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Tacoma: City manager talks wage freezes, other options with labor officials

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 14, 2010 at 6:58 am with 16 Comments »
September 14, 2010 9:43 am

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.”

Leave a comment Comments → 16
  1. Don’t salami slice the budget by slicing little pieces here and there. Everyhting just ends up suffering. Pick a program, a dept, staff members whatever that are far from core City functions and remove the entire chunk. It will be hard and whatever special interests/non-profits feast on it will be un an uproar but just bit the bullet. Stretching out and spreading the pain just creates more problems and anguish.

  2. paulandsoon says:

    Sounds like doublespeak from the city. Nothing new.

  3. ratujack says:

    Do what the City of Lakewood has done. Dissolve,disban,cancel and shut down the Government UNION’S. Eliminate them. Anderson and Strickland do not have the gut’s. Maybe the council, for once, will do something to benefit the Citizenry.

  4. InsideJob says:

    Um… this wouldn’t be the same City Manager who was angling for a huge increase in his compensation package that would kick in some time between that time and the time he retired thereby enriching himself considerably, would it? If my recollection is correct this was in the works last year and was only shot down after the public got wind of it.

  5. the3rdpigshouse says:

    When the city demonstrates it can cut costs for the taxpayer – that is when I will believe it!!

  6. InsideJob says:

    How about we try this first: No more travel by elected officials, no more meals paid for by the tax payers for elected officials, if elected officials want to attend a ball game or any other event they buy a ticket for that event, parking meters installed in front of the Mayor’s, council member’s and City Manager’s parking space….. I could go on for a week before running out of ideas where to cut the City budget WITHOUT impacting the citizens or the City’s hard working staff. Then, and only then, is what this knothead is proposing something to consider. And yes, it is reasonable to put parking meters in their parking spaces, they have put them in the spaces we must use if we venture downtown or to do business at City Hall. If they don’t want to pay let them park at the Dome garage and take the chocho, if it’s good enough for us peons it is more than good enough for them.

  7. They park in a paid parking lot. Their spaces “rent” comes out of that department’s budget.

  8. wadsbrau says:

    I still don’t understand something. We all know that for now there are tough economic times for individuals. After all thats whats being reffered to when the phrase “tough economic times” is use. I don’t understand how a city governent which doesn’t produce or sell anything, is having trouble making money. As we all know goverment gets its money from taxes. I am lead to believe that there is such a large number of people in the city paying so much less tax now that the city itself is running out of money. This doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve haven;t seen a decrease in taxation in the 15 years i’ve been living in the city limits. Why is this happening? Maybe someone could explain this to me?

  9. Daisydog says:

    760,000 for advertising the city, 50,000 for advertising the parking meters- cut that and what do you have? roughly 20 jobs for one year–Dont even get me all worked up about the car museum. In tough times, I do without. In tough times tacoma apparently spends spends spends…….

  10. nonstopjoe says:

    First, what is the primary function of city government – to provide essential services to residents or to provide jobs for those seeking employment?

  11. lsheridan56 says:

    Exempt state employees have had to take 80hrs of furlough time over the 2009-2011 biennium, in addition to a pay freeze that started in 2009 with no end in sight. Everyone has had to make sacrifices in this lingering Bush economy!

  12. csburris says:

    Notice the timing. The Managers got their raises last year, thank you, and now they want the workers to make sacrifices. Let’s roll back last year’s management raises prior to talking to the folks that actually make the City happen.

  13. littlebirdie says:

    Wage freezes hurt EVERYONE, not only the employee, but the local economy. Which in turn increases the demand for city services. The city should examine what each employee/division is contributing. Especially in Information technology areas. I hate seeing folks lose jobs, but the citizens should not be paying the salaries of managers and employees who are not productive toward serving the needs of the city. And it’s a blow to the city staff that really do an above and beyond job for the citizens. I say shake it up, and agree with the forum poster named ‘fantum’.

  14. I agree, No more travel!!! Mandalay Bay in Vegas gets a lot of city money, just to name one. I can’t believe they can’t do without it. It’s the lower paid employees this will hurt, not the 6 figure staff that has a savings.

  15. blackhand1914 says:

    Lets get real and cut the fat out of City Departments starting with the Fire Department. As KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne stated in his August 31st news report “New Supervisors: 30 – New Firefighters: 0″ , The city of Tacoma is letting 31 firefighter positions languish, unfulfilled. At the same time, Fire Chief Ronald Stephens has announced he’s promoting the largest number of supervisors in department history. This includes instituting a third Battalion with the hiring of 4 to 5 new Battalion Chiefs (12 to 13 Chiefs total), at a reported salary of somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 thousand dollars a year and overtime wages upwards of an additional 80 thousand each ( Over time is at an all time high in the history of the Fire Dept.) In addition, apparently Tacoma Fire Chief Stephens deems it necessary to hire a Deputy Chief to run the Training Division a job that an Assistant Chief has performed for 60 plus years. But as quoted in Mr. Halsne’s article “Chief Stephens told Team 7 Investigators he’s figured out how to offset this year’s promotional pay raises within his budget, but there simply isn’t money to hire the city’s missing firefighters yet” Wow, I’m no mathematical wizard but I’m thinking that 800,000.00 + a year could go a long way in hiring the entry level firefighters needed to fill those vacant positions, which at last count was 31 but with natural attrition that number could easily double or more by late 2011 when Chief Stephens thinks that he will be able to start hiring again. I’ve come to the conclusion that Chief Stephens is apparently not as concerned about the safety of the citizens of Tacoma or even his own firefighters as he is about padding the pensions of his buddies and making a legacy for himself, now on that level It sounds like he is doing an outstanding job. I have been told that the morale of the rank and file on the Department is at an all time low as is the confidence in their Chief.
    In case anyone is interested there was a landmark study published by the International Association of Firefighters on April 28th of this year ( http://www.iaff.org/10News/042810FireStudy.htm ) Which states that a 4 person crew is much safer for the lives and property of the public and responding firefighters alike. Seattle Mayor McGinn and Fire Chief G. Dean have decided to man their engines with 4 FF and Trucks with 5 FF, this decision comes in the wake of the June house fire in which 5 young lives were lost. Tacoma is running with a skeleton crew of 3 per engine with low coverage in certain districts. People lets not stand idly by until a similar tragedy happens in our own community before we take action.

  16. That’s all nice and dandy. But, the only organization which makes a profit money wise for the city of Tacoma is Tacoma Power and Water. Not fire man or the police. What fireman do is needed and is noble along with the police force. They provide a service and not a product. Let’s not forget the ones that keep the keep your lights on and keep your water flowing. And the fact that TPU employees that provide your electrical and water services are paid from the revenue which Power and Water generate from selling their product. As opposed to fire, police, council man, mayors, supervisors, and etc. Who get paid from our tax dollars. We need to rid ourselves of useless supervisors, and waste full public relations committees and get back to conservative spending. Thank You.

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