By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Government leaders have asked Toledo’s largest union to accept lower pay increases to shore up the city budget.
The union – Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees – said no.
On Nov. 25, city human resources director Marsha Serio sent a letter to the union president, Charlie Noble, asking that the union agree to “reopen economic terms” of their contract and reduce the pay raises union members are scheduled to receive Jan. 1.
The letter said the city is facing severe budget constraints that require “reductions of force.” Under the terms of Local 7’s contract, that means the city can ask for the contract to be reopened.
But the union must agree to the reopening, and Mr. Noble said no. He said the letter was as much a positioning for contract negotiations as a serious request.
“We had anticipated it,” he said. “It’s part of the bargaining game. I understand where they’re coming from.”
The preliminary budget Mayor Carty Finkbeiner presented to the council on Nov. 16 calls for the elimination of 30 positions, and Ms. Serio said that number may be as high as 40. But more than 40 city government positions are vacant, so layoffs might not be necessary, city officials have said.
Ms. Serio said that lower pay raises could mean fewer positions would have to be eliminated.
“There is a problem in the budget, and it is only fair that the city try to do something about it,” she said.
Personnel costs take up about three-quarters of the city’s annual budget, and Local 7 is the city’s largest union, representing more than 900 of the city’s 3,000 employees.
On Jan. 1, Local 7 members will receive a 3.5 per cent raise. In addition, the city will begin paying, in full, each employee’s contribution to the state pension system. Currently, employees pay 2.3 per cent of their salary to the pension system.
Mr. Noble said that in times of true economic crisis, the union has been willing to reconsider pay raises. He said that in the early 1980s, the union agreed to lower pay raises because of a tumbling economy.
But with the economy as strong as it is, he said, “this is not an economic crunch or a shortage of revenue. What we’re facing here is a priority of spending.”
Both sides have agreed to meet to discuss the city’s budget, but reopening the contract will not be an option, Mr. Noble said. Those discussions have not yet been scheduled.
Local 7’s contract expires on June 30. Mr. Noble said no negotiations for a new contract have been scheduled, but he said he hoped the two sides would start talking in March.
Ms. Serio said the Local 7 contract was the only city union contract that included a clause for reopening. Contracts with police, fire, and other city employees could not be reopened.