Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Framingham workers defend salaries Friday, February 13, 2004
Craig MacCormack (508-626-4429) Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A pair of union presidents and the town manager blasted a report that says town employees are overpaid, saying the basis of the Framingham Taxpayers Association's first position paper is flawed.

The FTPA released a study of salary and wage increases for town employees from July 1, 1981, to Dec. 31, 2001.  The study shows raises have often been higher than cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.

It says COLAs given to town employees since 1981 are more than 14 percentage points higher than the national Consumer Price Index, a standard that measures prices of a goods bought by typical consumers, including food, transportation, shelter, medical care, clothing and entertainment.

"Numbers can be spun to show a lot of things," said Framingham teachers union president Barbara Rooney Connery.  "It's a little frustrating to see this data used in this way.

"I think it's a leap.  The whole premise is flawed," she said.

Recent raises have made Framingham teachers among the top 10 highest-paid educators in the region.  The teachers union is negotiating a contract with the district, which has offered teachers a three-year contract with no raises.

Town officials compare their workers' salaries to other towns, so the FTPA decided to take a different approach, he said.

"Looking at other cities and towns should be the first criteria, but we don't think it should be the only one," said FTPA member Kruger.  "We want to be fair to our employees.  That means keeping pace with the cost of living.

"There's a balancing act between the needs of the employees and the needs of the taxpayers.  Of course we want to be fair to our employees, but if we're too fair to the employees, it may not be fair to the taxpayers," he said.

Fire union president John Magri agreed with Connery.  He points to the state fire union's figures that show the average Framingham firefighter salary once ranked higher when compared to others in the Bay State.

"Over the years, the town has been very frugal, very adept at bargaining," he said.  "I'd like to see us catch up to the other fire unions."

Town Manager George King called the FTPA's report "very unfortunate," saying he had hoped the group would be more productive in moving the town forward than its first foray shows.  The FTPA formed last year.

"It's too bad they decided to attack town employees first," he said.  "Wages are always a subject that stirs controversy.  The CPI is a reflection of costs, not wages.  Is that really a fair benchmark?

"I believe our employees are fairly paid.  Depending what numbers you use, you can make any case you want," he said.

King remembers taking "an unpopular stance" a few years ago when he said a new teachers' pact that included raises of 4 and 5 percent in its final two years was excessive.  Kruger was a Town Meeting member at the time.

"It's easy for Mr. Kruger to say we've mismanaged, but I don't remember him standing up and saying anything at that time," said King.  "The approach here is extremely unfair to town employees."

Connery wonders why the FTPA uses a national standard to blast Framingham employees.  She says averages can be deceiving, pointing to the district's class size average of 22 compared to 27 students in her science class.

"I think it speaks volumes when we have a group of people who want to see public employees take it on the chin even more when times are tough," she said.  "I don't think you can compare apples to oranges.

"I don't remember anyone doing backflips about our salary increases in the 1990s," she said.

Many jobs in the fire department have become more specialized since 1981, said Magri.  Employees are now trained in emergency medical services, hazardous materials, terrorism, and infectious diseases among others, he said.

"We never had to deal with these things in the '80s," said Magri.  "It's no secret that people who work in municipal government aren't going to get rich.  We take the jobs because we love what we do."

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