Biddeford is in the midst of protracted contract negotiations with unions representing members of its police, fire and public works departments. With negotiations dragging on for more than six months, union members are getting a bit testy and have recently been picketing City Council meetings to protest proposed cuts to their current contracts.

The city has said benefit reductions are needed because taxpayers cannot afford them.

Representatives for the unions say the proposed cuts are “draconian” and “unfair” to workers.

Some city taxpayers may support the city’s point of view. They see their property tax rise each year, but may not receive a concurrent bump in their income to pay for it.

Senior citizens and others on a fixed income who are struggling just to pay for necessities, also might not have much sympathy for union members griping about a proposed decrease to the number of their paid sick days from 12 a year to six.

Many may also agree with the city that elimination of retiree health insurance ”“ something that too many people don’t receive ”“ is a good thing.

But this view is short-sighted.

Unions and workers protesting employers who seek to reduce their pay, benefits or improved working conditions have a long history both in this country and in Europe.

It was the union movement that played a prominent role in ending sweatshops and child labor, which were common in the early 1900s.

Unions also helped workers win first the 10- and then eight-hour work day.

In addition, especially when unions were at their strongest in the 1970s, the work they did for their members helped drive wages up for all workers.

Locally, public employees have already had reductions to benefits in past contracts.

It’s true that property taxes need to be reigned in because for many in Biddeford, and across the state, the cost is too much.

But the answer is not to attack those who make our communities safe and provide necessary services to residents.

A better solution is to take a lesson from unions. They realize the strength of numbers. The city of Biddeford should join with other communities to lobby for more resources at the state and federal levels of government. This way city workers can be paid what they’re worth without increasing the burden on property taxpayers.

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