Here is the union play book for dealing with situations like the sale of the County Home.
After researching the sagas of other counties that attempted to sell their county-owned nursing homes, you can see a definite pattern of how the public employee unions handle these situations. Reading up on the tactics used and the comments made in the media, it's pretty obvious that they have a "play book" they follow for this type of situation. So far, everything we've seen here in our county has already played out in other counties before us. So, here is how I imagine the union play book to be.
Step 1 Do nothing. Any attempt to compromise will weaken the union. Job 1 is to always protect the union's power and influence.
A number of County Home residents attended last month’s County Legislature meeting.
Step 2 Blame the administration. Make a ridiculous offer and then blame the county executive for not negotiating. (After the county executive announced his intention to sell the County Home, the first offer by union was a 5 percent annual pay increase for all CSEA Unit 6300 employees. Then they blamed the county executive for not "coming to the table.")
Step 3 Count the votes. If they don't have the votes in the legislature to sell, then there's no reason to worry. It doesn't matter what's in the best interest of the taxpayers, employees and the residents or what's best for the long-term survival of the Home. They don't have the votes, so we don't have to worry.
Step 4 Create a conspiracy theory. Despite the fact that all stand-alone county nursing homes in New York state are losing lots of money, the key is to convince people that someone is intentionally sabotaging the county home. This is a very effective tool because there will be lots of help from a few conspiracy-loving locals that will take the ball and run with it. This part will take on a life of its own!
Step 5 Demand a study be done. Nothing slows down a process better than a good old fashioned government-funded study. Once you have the conspiracy theory going, then you can demand a study be done to "get to the bottom" of why the home is losing money.
Step 6 Deny the study results. Since the largest operating expense of the county home is the cost of labor, the study is surely going to suggest concessions. We won't do that. (Refer to Step 1.) So we need to pick and choose what parts of the study we will quote in our propaganda speeches and deny the rest of the results even exist. Hell, nobody reads those darn studies anyway, right? (In fact, on page 97 of the CGR study on the County Home it's noted that the union representatives told CGR they "have no desire to create a new bargaining unit." A separate bargaining unit was the key component of CGR's cost-saving recommendations.)
Step 7 Put out press releases telling people you've offered "big" concessions. It doesn't matter that the "concessions" are nothing close to what the CGR study recommends and that creating a separate bargaining unit isn't part of the offer. It sounds good that we are saving lots of money over the next 10 years with this offer to get rid of all of the part-time employees.
Step 8 - Strike fear into the residents, employees and their families. Tell the frail elderly residents, that you claim to be so concerned about, they will be abused, kicked out or moved far, far away if the home is sold. Tell the employees they will all lose their jobs and be replaced by minimum wage employees. Forget that this hasn't actually happened anywhere else. It could still happen here, right?
Step 9 Make up some buttons, signs and T-shirts. People love free T-shirts! And there's no better way to keep the residents of the home frightened about a potential sale than to have it glaring in their faces every day with a bright-yellow T-shirt with black printing.
Step 10 Buy some "insurance." If the votes in legislature are close, it's time to start writing some campaign contribution checks. This should pay dividends even beyond the nursing home thing. We can't let the will of the people stand in the way of our agenda. So, a few well placed donations can usually keep some legislators from changing their vote.
Step 11 Demonize the potential buyer. Everybody hates rich people and, oh boy, these private nursing home companies are just full of rich people that we can call "evil profiteers." You can also say they are making money off the backs of our elderly. Those simple folks in upstate New York will just eat that up!
Step 12 - Demonize the legislators in favor of selling. Despite the fact that most people think taxes are out of control, it's still easy to accuse those legislators in favor of privatizing of "selling out the residents of the home" or "not caring about the hard-working employees." After all, nobody likes politicians.
Step 13 - Accuse the county of "giving it away." When all else fails, it's then time to say the selling price is too low. This is usually pretty easy to do because chances are the county paid way too much to build and expand the facility due to things like prevailing wage rules that they have to follow. (Thanks again to years of well-spent political donations we've made.) So they'll be upside down for sure compared with any offer. If they start using terms like "market value" and "price per certified bed" then you can respond with feel-good terms like "people over profits" and accuse the taxpayers of being stingy with their own money.
And here is the next step in the playbook that we will soon see here in Chautauqua County
Step 14 File a frivolous lawsuit. Well, if the voters, and the democratic process, get in the way we can always sidestep that will some litigation. If we can't win with all of the tactics above then there's always those unaccountable judges that just might see things our way. (In fact, the unions have brought frivolous lawsuits in almost every other county home sale in New York state. They have yet to win a case. But the process has delayed and even derailed some sales.)
So that's how I imagine the union play book reads. But let me point out that I think none of this is the fault of the local union representatives or the members. They are just following the marching orders from Albany and New York City. No, this "play book" comes down from the top leadership of the public employee unions, whose primary concern is preserving their own power. Even if it's at the expense of their dues-paying members.
Shawn J. Smith, whose father James J. Smith worked at the County Home, is an Irving resident.