Union rejects offer; city to lay off workers

Eight to 10 employees will be let go this week, city manager says

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Members of the city's largest employee union voted to reject a one-year deferral of a contractually scheduled 3 percent raise, meaning the city will lay off between eight and 10 employees this week, City Manager Rod Swope said Saturday morning.

"Now that they've made their decision, we'll have to move forward with layoffs as quickly as possible," he said. "We decided that if this was in fact the decision, it would be important to move as quickly as possible because obviously people will be concerned about their jobs."

Ben Goldrich, the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association Alaska representative, said the union had about an 80 percent return rate on ballots, counted Friday evening. Eighty percent of those votes were to reject the deferment.

"I think our membership felt that the city can look elsewhere to balance the budget," Goldrich said.

Goldrich said the union will be talking to the city next week and its members are hopeful the city will look at other options prior to layoffs.

"That's a scary thing, and we certainly don't want that to happen," he said of layoffs.

He said too much responsibility was placed on union workers; the city opted to give non-union employees a pay raise even though it wasn't obligated to do so.

"We have control over our little piece of the world, that is, the 250 members we negotiate for," Goldrich said. "The city had originally put the weight of the world on our shoulders by giving the pay raise to unrepresented people. We have no control over that. The city has no contractual obligation to do that, and they choose to do that, and that's fine, but they don't then get to put the responsibility of that on MEBA."

Union raises are typically extended to the about 700 employees under the city's direct supervision. The other 1,000 city employees work for Bartlett Regional Hospital, Docks and Harbors, the Juneau International Airport and the Juneau School District. About three-fourths of the union's members are employees of the general city government, Goldrich said.

In early December, Swope asked the union to forgo the raise entirely and estimated that if it did not, the city would have to cut more than 20 employees.

With the average city employee making about $80,000 annually, including benefits, should union members - and, therefore, all city employees - forgo that increase, it would have meant a savings of about $3 million over the course of the next 2 ½ years for the city, Swope said.

Since that time, however, Swope made $4.5 million worth of cuts to the following years' budget. The offer to the union was then changed to postpone the raise by one year, which Swope estimated would save $1.2 million.

Combined, Swope estimates those two measures will reduce the projected $8 million deficit during the next two years down to $2.3 million.

The Juneau Assembly has indicated its willingness to tap into its $9.3 million "rainy day" fund and use some tobacco tax money to tackle at least some of the deficit, but has also expressed concern about doing so due to an uncertain financial future for both the city and state.

• Contact Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com or 523-2276.

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