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UPDATE: Tacoma labor leader blasts city for not negotiating before proposing layoffs

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Dec. 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm with No Comments »
December 23, 2011 11:08 am

The chairwoman of Tacoma’s Joint Labor Committee blasted interim City Manger Rey Arellano this week for failing to work collaboratively with labor groups before proposing deep cuts to city jobs to deal with a budget crisis.

“Not once has the City of Tacoma come to Joint Labor or Local 483 and said, `Would you take a reduction in wages? Would you take furloughs,’” Alice Phillips told the City Council Tuesday. “… The ideas have been thrown around, but there’s been no serious discussions.”

With Arellano looking on, Phillips, who also serves as business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 483, told the council the interim city manager promised several weeks ago to meet with Joint Labor, a coalition of city employee labor unions.

“We’re still waiting for that meeting,” Phillips said. “In the meantime, announcements of lay-offs (have) come.”

But city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said today the city has been openly discussing budget issues with the unions.

“Rey may not have gone back to them personally, but clearly the city has been talking to the unions throughout the whole process,” he said.

City labor negotiator John Dryer has personally discussed budget issues with union officials, as well as sent letters to them on Nov. 17 detailing potential city layoffs, McNair-Huff added.

“There’s been an ongoing dialogue,” he said.

Earlier this month, Arellano detailed a controversial budget plan to close $22 million of a projected $31 million budget gap by year’s end, mostly by through laying off 167 city workers.

After city police and fire unions requested an extension to negotiate possible concessions in lieu of layoffs, the city council agreed to delay for up to 30 days proposed cuts to 100 police and fire employees.

But layoffs planned for the remaining 67 city employees — mostly represented workers — are proceeding toward a Jan. 6 implementation date, city officials have said.

On Tuesday, Phillips told the council that, just as police and fire unions have done, “every union in the City of Tacoma has put in a request to bargain the (proposed budget) impacts.”

“A 30-day extension was given to my brothers and sisters in the fire and police unions and I think that was the appropriate thing to do,” she said. “I’m asking for that same consideration, because I don’t think we’re looking at all of the options.”

Phillips added she also has concerns that should city layoffs occur, they may result in “skimming” – or pushing work negotiated for union employees onto non-represented city workers.

“It’s illegal,” she told the council.  “It’s a violation of state law and we need to make sure that we don’t get into a position where we’re adversarial with that.”

In response to Phillips’ comments, Councilwoman Victoria Woodards asked Arellano to set up an executive session so the council could privately discuss the issues.

But no such meeting has so far been set, McNair-Huff said Wednesday.  He added the earliest such a meeting could happen is Jan. 10 — after the city’s non-public safety layoffs are set to occur. UPDATE: McNair-Huff said Friday morning that the executive session has been scheduled for Jan. 10.

Councilman Jake Fey said Wednesday he’s concerned city staff hasn’t been “active enough in working with all the unions to get concessions.”

“From my conversations with people, I think they understand they need to have more conversations with labor other than police and fire,” he added.

But when asked if that can happen before any layoffs are set to kick in, Fey responded: “It’s getting pretty eleventh hour.”

Meantime, Councilman Spiro Manthou said Wednesday city employee labor unions have had ample time to approach the city to negotiate concessions.

“When we were planning this budget last year, we based it on negotiating wage freezes with the unions,” he said. “We invited them to negotiate and they wouldn’t budge.  It’s been that way for 11, 12 months now.”

“So, I guess I’d have to say to Alice, where have you been for the last year?”

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