Critics of the Costa Mesa city council’s effort to roll back employee pay and benefits like to suggest that merely studying outsourcing those jobs to private companies or other public entities is a waste of time—or worse, a threat to the public that can be captured only in the language and images of nineteenth-century editorial cartoons in which gigantic squids run railroads or fat men in spats/monocles/top hats and pin stripes feast on babies whilst smoking cigars marked MONOPOLISTS.
When he’s not referring to privatization in epidemiological terms (“’Outsourcing’ Infection Spreads”) the blogger Geoff West prefers the cephalopodic (“‘outsourcing’ and all the ugly tentacles that subject seems to have sprouted”). Over at the Santa Ana HQ of the Orange County Employees Association, it’s an article of religious faith that outsourcing simply can’t work: “The budget numbers this City Council is using to justify outsourcing don’t add up,” the union leadership claims on the page it dedicates to its war against Costa Mesa. The union prefers moralizing to zoological typology: “Outsourcing will cost the city more, and their plan is filled with so many loopholes because it is a political play–not an honest attempt to save money.”
What’s weird, of course, is that we now have evidence that this isn’t a political play, and the numbers do, in fact, add up.
This week, the city got its fourth exhibit that shows, in fact, huge savings are available beyond the world of the Orange County Employees Association: privatizing services at the city jail.
“One proposal is from G4S, which already manages jails for five other Southern California cities including Irvine, La Habra and Beverly Hills,” the Orange County Register reports. “The proposal lists annual costs of $364,640, compared to the city’s fiscal year budget of $1.3 million. The 46 percent savings come from the reduced cost for custody officers and supervisors, according to G4S.”
That was only the latest win for the city council majority. In May, we reported that the numbers were already in on outsourcing the city’s legal work. “In the five years prior to outsourcing, the city’s average annual legal bill was $1,501,976,” interim city communications director Bill Lobdell wrote back then. “In the five years since the Fullerton-based Jones & Mayer private law firm took over the City Attorney’s functions, Costa Mesa’s legal bill has been $945,572.”
In July, Costa Mesa firefighters worked with city staff to produce a study showing that, by merging with Orange County Fire Authority, Costa Mesa could save millions per year with no decline in quality.
The firefighters study made it difficult for the union leadership and its allies in the blogosphere to argue that outsourcing is opposed by much-vaunted first responders. So did the reality of outsourcing helicopter patrols to nearby Huntington Beach in late June. Geoff West, my own favorite council critic, sounded positively apocalyptic when he described the run-up to a Fourth of July without AirBorne Law Enforcement choppers beating at the air above a town only barely able to contain its rage/patriotism/pyromania: “It’s going to be a very long weekend for Costa Mesa public safety folks,” he wrote, at once folksy and just absolutely pie-eyed with terror of the coming End Times. It’s a shame that blogs don’t come with sound-effects because Geoff’s July 5 dispatch from the front might have been heralded by a disappointed-sounding flugelhorn. Headline: “FIRE CHIEF REPORTS A QUIET 4TH.”
Now comes the jail proposal from G4S, a century-old Danish company that is (get this) official provider of security services to the 2012 London Olympic Games. It’ll be tough for the union leadership to argue that outsourcing jail services can’t be done: liberal Irvine already works with G4S, and so does Beverly Hills. The man who brought G4S into the BH jail: Police Chief David Snowden, former chief of the Costa Mesa Police Department, and hardly a guy the Orange County Employees Association (or Geoff West) would argue is a jackboot-wearing fascist in the pay of GOP boss Mike Schroeder.
While staffing the city jail with men and women from G4S (Geoff West translation: “folks”) might save the city some cash, there’s no place of grace where policing is concerned. Security, whether public or private, is an inherently problematic business; I’d recommend you ask Kelly Thomas, the schizophrenic homeless man whom Fullerton police allegedly beat last month, but you can’t because he’s dead. Similarly, G4S operates in some of the planet’s gnarliest outposts, and the company clearly plays politics with sharp elbows. And then there’s this irony: G4S employees occasionally unionize, and then some actually strike. The company’s got a past, I’m saying.
There’s no utopia/panacea/peace where humans get involved with stuff—neither with public employees nor private employees.
But there’s this, at least: the ability to look at the union leadership’s claims clearly and measure them against the evidence. And when the union leadership argues that outsourcing can’t save money, the facts turn that claim upside down.
As a kind of PS here, let’s just note that Democrats/liberals/progressives are in danger on this issue: if DLPs close their eyes to the obvious problem of rising public employee benefits and salaries because of a misplaced affection for organized labor or a mis-targeted hatred of Republicans (e.g., the council majority), we isolate ourselves from the vast majority of people who—equipped as they are with eyeballs, some modest math skills, and even a modicum of candor—can see that Costa Mesa cannot sustain multi-million-dollar pension programs. The Republicans will rightly claim that progressives can’t add or—worse—that we’re dishonest. And the majority (with eyeballs/math/candor) will rightly vote Republican. We’ll have our asses handed to us as that process of denial/recognition/rage cathexis works itself out in elections across the country, from Costa Mesa to Washington, D.C.
The challenge of public employee unions isn’t right vs. left—as much as the right would like it to look that way. But with the help of corrupt union leaders, the right will make it seem like that (a right/left thing, I mean). And then the deluge.