THE DISTRICT government's tentative wage agreement with its unionized workers is not as reasonable as it appears to be. At first glance, the agreement's 23 percent pay raise over three years, with a 5 percent raise this year and a 3.5 percent bonus, seems like a good deal for both the city and its unionized workers. That increase would probably keep the workers' income equal with--if not slightly ahead of--inflation. But the contract settlement includes more than that. For one thing, the city failed to win elimination of the annual step increases for city workers. That step increase amounts to about a 5 percent annual pay raise in addition to the 23 percent. On top of that, the unions won a no-layoff provision and optical and dental care.
This generous agreement gives city workers a total increase of 8.5 percent this year--not including step increases--while federal workers received only a 4.8 percent increase. City officials note that last year federal workers got a 9.1 percent raise while city workers were given only 5 percent. But the city can no longer match every raise given federal workers.
The most unusual aspect of the proposed contract is its no-layoff provision. For the District to agree not to lay off any worker while it has a $184 million deficit does not seem a prudent move-- especially in the context of a very generous wage agreement.
As the proposed contract stands, the only people left unprotected are those who depend on city services and those who pay taxes. This fat contract is even more unseemly when juxtaposed with the federal budget cuts that will soon begin reducing social programs here.
Mayor Marion Barry may think of the contract as a politically astute move just before his election campaign begins, but he must realize that his free and easy way with this money will soon haunt him if he is re-elected when stories of desperate need pile up while city and federal services are cut. And what will the mayor say to Congress when it notes that in other big cities employees are taking no pay increases and in some cases losing jobs to keep their cities solvent?