Competition by Private Industry Making it Difficult to Fill Replacements with Competent Men

THE time has come for cities to take stock if they are to compete with private enterprise in obtaining qualified young men as employees in their uniform services.

Cities are going to have to do more than they arc doing today in providing effective incentives to lure prospective applicants for municipal service. Municipalities are doing this very thing to lure industry into their backyards; why not in the case of employees? If they give this consideration to their major revenue sources, why not to their major budget expenses? Good business practices demand that they do. The biggest proportion of the cost of City Government can be charged to employees; and if such is the case, why shouldn’t the taxpayers be entitled to their share of the cream?

Years back when the cities offered vacations with pay, pensions, sick leave, and steady jobs at a time when a young man had to scratch for a job, there were twenty applicants or more for every opening. They got the best applicants. But today these former incentives cease to be productive because they are not equal to the incentives offered elsewhere.

In these times, the corner grocery store, machine shop, milk company, or even the junk yard offers like opportunities, and more. Their employees have social security, are provided compensation insurance, paid vacations, are offered hospitalization on or off the job, and on top of that, receive bonuses, time-and-a-half or double-time for overtime, and discounts on merchandise they produce or purchase through their companies. Is it any wonder then why city employment ceases to be a match for industry or private business when a milk truck driver can make more money in a 40-hour week and receive more benefits than a uniformed city employee?

Furthermore, the man in private employment knows that when the quitting whistle blows, he is off duty and his time is his own. He can go where he wants to go, do what he wants to do. and say what he wants to say without fear of adverse public reaction.

Uniformed Man Subject to Call At All Times

Now then, if the uniformed employee is expected to devote his full time and efforts to the City, be expected to work any time he is called, must buy his uniforms, be subject to discipline, and give up certain rights he would have as a taxpaying private citizen, is it any wonder why cities are having a hard time getting qualified employees? Relaxing any of these requirements as they pertain to uniformed city employees is not advocated. But by the same token, the cities must have incentives to offer which outweigh these restrictions to the extent that qualified applicants will be attracted to city service.

Today people are shopping to see who has the most to offer, and when we say people, we use the word loosely because it includes industry, private business, or prospective employees. In this competition for employees, the large metropolis might not be affected as greatly as the smaller community, but it must be recognized that even in some of our largest communities the same problem exists. This is brought to light very clearly when we see uniformed employees from the larger cities applying for positions in smaller communities.

Why can’t wages be set in all localities on an equal basis such as in the trades and professions? Any way we look at it, it costs the small city no more per capita than it does the big city. Of course, some will say that cities with bigger factories have more revenue, but these same cities must provide more men and equipment.

Salaries Out of Line With Industry

Does it seem right that an applicant for the fire service, for example, must be a high school graduate, or a college graduate, and must pass rigid competitive written and oral examinations, agility test, and medical examination, and must adhere to rigid rules and regulations, give up certain civilian rights and be open for criticism twenty-four hours a day by the public in order to accept a position at a lower rate of pay with less inducements, and greater responsibility than a truck driver, or even a clerk?

On top of that, uniformed employees are restricted to their own community; in most cases they cannot compete in other areas: they must reside within the city limits, and theirs is not a career service.

Cities must realize this predicament and face the problem in a realistic manner. They must junk their outmoded theories, because with the passing of time, they have demanded more and more of their prospective employees, they have set age limits, stricter written, oral and medical examinations, stricter educational requirements without even once offering compensating incentives.

Officials must consider these facts and begin thinking about such things as employee morale, prestige, wages comparable to qualifications and off the job hospitalization on an equal, contributing basis. They must also consider added incentives, such as making their purchasing power available to city employees, bonuses, city tax discounts, clothing allowances, cleaning, increased vacations on a seniority basis, increased sick leave benefits, use of city services at a reduced cost, and credit for holidays.

Why do not cities take it upon themselves to declare their uniformed services, career services, so that those communities offering the best incentives can get the best employees? If one community is willing to offer more than a neighboring community to get qualified uniformed employees, why shouldn’t they be entitled to the best applicants? Why should they be penalized by an imaginary boundary? Once a uniformed employee is hired, it is all right to require him to live within the city limits, but living outside the city limits of a community should not disqualify him as an applicant. Why not consider both sides of the question and give the capable applicant, or prospective employee, the incentive to come after the position instead of the city being a bargain hunter and expecting to get the best for the least? If cities are willing to put the incentives on an equal footing with their qualification requirements, they won’t have to go begging for applicants. Applicants will come looking for them. Only those cities which have the incentives are getting their share of the best qualified applicants. And last, but not least, if the incentives are there, the pay must be commensurate with the qualifications. Furthermore, high grade personnel in a fire department would prove an inducement for colleges to offer courses in firemanics, for colleges, too, must have a selling point to get students to attend their schools and the biggest selling point of any college is, we are sure, the number of students that they can place, or advance, in positions.

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The problems created by the sinkage of earth to fifteen feet below its original height in the Long Beach, Cal., Harbor area, come home to Tippie, a collie. Fire hydrant which once rested at ground level, now stands tantallizingly out of reach of even the tallest dog.

Photo Courtesy Torn Magner

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