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UPDATED Tacoma: City backpedals on wage freeze; $1.7 million in budget cuts to come

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Feb. 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm with 18 Comments »
February 16, 2011 4:45 pm

After winning the city council’s approval late last year for a 2011-12 budget proposal that largely hinged on a plan to freeze city wages, Tacoma City Manager Eric Anderson today informed city employees that the city is now backing down on at least part of that plan.

In an email sent to all city employees this morning, Anderson informed them that the city now plans to grant annual personnel time off cash-outs and step increases due to eligible city employees after all:

Date: February 16, 2011
To: All City Employees
From: Eric Anderson, City Manager

Subject: Step Increases for All Employees

Late last year, the City Council directed staff to negotiate with all bargaining units to withhold step increases and annual Personnel Time Off
(PTO) cash outs.

In negotiations, it became clear that this would not work.

As a result, the City Council has directed staff to withdraw this proposal, which means that all eligible represented and non-represented employees will receive their step increases during the 2011-2012 biennium.

Thank you for the work you do every day to serve our citizens and customers.

While other parts of the city’s proposed wage freeze, such as employee merit pay raises, remain on the bargaining table and still could be halted, the amount of savings the city had budgeted by freezing step increases is significant. Meaning: the city must now find other ways to make up those cuts.

City spokesman Rob McNair-Huff did not have the exact dollar figures for step increases due to eligible employees among the city’s roughly 2,900 union workers, (I’ll update the post when he gets them to me). But he estimated today that eligible employees among the city’s roughly 900 non-union positions are due about $1 million in step raises over the next two years (McNair-Huff noted that only newly hired city employees — not all workers — are eligible for step increases, which top out after about five years on the city’s pay scale).

(UPDATE 3:53 p.m: McNair-Huff just informed me that the total impact all step increases — union and non-union — will have on the 2011-12 general fund budget is $1.7 million. The city will now need to make up that amount by cutting elsewhere to balance its budget.)

So where does all this leave the city’s budget?

“What I understand is that the instructions are going out to the departments that they need to manage their budgets to absorb those costs,” McNair-Huff said.

“The impact on each department will be different depending on how many newere employees they have … they’re going to have to find ways to trim costs elsewhere. They might have to hold vacant positions open.”

Asked if the cuts could mean lay-offs, he added: “I’ve not heard that.”

McNair-Huff noted Anderson plans to give a quarterly update on the budget to the council in the coming weeks.

Although Anderson’s email today notes the council directed staff to negotiate the wage freezes, it was Anderson’s budget proposal that first raised the idea. In fact, some council members — notably Jake Fey – raised concerns that the budget plan was largely predicated on the risky proposition of winning a wage freeze buy-in from the city’s various public employee bargaining units.

In this story about the city’s budget planning from September, Fey sounded the alarm this way about basing the budget on unsettled labor negotiations:

I’m concerned about the timing and whether we can count on those savings. The budget is predicated on a lot of those assumptions.

(I’ve left a message for Fey and other council members for comment today and will update this post once/if I hear back from any.)

(UPDATE 2 4:39 p.m: Councilman Ryan Mello just called, saying he fears this might only be the beginning of an unraveling of the city’s budget based on too many risky assumptions.

“This is one of many reasons why I think Jake voted no on the budget,” Mello said. “Eric brought us a budget that was predicated on a whole slew of assumptions that were no where near negotiated with collective bargaining.

“From my vantage point, it was based on a bunch of hopes and prayers,” he added. “Now it looks like a lot of those hopes and prayers are falling apart. Now we’re going to have to make a whole lot of tough decisions…
This might not be the only thing that unravels in Eric Anderson’s budget plan.”

Asked why then he voted for the plan, Mello responded: “I was agreeable to try to give it a shot. I think I raised lots of tough questions. I’ve gotten into lots of disagreements with Eric and we have a fundamental disagreement over how budgeting is done in the City of Tacoma. At the end of the day, I said to myself that it’s a huge budget document. Do I agree with all of the assumptions? No. But at the end of the day, I had to make a judgment call and stand behind the greater budget.)

