Well, this is novel. It seems that Hollywood, Florida had a referendum and not very many people came, which is really too bad since it means firefighters, police, and other city employees may now have their benefits taken after 13 percent of all registered voters in Hollywood voted for deep cuts to them.
Via the Miami-Herald:
With a low voter turnout — about 13 percent of the city’s 84,521 registered voters — residents cast ballots to strip police, firefighters and the city’s general employee’s of their current pension plans, allowing the city to save $8.5 million.
“This isn’t necessarily something where we look at it and say ‘yay’ we won,” said City Spokeswoman Raelin Storey. “This has been a very difficult time for the city.”
Facing a $38 million deficit and unable to come to an agreement with the city’s unions, Hollywood leaders took the risky move of putting the issue to a public referendum. Last year, the city said it had to put $36.6 million into the underfunded pension program.
Several cities throughout South Florida are also struggling with sharply increased pension costs, and have been eyeing the Hollywood case to see how it turned out.
Yeah, I'll just bet they are. Basically, 13 percent of city residents (and you can guess which ones), came out to tell public servants they weren't worth the extra money. Austerity!
What bothers me most about this is that it was a referendum. Basically, the city charter says that if no agreement is reached between the city and collective bargaining units, the city has the right to put a referendum on the ballot and call for a vote. How is this good faith bargaining by any stretch of the imagination?
Unions obviously aren't going to take this without a fight. Wednesday's Miami-Herald:
The city has democracy in its corner, with the majority of voters agreeing to change. But union leaders say the referendum circumvented the state’s collective bargaining practice.
“If we don’t prevail, that means collective bargaining doesn’t exist in the state of Florida,” said Hollywood Firefighter Union President Dan Martinez.
Ralph Dierks, president of the general employees union, said lawyers are reviewing Tuesday’s vote and will soon make a decision on filing a lawsuit.
“It is definitely not off the table,” Dierks said.
And some law professors and labor attorneys say the unions may have a valid argument that a referendum violates a public employee’s right to collectively bargain.
“I’d be stunned if the unions just walked away,” said Bob Jarvis a law professor at Nova Southeastern University. “I definitely think the city is going to have a lawsuit on its hands.”
Voters agreed by a more than 10 percent margin that the pension plans for police, fire and general employees needed to be cut to save the city $8.5 million.
I don't view it as anything like democracy when 13 percent of the voters make a decision like this. That's about 11,000 voters, which is hardly anything near a majority. If this stands, it will mean a lot of challenges to collective bargaining practices across the country.
I wonder if ALEC has a recommendation in their "screw the public" toolbox for this. I'm just betting it's in here somewhere.