After a strange confluence of events early this week, the Amsterdam Department of Public Works suddenly found itself short several workers — just in time for its busiest season: spring. Department Supervisor Ray Halgas wanted the Common Council to hire some full-time replacements, but the Common Council had another, better idea.
The DPW lost two workers in February when one beat up another at a South Side restaurant and got fired; the other suffered a broken leg. Then last week, one worker got suspended after failing a drug test, while another died from a stroke. Meanwhile five full-time DPW workers got transferred to the city golf course Monday for the beginning of the golf season. Halgas’ response — that their loss was expected and wouldn’t interfere with DPW operations — spoke volumes about why the council was right to do what it did Tuesday night: move three of the five golf course workers back to DPW, authorize the hiring of seasonal part-timers for the golf course, if necessary, and refuse to hire the additional full-time workers Halgas wanted.
When there’s a downturn in the economy, private-sector employers reduce the size of their work force, either by laying people off or, if at all possible, through attrition: If someone leaves on their own volition or dies, they don’t get replaced. It often means the remaining workers have to work a bit harder, but that’s better than the alternative: the company going bust and no one has a job.
Unfortunately, that approach rarely seems to be followed in public sector: Workers are added when times are good, a hiring freeze may be imposed when they’re bad, and rarely do positions get eliminated or workers get laid off. Taxpayers can’t afford this way of doing business any more.