In the meantime, city employee unions are hailing today’s news as a complete victory for collective bargaining. Local IBEW 483, which represents hundreds of city workers, posted the following note on its website today:


Thanks to the solidarity of the members of IBEW Local 483 and the rest of Tacoma Joint Labor the Tacoma City Council saw that a freeze in step increases for represented city workers was not going to work. Therefore, the Tacoma City Council has restored the ability of all City workers to receive their step increases for 2011 & 2012. Thanks for your support and solidarity in these negotiations. This shows the POWER OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING!

Leave a comment Comments → 18
  1. PumainTacoma says:

    Where is our CHRIS CHRISTIE (NJ Governor) when we need someone with balls to say NO to wasteful spending….

  2. surveyor1 says:

    This along with the 250,000 they just thew at the pagoda that is now 500,000 over the projected budget is just fantastic news for us tax payers. I am happy to know that they will all be getting their pay increases while those of use who work in the private sector and pay thier wages are taking voluntary paycuts to make it through this recession.

  3. PumainTacoma says:

    Classic Leader NJ Gov. CHRIS CHRISTIE (today youtube)


  4. t_Johnson says:

    Not Cool!

  5. the3rdpigshouse says:

    The arrogance and self-serving attitude of public employees never ceases to amaze me!!!

  6. Chris Christie should run for President! At least he has the guts to tell it like it is…live within your means. No fluff, just the neccesities!

  7. whoknew123 says:

    Please let us not forget Eric Anderson sending a group of his employees to Asia for two weeks so they can increase their cultural awareness. Wonder what the final cost on that tab will be….

  8. tacomajoe says:

    1.7 million dollars! With that money, you could almost afford a free pagoda from China!

  9. jetalmanac says:

    And the hits just keep coming!!

  10. arbeenjo says:

    As a society we have to get away from this idea of automatic raises just for hanging around. Performance based raises I can understand but not for longevity by itself. Certainly a person who remains in a job for an extended period of time might…and I stress might….be better qualified and more efficient. If that were the case then you could justify a performance raise. But just for being there: no. Such automatic raises are also a disincentive for advancement for many. Why struggle to become a better worker or promoted when you’re going to get a raise anyway?

    Who is really responsible for your longevity raises: you are! With a portion of your earnings start saving and investing instead of spending every last dime. Those investments will start paying you raises as time goes on until they become perhaps more economically important that your wages. Do that and when you retire you won’t have to depend on Social Security.

  11. arbeenjo says:

    Hope…and prayers….are not a course of action.

  12. Votetherock says:

    Soooooo pissed. If I comment I’ll get banned! At least I won’t cry about it like they do at the Council meetings!

  13. shanmatt72 says:

    sweet. now this. first a gondola or whatever on the waterfront that is drastically over budgeted and now raises. Who the hell are these people?

  14. Gutless public servant!!!

  15. StraightCash says:

    Unfortunately this is not even slightly surprising considering the City’s priorities over the past 3-4 years. Protecting city jobs and maintaining salary increases has been the #1 priority for them while citizens and businesses who pay taxes have dealt with the consequences. The stimulus money the city received was used to pay city salaries. They’ve deferred maintenance to pay salaries. And the little investment they’ve made has been directly for use by City employees (urban waters, electric cars). It’s a shame that they’ve let everything else go just to be sure the employees kept their jobs and scheduled raises. Every other government in the region has cut staff, benefits and pay (pierce county, king county, Seattle, WA state)….Tacoma has not.

  16. nonstopjoe says:

    Please spend some money for signs reading “Warning, Pothole Zone.”

  17. Progressiveguy says:

    I’m really tired of all the comments about how terrible and over paid public employees are. I remember a time when one would have to take a pay cut to join the public sector to teach your kids, protect you and serve your needs buy building and maintaining the public commons.
    So what happened? Very simply, 30 years of union-busting, deregulation and rewarding the wealthy & corporate America with tax cuts has destroyed the middle class and the private job sector….How many new family wage jobs resulted from the Bush Tax cuts?
    Look what’s happening in Wisconsin this week. The battle is on against
    public employees and their unions…the last remnant of middle class economic stability that was once enjoyed by everyone who was willing to work hard.
    Those who continue to complain that government employees are a lazy, overpaid and underworked are only looking for someone else to blame for the situation they themselves have created by their votes and ease at being swayed by those who really don’t have any interest in advancing the middle class.

  18. PumainTacoma says:

    Watch what GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (NJ) tells his unions!!!

    Now that is a leader that is not crawling in his den. He tells it like it is. The till is empty!!!


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