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Tacoma: Proposed concessions from police, fire unions could spare 100 public safety jobs from layoffs

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Jan. 13, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
January 13, 2012 6:37 pm

Proposed layoffs of about 100 Tacoma police officers and firefighters may be avoided entirely under concessions proposed by bargaining teams for the city’s public safety unions, police and fire labor representatives said Friday.

It’s now up to the memberships of each union to approve the concessions. The police union has planned a vote for Monday evening. The fire union has scheduled votes for Jan. 26 and 27.

“We came up with a package that answered the layoffs that we were asked to address,” Terry Krause, president of Tacoma Police Union Local 6, said Friday afternoon. “We found the savings elsewhere to do that, it’s concessions. So, that’s what we’ll be bringing to our body to vote on.”

Matt Frank, vice president of Tacoma’s fire union, separately added his bargaining team believes “we’ve identified savings to spare the 44 (fire) jobs that the city has targeted for layoffs.”

“I feel like we’ve accomplished the task given to us,” Frank said, “pending approval of our membership, obviously.”

Neither Krause nor Frank would disclose any details Friday about the proposed concessions.

“Not until it’s voted on,” Krause said. “But you can check with the city.”

John Dryer, the city’s labor negotiator, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Councilman Jake Fey said he was pleased to hear of the potential concessions.

“That was the whole purpose of the delay (to public safety layoffs),” he said. “So, I’m glad to hear they think they have a package. We’re going to obviously have to take a look at it and discuss it.”

News of the union’s concession proposals comes one week before a Jan. 20 deadline for city officials to formally give notice to each union about prospective layoffs facing their members. The required 15 day notice precedes an actual layoff implementation date set for Feb. 6.

Last month, Interim City Manager Rey Arellano proposed laying-off 56 police and 44 fire employees as part of a first round of cuts to close about $22 million of a projected $31 million budget shortfall.

Arellano’s proposal immediately stirred controversy, drawing an overflow crowd to a City Council meeting hours later. One by one, police and fire personnel, their families and other supporters voiced fears to the council that the deep public safety cuts proposed would put the community at risk.

The council later opted to delay any public safety cuts for up to 30 days, giving the unions and city labor negotiators more time to come up with alternatives.

Meantime, the city moved forward this month with other layoffs, retirements, transfers and demotions to more than 60 other non-public safety employees.

Amid the city’s ongoing negotiations with labor unions, the number of public safety layoffs awaiting action has grown to 107 — including 60 police and 47 fire employees.  Layoffs to three municipal court employees whose jobs are dependent on police work also have been delayed.

It was unclear Friday if the proposed police and fire concessions would cover all 110 layoffs, or just the 100 originally proposed in December.

Even if the memberships of each public safety union approve the concessions and the city accepts them, Tacoma’s firefighters and police officers still aren’t out of the woods.

“I can’t imagine that this is it for public safety or anything else,” Fey said. “We still haven’t had a full accounting of what all of our savings have been yet.”

For weeks, city officials have said they planned to determine by March whether the city’s projected $31 million was holding true.  If it was, a second round of police and fire job cuts must be made, they said. In all, 44 police and 37 fire positions tentatively had been targeted for those cuts.

Then last week, an outside review of the city’s finances based on more recent data than what the city used in its forecasting pegged Tacoma’s budget shortfall even higher — at $32 million.

“A second round of layoffs had always been part of the plan,” city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said. “Now, it’s pretty clear the gap is at least $31 million and there’s going to be considerably more cuts that will need to happen than what was originally proposed in December.”

Those cuts could go beyond police and fire, McNair-Huff said. How they’ll play out remains to be seen, he said.

Representatives for the police union, which also hired its own outside accountant to review city finances, believe the city has surpluses in alternate funds to deal with any further general fund gaps this year.

“They might come back at us with more (layoffs),” Krause said. “My hope is they won’t. But the city has money. Beyond what we’ve put up in this mutual (concessions) proposal, I’d say it has to come from their excess funds.”

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