seasonal employee wages from $11.10 to $7.50 -- if the city would agree to reward any worker who conceived a cost-saving strategy by paying that worker 10 percent of the saving realized for five years. If, for example, an idea would save the city $1,000, the employee who thought of it would get $100.

A couple of elements come to mind immediately that don't sit well.

First, what is a seasonal employee doing making $11.10 in the first place? Those seasonal employees -- typically, students who mow grass or pick up litter -- should be minimum-wage workers. The City of Plattsburgh cannot afford the luxury of paying almost $4 an hour over minimum wage to get that kind of work done.

Give credit where it's due: The union got the better of management when that provision was negotiated. For the city to pay what is known in most places of employment as "summer kids" more than $11 an hour certainly is excessively generous. The work is not anything that can't be done without training or experience. More taxing jobs in the permanent workforce don't command that attractive a wage, and it escalates to $11.44 the second year.

But here's where the union gets a black eye in some circles of city taxpayers: Why should employees be paid for cost-saving ideas by a city that's already strapped and trying to fight for solvency? Isn't part of an employee's job to recognize ways to do the work better, more efficiently, less expensively?

To be fair, this would be a sound proposal in certain circumstances. Industry uses this type of incentive with great success, as do branches of the military. But this is a city in financial travail. It needs all employees and residents pulling in the same direction for solutions. To suggest that those ideas are floating around out there but will be withheld because no stipend is attached to them is counter to the city's best interests. This is not a move that is destined to endear the union to the city residents it is supposed to be serving and looking out for.

If you look at this situation as a typical union-management arrangement, you expect the union to do everything it can to bolster the lot of its members at the expense of the "company."

But, in this case, the company is the citizenry struggling to pay its taxes and keep the city solvent. The union members, most of whom very likely are city residents, are in the same floundering boat. To offer vital assistance only under the prompting of extra compensation makes the union look selfish and unhelpful.

All residents and workers are in this mess together. Solutions ought to be the goal for all, extra money or not.

Trending Video

Recommended for you