Dickens and the City

There she was, the fireman’s wife, packin’ a swaddled baby in her arms and standing in front of the Reno City Council, begging it to spare her husband the ominous ax that she was sure was being dangled over his head. In that one clip, widely seen on local news, Reno firefighters smooshed a big, sloppy cream pie in their own faces. And then gave themselves a hot foot.

The disingenuousness of this particular display was palpable. To play the “wife with baby” card at that time to somehow tug on the heartstrings of viewers was beyond crass. It was obvious to anyone with reasonably functioning gray matter that this act was not only comin’ in from the bullpen a tad early, but was totally unnecessary. After all, the Council wasn’t saying that some firefighters were definitely doomed and now it was just trying to determine whether to slash 25 or 36 or 51 of those positions. No, what it was doing was asking the firefighters to play a little ball in what are obviously lean economic times and voluntarily decline the pair of 2.1 percent raises they were scheduled to receive in July and January ’10. Nobody had been fired. Indeed, the city had made it quite clear that layoffs were the last thing they wanted, but that the best way to avoid that scenario would be with the cooperation of the firefighters union, which could help save the city approximately 2 million much needed bucks. And yet, here stood Wifey, prematurely setting the Council up as perps of Dickensian heartlessness.

Now you can hoist all the murky conspiracy flags you want about how the city was really hiding behind the “rough economic times” cover in order to bring the firefighters (and now the police) unions to their knees and blah blah blah. Fine. Maybe you got something. Maybe you don’t. But I’m not finding it difficult to believe that the city of Reno in 2009 is having a bit of a financial scrape.

As a result, the city has to hustle, and hustle hard. I don’t blame the firemen for giving the city a tussle on this issue. Salary raises are a big deal, and they’re not to be messed with. Usually. But to play the “wife with baby” card at this very wrong time was a PR eff-up of mammoth proportions. To their credit, the firemen seemed to recognize that it didn’t go down all that well, because only hours after the “wife/baby” clip was shown, their union voted to forego those two raises, asking simply for an assurance that in exchange for their cooperation, not one firefighter would be laid off. A reasonable request. Bravo. And by agreeing to the city’s plan, the firefighters may well have set themselves up nicely for future raises when Money Creek is flowing a bit higher.

Now, the cops are in play. The police union voted that it will not voluntarily give up its raises. OK, fine. Let the haggling begin. Just remember this, police. Be real careful with those wives and babies.