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By David Staba

Over the Labor Day weekend, you most likely:

  1. Ate more grillable meat than your digestive system could possibly process in a healthy fashion; and/or
  2. Drank beer, wine or your favorite adult or non-alcoholic beverage like they were going to stop making the stuff when the leaves turn; and/or
  3. Spent way too much time complaining that this summer was too short and cold.

Even if you somehow avoided living the above cliches, though, this much is almost certain: You didn't spend two seconds thinking about what it was all about.

That's OK. Few of us, other than religious types at religious holiday time, give much thought to the motivation for any long weekend. It's a good thing Congress designated the first Monday in September to commemorate the American labor movement 110 years ago, though, because it's hard to imagine such an observance getting approved today.

City Council Candidates
Hanchette: Mt. Views
Staba: Citycide

Today's unions are rarely thought of as a haven for working men and women, the tide that lifts all boats filled with salaries and benefits. Instead, to hear self-serving politicians and bureaucrats tell it, unions are demons, bent on sucking every last penny out of dwindling municipal treasuries.

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership and its feeble relation, the Niagara USA Chamber, devote most of their energies to devising ways to crush unions both public and private.

Buffalo's control board squeezes the blue-collar payroll, slashing union jobs while ignoring the higher-paid, less-needed patronage positions that keep political parties in business and ensure your taxes remain among the highest in the nation.

Each year, school board candidates throughout the land decry supposedly exorbitant salaries earned by teachers and berate their union while ignoring the multiple six-figure packages doled out to top-heavy school administrations.

And here in Niagara Falls, the plaintive wails of whoever occupies City Hall are as sure a sign of autumn as the turning of the leaves.

With both the annual budget process and negotiations with the unions representing city workers about to begin, the propaganda has already started flowing from City Hall.

Anyone who managed to make it through the weekly "Ask the Mayor" column in The Other Paper on the last two Mondays in August without nodding off or experiencing a bout of nausea might have noticed a trend. Each week, devoted readers were treated to rather pitiful attempts to lay the groundwork for the upcoming war with the unions representing the city's workers. Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello -- or, more accurately, his extravagantly paid ghostwriter -- did what he does best: Blame everybody else for everything.

First, he ripped his immediate predecessor, Mayor Irene Elia, for getting hoodwinked during negotiations that took place on her watch. Then he branched out and juiced her predecessors, Jim Galie and Jake Palillo, for similarly inept bargaining. Then he excoriated the unions, in essence, for taking the deals that were collectively bargained, thereby soaking up what little money Niagara Falls has.

Anello's hardly unique in that last viewpoint. According to each of the last four mayors, the city's unions are at fault for everything from the city's eternal financial woes to the restricted view of the falls on this side of the Niagara River. What a bunch of crap.

In his eagerness to spread blame like so much manure on a warm summer night, Anello conveniently ignored the fact that he was on the City Council for parts of two of the three administrations he loves to rip, and kept his yap tightly shut about any concerns he might have had over all those "sweetheart" deals. He also failed to mention the patronage jobs he's doled out to people who had already failed in the same positions or weren't qualified to hold them in the first place, positions that yield salaries far higher as those collected by union employees, as well as benefits as good or better than those received by blue-collar workers.

That could be because Anello himself doesn't write the column himself, but instead uses the forum as busy work for deposed Public Works director and alleged grant writer Paul Colangelo, according to City Hall sources. It's pretty clear that the normally talented penman's heart isn't really in the assignment, as he repeatedly resorts to redundancies like "justly deserve" (as opposed to "unjustly deserve," I guess) in the course of not actually answering the questions asked at the beginning of the front-page feature.

There's no question that the city's financial outlook is grim, or that the unions will ultimately have to choose between concessions and layoffs. Despite the rhetoric, though, most of the unions have shown a willingness to work with City Hall in the past, taking wage freezes in return for benefit upgrades. Several union leaders have told Citycide that they're willing to talk openly and realistically, so long as the administration does the same in good faith.

Anello vowed to do just that last fall while mining for the endorsements of the unions. Beating the war drums already in an effort to muster public support hints pretty strongly, though, that good-faith negotiations will be just one more campaign promise forgotten.

Speaking of The Other Paper, a check of its Web site reveals an interesting phenomenon: Local news apparently occurs only once a week, and absolutely nothing has happened in Niagara County from last Wednesday to Saturday, or on the world stage, ever.

Speaking of events with worldwide impact, one certainty emerged from last week's Republican Convention in New York City: The GOP has the angry old white guy vote just about locked up.

Speaking of the electoral process, if you aren't registered to vote this November, you can participate in the democratic process while simultaneously eating pizza and enjoying a beverage of choice on Saturday, Sept. 11, during the Voting Rocks! Music Fest and Voter Registration at Rock'n'Jocks at 8881 Buffalo Avenue in LaSalle. The doors open at 4 p.m., with bands including Kozmic Dragon, Groundless, Crop Circle and New Originals taking the stage starting at 5:30 p.m. Volunteers will be on hand to help aspiring voters get registered, with libations available at the bar and food from Bambino's, which moved around the corner and into the kitchen at Rock'n'Jocks earlier this summer. The cover charge for the event is $3, with anyone 18 and over welcome.


David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 7 2004