Note to Unions: The Coffee Break Is Over

Many New Yorkers are being asked to share the burden of lifting the city out of its budget morass. Thus far, however, New York’s powerful public-employee unions have been on a prolonged coffee break. It’s time they got back to work.

New York is in the throes of its most pressing fiscal crisis since the city’s brush with bankruptcy a quarter-century ago. Back then, the cooperation of public-employee unions was critical in saving the city from fiscal ruin. Now, however, public-employee union bosses are acting more like their private-sector union brethren did during the 1960’s and early 70’s, when hidebound, feather-bedding unions played a huge role in destroying the city’s industrial base. Companies gave up on the city and moved their operations out of state, offshore, to Puerto Rico-anywhere but here.

Mayor Bloomberg wants $600 million in savings from his unionized work force. He already has ordered 3,000 layoffs from the city’s payroll. He needs concessions on work rules, on health-care costs and on the number of paid sick days and vacation days. The unions and their bosses are digging in their heels, spouting rhetoric and acting as if this is just another bargaining session with management.

It is nothing of the kind. The city has to close a budget gap of nearly $4 billion, and it can’t be done-as the union leaders pretend to believe-simply by taxing the rich. We need a cohesive and intelligent union leadership, not one that mindlessly attacks the Mayor.

To hear the union bosses tell it, they’ve got nothing left to give. But as Robert Bartley pointed out recently in The Wall Street Journal , the city’s work force is huge-at 296,598 employees, Mr. Bartley writes, it is equal to “nearly 25 percent of the 1.2 million employees it takes to run the U.S. federal government, exclusive of the Defense Department and Postal Service.” He also notes that over the past two years, private-sector employment in New York has absorbed a 4.7 percent loss, while the public sector has endured just a 0.2 percent loss.

The Mayor’s requests are not onerous. Some have been a long time coming. In the private sector, employees have been paying a share of health-insurance costs for years now. City workers, however, have been shielded from this fact of modern life. The Mayor also wants to lengthen the work week from 35 to 40 hours, a measure that would help reduce spiraling overtime costs. Union bosses may be surprised to learn that the standard work week is, in fact, 40 hours-except in the fantasyland of municipal employment.

The union bosses think they can fool this businessman-Mayor with phony, painless proposals to save $600 million. Mr. Bloomberg, however, understands the gravity of the moment; he needs real savings, not gimmicks. He wants the union bosses to realize that the era of 35-hour work weeks and fully paid insurance premiums are over.

The unions are showing no signs of leadership in this crisis. For the high-salaried union bosses, this is all business as usual. They are out of touch and out of date. It’s time for them to wake up.

The Greedy Grasso

A chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Grasso reportedly made $10 million last year, putting him comfortably in the same boat as chief executives of the top Wall Street firms. The only problem is, the NYSE is a not-for-profit, quasi-governmental public-service organization; its chairman should be earning a salary more in line with the heads of regulatory groups, philanthropic entities or universities. As former I.T.T. chief executive Rand Araskog told The New York Times recently, the exchange is “a public trust.” But Mr. Grasso apparently sees nothing wrong with abusing that trust to enrich himself.

How did Mr. Grasso end up with such an outrageous compensation package? It just so happens that two-thirds of the members of the NYSE compensation committee are executives with investment or financial concerns that are regulated by the exchange, according to The Times. In other words, one could say it’s in their best interest to keep Mr. Grasso happy. As a comparison, last year the head of the Nasdaq, Hardwick Simmons, earned $1.4 million-chump change next to Mr. Grasso’s payday.

It wasn’t always this way. Since Mr. Grasso became chairman of the NYSE in 1995, the number of compensation-committee members who are also financial executives has crept up-from less than half to the current two-thirds. Mr. Araskog, who was a director of the exchange from 1988 to 1994 and who served on the compensation committee until 1993, told The Times that he was “astonished and appalled” that the current committee “reached a conclusion that they should compensate the chairman on an equivalent or reasonable equivalent to the heads of major investment companies.” The exchange chairman should be a principled statesman of sorts, who understands that a bloated salary sets a poor precedent for an industry that is coming in for its share of scrutiny.

Indeed, what exactly has Mr. Grasso been doing during the past two years of turmoil in the securities industry, apart from failing to convince Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the city should invest $1 billion in a new NYSE headquarters that even exchange members knew wasn’t necessary? A career bureaucrat and financial lightweight, Mr. Grasso often gives the impression that he spends most of his working hours floundering to keep his job. Now that news of his absurdly inflated paycheck has come to light, it’s easy to see why.

Doubt Your Self-Doubt

Is being overly confident bad for your health? Guess again. Or rather, don’t: New research shows that chronic second-guessing erodes mental health and can result in low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. As reported in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor, psychologists at Ohio State University conducted several studies to measure how negative self-judgment impacts one’s overall well-being. They found that those who engage in constant second-guessing end up with little sense of control over their own lives and thus are more susceptible to depression and exhibit a greater need for approval from others. “High self-doubters, because they give diminished weight to their own interpretations and perspectives, are, so to speak, not well ‘centered,'” said Ohio State psychology professor Herbert Mirels. Those plagued by doubts were particularly stressed by tests which asked them to make decisions of moral consequence, such as whether to honor a dying person’s request for a lethal dose of morphine. For those self-doubters who might like to think that their chronic ambivalence is a sign of a more refined intellect, the study offered scant consolation: Self-doubters were found to be no more intelligent than their more brazen peers.

The researchers speculate that second-guessing and self-doubt have their origins in childhood. If parents truly listen to and respect their children’s opinions, they may save the tots from a lifetime of worry.

Note to Unions: The Coffee Break Is Over