By Leo Coughlin
Largo's City Commission could wind up as the final decider on the city's contract with the fire fighters union. The contract with the union expired last September 30th. Terms of the agreement have been extended since, as the parties have struggled in negotiations, but the real rub in all this is that any union of public employees is an absurdity on its face.
A union's only weapon is for its members to withhold their labor. And doing this is uniformly illegal, to all intents, purposes and knowledge, in the United States, whether on the federal or state levels.
Remember what happened to the air traffic controllers in 1981? For those who don't remember, members of that union went off the job in direct defiance of federal law. President Ronald Reagan gave the controllers 48 hours to return to work. When they refused, he fired every last one of them. Surprise! And Reagan had full authority to do so.
In 1955, Congress made such a strike a crime, a law that was upheld by the Supreme Court. That law has been defied on several occasions, with 22 unauthorized work stoppages by postal workers and other government employees. Only a merciful government in those instances prevented strikers from being fired. The air traffic controllers were the notable exception.
Reagan's draconian action was effective and was not unprecedented. Gov. Calvin Coolidge put an immediate stop to the Boston police strike in 1920, threatening dismissal for all those who walked off the job. Coolidge, later president, declared that there was no right to strike against the public interest. That pretty much has been policy every since.
So other than collective bargaining that treats employees in given groups with some equality, the question arises - what is the point of a union of public employees? The employees cannot withhold their labor and would do so at the risk of losing their jobs. Members pay their dues and one wonders what for?
Why then all the bargaining in Largo between the city and fire fighters? The city, as it does with other unions, is no doubt engaging in some kind of polite minuet, paying lip service to unions but fully knowing that in the end, the city will prevail in any impasse.
Union members cannot just walk off the job. Their only possible weapon does not exist.
Impasse is apparently where the FFA and city is right now. The procedure at the point of impasse is to go to an arbiter to resolve the deadlock. If that fails, the problem goes to the City Commission. This is where the politics come in. Fire fighters in these parts have always been politically active in "endorsing" and supporting candidates for office. This is questionable activity in the minds of many, but the First Amendment argument arises so no one makes a big deal of it. One does wonder, though, who makes the decision on these "endorsements".
In the last Largo election, the fire fighters "endorsed" and were out waving election signs around for the candidate who did not win. While, traditionally, the electeds in Largo (City Commission members) have been fearful of losing this union's imprimatur, the situation is now different. The candidate not endorsed won the seat being contested.
Maybe that foretells a new ball game; i.e. - union endorsement and waving Election Day signs around is not necessarily needed for election in these days when so much absentee voting is done.
The basic rule of politics is that one rewards one's friends and punishes one's enemies. This could get interesting.
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