User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Stupid Is As Stupid Does. Governor Christie Screws Up Black Friday Holiday Battle

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does. Governor Christie Screws Up Black Friday Holiday Battle

When I came into work today, I checked my email as I usually do.  This is one of the messages that I found:

All Department of Labor and Workforce Development Employees:

Please be advised that the day after Thanksgiving, November 26, 2010 will be a paid day off for all represented employees of CWA, AFSCME, and IFPTE.  For those employees not covered by one of the enumerated unions, November 26, 2010 remains a regular work day.  Employees may use personal leave time for that date, as permitted in accordance with Department policy.

Represented employees are those assigned to Employee Relations Groups A, C, H, I, O, P, R and S.

Non-represented employees are assigned to groups V, W, Y, X, and M.  Non-represented employees are not covered by the June 2009 Memorandum of Agreement.  Again, November 26, 2010 remains a regular work day for such employees.

Employee Relations Group designations are indicated on the bottom of job descriptions which can be accessed through the Civil Service Commission website, or by contacting your personnel liaison.  If you are not absolutely certain of your designation or requirement to report to work on November 26, 2010, please contact Human Resources.

Thank You.

Like I said before, I like to write on several levels at one time.  Well, by publishing this memorandum, I am expressing two important ideas.

First, welcome to the Byzantine world of labor relations at the State of New Jersey.  Whether you work for a large company, or on a job where you are represented by a union or for a governmental organization, you will most likely be exposed to complicated work rules written in an arcane manner.
Employees of the state get all three.  We are a large governmental organization with union representation.  Oh the joys of deciphering legalese!

Perhaps a little translation is in order.    Basically, what this document says is that if you work for the state labor department and are represented by a union, you get the day after Thanksgiving off this year.  If you are not represented by a union, then you must report for work unless you use your time to take the day off.

People who are represented include most rank and file employees and some people outsiders probably would consider middle management.  Security workers, maintenance workers, clerical staff, technicians, professional staff, primary supervisors of professional staff (that's me!) and bureau chiefs (my boss) are all in the union. 

Those who are not in the union would include management types of the rank of Assistant Director and above (my boss's boss for example) as well as unclassified workers (various political appointees) as well as confidential workers (like administrative analysts and staff handling personnel records).

That takes us to the next idea the memo represents:  It is the vengeance of a defeated man; none other than Governor Christie.  Your governor would rather express his anger by wasting taxpayer money to make a point rather than accept defeat at the hands of the unions.

To fully explain what I mean by this, you will need a little background information.

The governor decided to score some points in the media this fall by "taking on the unions" by saying he would not honor the Memorandum of Understanding (MUA) negotiated between the various unions and Governor Corzine and signed June 2009.  The Memorandum of Understanding was negotiated because Corzine was hobbled by a State Supreme Court ruling which said he could not furlough unionized state workers selectively, but rather would have to shut all departments down at once, except essential operations like prisons, mental hospitals or state police patrols.

Corzine, like the current governor wanted to have his cake and eat it too.  He wanted to keep state offices open to the public on all workdays even with the furloughs.  He wanted to furlough a percentage of workers at a time.  The unions took him up on it and the courts ruled that he could not lay off workers for even one day without following the layoff guidelines in the contract.  To do otherwise would violate the contract.

So Corzine wanted furloughs, and the only way he could get them was to reopen the contract with the union.  Well, we also wanted something.  After a lot of hoopla in the media, Corzine decided to end the longstanding practice of giving us the day after Thanksgiving off by executive order, even though he was not required to do so by the union contract.  He also wanted to show he was being tough on unions by being able to take away one of those holidays that we get that no one else gets.

Ahah.  The only holiday I know that fits that description is Lincoln's Birthday.  Since Martin Luther King's Birthday came out, the practice of celebrating Lincoln's Birthday with a day off has almost completely died out outside of state government.  When I was a child in the 1960s, I remember that my parents both got off for Lincoln's Birthday and that schools were also closed on February 12.  There were sales in all the stores on that day, just as we now also have on Memorial Day.

So the MOA said that Corzine could furlough workers for one day a month through June of 2010 without having to shut the whole state down.  It also said that the day after Thanksgiving was going to be an official day off and that henceforth, we would work on Lincoln's Birthday.

Enter Governor Chris Christie and his efforts to play to the media during the fall pre-election "silly season".  What better way to rally the pro-Republican troops than by bashing unions and demanding that state workers work on Black Friday, because "all the private sector workers" have to work that day.

Mr. Christie should have already known the MOA was binding.  He once claimed it was not binding and he was going to violate it and furlough workers as often as he wanted.  He changed his mind after his "lawyers reviewed it" (he is a lawyer isn't he?) and they determined it was binding.  No Duh!

So, he decided to go ahead any and declare that we would work on Black Friday and would get Lincoln's Birthday off instead because it is still a state holiday.  Never mind the last governor agreed to something else to get the furlough days he wanted. 

Also never mind that while almost nobody gets Lincoln's Birthday off and the stores don't have sales, nearly everybody gets Black Friday off and it is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.  The champion of the private sector thought it would be a wonderful idea to make about 50,000 unionized state workers not working in prisons, hospitals or colleges work on Black Friday so they could not shop.  Keep these poor slobs chained to the desks and let the merchants be damned.  I say they are overpaid when it benefits me, but I don't care now, because if they are really overpaid they would have ample disposable income to throw away on Black Friday deals.  So screw the private sector.  I need to make a point.

Christie didn't back down even after the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) ruled against him and said that he wanted to appeal the ruling to the courts.  A few days latter, common sense prevailed and he backed down, but not without getting quoted making a few wisecracks about unions stealing taxpayer dollars in the Star Ledger.

Back to our governor's sour grapes stand at the expense of taxpayers.

A rational person would say "I lost" and walk away.  He would shut the state down the day after Thanksgiving just as every governor did every year for decades.  No, he is not rational.

He would rather keep every DMV office, every Unemployment Office, and every other state office to prove a point.  Overtime would have to be paid for security to come in (at double time and a half).  If he wants clerical staff at counters at offices opened to the public, the unionized clerks would have to get double time and a half as well.  The buildings would also have to be heated and lighted for one day between a holiday and a weekend, an expensive proposition.

For what.  To have all the big chiefs show up for work when all the Indians get to stay home.  That's right, lets have a bunch of big bosses sitting around on their keisters with no staff to direct.

A total waste of taxpayer money.  Just like the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that the federal government wants NJ Transit to pay back because he decided to stop work on the Tunnel.

Sometimes it helps the taxpayers to just admit you are wrong and back down rather than having to be a pompous jerk.

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