City labor unions have agreed to a tentative deal giving up a significant part of workers’ scheduled cost-of-living increases for next year.
In a press conference at City Hall on Friday afternoon (Sept. 10), Mayor Mike McGinn and the Coalition of City Unions hailed the agreement as a significant contribution to dealing with Seattle’s budget crisis. The agreement was estimated to save $6 million.
The McGinn administration had asked the unions to forgo cost-of-living increases this year, to help deal with the budget shortfall and save workers’ jobs. The union contracts called for 2 percent cost-of-living raises in 2011.
The agreement, which still must be ratified by unions' members, fell short of withholding the increases. Instead, the unions and the city agreed to a .6 percent hike, which McGinn said was equal to actual increases in the cost of living. The two sides also agreed to actual cost-of-living increases in 2012 and 2013, rather than the floor of 2 percent in existing contracts. The mayor said the city, in return, lifted constraints on the filing of grievances over contracted city work, and guaranteed existing health coverage terms through 2013.
McGinn praised the unions, saying they could have insisted on enforcing the existing terms of their contracts. He noted that the city is benefiting from the savings created by furlough days that employees previously agreed to take this year.
Of the new agreement, McGinn said, "This is a very significant amount of savings to the city." The city still will have to lay off employees, he said, but "we will retain more jobs as a result" of the agreement.
Jean Godden, chair of the city council’s budget committee, issued a brief statement welcoming the agreement. "I'd like to thank the coalition for their cooperation," Godden said. “It is important that we all work together to balance the budget in these difficult times."
McGinn said the city is also looking at its management staffing levels and that he will recommend freezing pay for senior-level employees in next year's budget.
As recently as last month, unions held a demonstration at City Hall to say they saw no need to give up the planned increases. In a message to McGinn, the unions said, “We are not interested in any type of proposal that contains reducing the cost of living adjustment for 2011.” Instead, they demanded that he first keep a campaign promise to cut 200 management jobs, an idea that had provoked furious opposition among many ranking City Hall workers.
About that time, McGinn’s budget director, Beth Goldberg, told the SeattlePI.com, “The result of this for us is that it's a tool that's off the table. We're back to what we've been doing [all] along, which is looking at cuts.”
Earlier in August, Seattle Fire Fighters Union Local 27 had decided to forgo its 2 percent cost-of-living raises entirely. Union officials said they would rather see the money go to preserving services and equipment. Electrical workers at City Light have so far refused to accept changes in their contracts. The city is talking with the police officers' union.
Asked why there would be any wage increases for the bulk of city employees after years in which their pay raises had exceeded the actual cost-of-living changes, McGinn said, "We have agreed to actual inflation. We believe that is a fair agreement."
Adrienne Thompson of the Coalition of City Unions said that each union has its own process for ratifying the agreement. Because the budget will be submitted to the council on Sept. 27, the coalition is trying for an early October decision on accepting the agreement.
McGinn expressed hope that, barring a sharp downturn in the economy, the city will be able to stabilize services after 2011. "We hope that we are creating a budget this year that will be sustainable moving forward, over the long run."
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