Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson met with labor union officials Monday to detail budget woes facing the city and talk about dire prospects for city employees, sources told The News Tribune.
Among the options discussed: The potential city employees could face wage freezes in the coming two years.
“That’s an option that was on the table, yes,” said Alice Phillips, business manager of IBEW Local 483, which represents some 900 Tacoma Public Utilities and City of Tacoma general government employees.
Phillips, who chairs the Tacoma Joint-Labor Committee – a consortium of leaders of the big unions representing city workers – was among those involved in Monday’s discussion with Anderson. Aside from wage freezes, “other options were discussed, too,” she said.
“Unpaid holidays, furloughs, layoffs, all of those were discussed,” Phillips said. “But none of this has been finalized yet. And as far as labor and union is concerned, it’s bargain-able. We need to negotiate it.”
A city source told me Friday that during a recent meeting with city department heads, Anderson suggested wage freezes would be his proposed first step in an effort to avoid layoffs.
Two city sources also said Anderson plans to bring his wage freeze idea to the Tacoma City Council today, during a closed-door executive session following the council’s regular study session.
Earlier Monday, when I asked Anderson if he would pursue wage freezes as part of his proposed budget for 2011-12, he declined to specifically comment.
“We’re considering a lot of things,” he said. “… You’re probably going to hear a lot of things. But I’m not going to talk about anything until we present our budget (proposal) to the council (on Sept. 28th).”
Amid the lingering economic troubles, forecasts for the city’s coming budget have been grim. Anderson recently told the council they should expect a city budget “tens of millions” of dollars smaller than its current $406 million general fund budget.
For the past two years, Anderson’s budget team has avoided city layoffs and major service reductions by trimming down an approved $441 million spending plan to its current levels. They did so by tapping into some $40 million in reserves, not filling job vacancies and making other cuts. But with city reserves now largely tapped out, Anderson recently told the council he can’t guarantee the city will be able to avoid job and service cuts in the coming two years.
To help stave off any such cuts entirely, or at least for as long as possible, the council recently gave Anderson the go-ahead with two key strategies for his budget plan for 2011-12: Selling bonds for some forthcoming city purchases, and refinancing some city debt to take advantage of low interest rates.
Both moves were essential, Anderson has said, for his team to present the council with a balanced budget plan by Oct. 1 that doesn’t include layoffs.
“I know the City Council wants to avoid layoffs if they can,” Phillips said. “And so do we. The last thing I want to see is anybody to lose their jobs. If there are ways to avoid that there are ways to do that, too.
“Furloughs, wage freezes, reduced work weeks, those are all things that other city and towns in Washington state have faced,” Phillips added. “The City of Tacoma is no different. I think we kind of hung out there a little bit longer than most were able to. But the economy is hurting. And you know, we got to get through it somehow.”
“Right now, it’s just being talked through,” Phillips said. “There were a few ideas thrown around today, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable in talking about any one of them. Joint-Labor hasn’t taken a position at this point. They’re just some ideas thrown around.”