There have been many changes in the 35 years that WCE has been in existence, and there are many challenges to come.
I have been Executive Director since mid-1998, and these seven years have brought unprecedented changes, with more to come, some good and some bad. Regardless, the very nature of public sector employment is certainly being closely examined by the politicians, the press, and the taxpayers. Assumptions regarding public sector wages, pensions, and stability of employment are all up for re-examination. This results from a number of factors, including the pension system and the yearly uncertainties of the state budget.
When I joined WCE, the investment climate was incredibly profitable. This translated into very large surpluses in the PERS pension plan and local pension plans, such as at the City of Sacramento and Sonoma County. These huge surpluses, as a result of the plans' lucrative investments in the skyrocketing stock market of the 1990s, enabled many public agencies to benefit for years because they didn't have to pay their employer share to the pension fund. Employees also benefited in the form of more dollars that could be tapped for wage increases and other improvements.
Today, because of precipitous declines in the stock market, employing agencies are now being forced to contribute an increasing portion of their employer share, up to 11% for some agencies this year. This has severely impacted agencies' budgets and created a crisis in the media and the public perception. Whether this problem has really created a genuine "crisis" that calls for drastic changes (or "reforms," as the initiative proponents insist on calling their proposals), the threat to the public pension system as we know it is real and will be a major issue for the next few years. And there is no doubt that the much of the money which goes to increased employer pension contributions will negatively affect the possibilities of wage increases at the bargaining table. (For a more detailed discussion of the structure of the pension system and the proposed pension "reform" initiatives, see the About Pensions section of this website).
In addition, the state's budget crisis is no closer to being adequately addressed and leads to instability in funding at the local level. Even if there is no state "take back" of local monies, such as vehicle license fees, this year, the continuing uncertainty as to how the state budget issues will be dealt with and how these issues will impact local agencies is will continue to add uncertainty to the budgeting process.
We have been fortunate through the last few years, more fortunate than other public sector unions, in keeping employment high. While other unions have seen dozens, or even hundreds, of layoffs, we have only seen a handful of layoffs. This is due in large part to the value of our members as hard-working, dedicated professionals with valuable skills. However, as capital improvement projects move toward completion and as agencies have fewer dollars for such future projects, we may have to face the prospects of layoffs or cost-saving measures to avoid layoffs.
In sum, bargaining this year, and probably for the next few years, will be more challenging than at any time in recent memory. I ask for your patience and your help. I hope that all of you will become more involved both with WCE and with your own place of employment. It is vital that you take the time to understand the budget and political situations in your own city/county/agency, as well as the impact that state funding has on your local situation. You can also help by being on a bargaining team, or by contributing suggestions for improvements in your MOU. You can help by doing some of the research needed to produce quality salary surveys and job classification comparisons. Of course, your encouragement and moral support is always welcome.
We at WCE will do our best to continue to provide quality representation for out member professionals. Please let me know your concerns and interests.