This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
City of Tacoma officials, bracing for a sizably smaller budget, are betting big on their ability to hold the line on city employee wages.
Experience suggests Tacoma better be ready with Plan B.
The city, to balance the 2011-2013 budget, has to shave $40 million from the $441 million spending plan it adopted two years ago. Much of the savings – $10 million in the general fund and $30 million overall – would come from a two-year freeze on employee wages and the elimination of vacation time payouts.
Or so City Manager Eric Anderson hopes. His efforts to negotiate pay freezes with the city’s 28 unions haven’t produced any tangible results yet.
One potential sign that at least some of the city’s labor partners might not be on board: On Tuesday, outside of City Hall, information-technology workers plan to protest the city’s attempt to pay them more.
Local 120 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees accuses the city of gaming the so-called “class and comp” process – a project the city launched three years ago to align city salaries with market wages.
The reset of the city’s salary schedule has led to generous pay raises for many city workers – line workers and managers alike. Local 120 officials are worried that their members’ bumps won’t be as beefy as others have received.
Labor unrest does not bode well for Anderson’s plan to bring all employees to market and then get the unions to agree to freeze wages.
While Anderson’s counterparts in King County have had some success seeking union cooperation, the score in Pierce County isn’t so encouraging. Two other large local governments have tried and failed to exact the same kind of concessions from union employees that Anderson’s seeking.
Pierce County could have saved $5.4 million by forgoing a planned 2011 cost-of-living adjustment that, at 2.5 percent, is out of step with what’s actually happening to the price of goods and services. But county unions wouldn’t budge.
Same story at Pierce Transit, where agency leaders – facing a February vote on a proposed tax increase – have halted pay increases and retirement contributions for those few employees not represented by unions.
Had union workers agreed to the same sacrifices, the agency figures it could have saved an extra couple of million dollars.
Anderson declined to say last week where Tacoma will find $30 million if union talks fall through. But a budget workshop handout prepared for the city council last month listed the obvious alternatives: furloughs, non-paid holidays and layoffs.
The Tacoma City Council has prided itself on sparing city employees from the effects of the recession. Something’s got to give – and the council cannot afford to provide refuge from economic realities at the expense of city services.