Escondido, Calif., plans to lay off 46 as budget crisis looms
(North County Times (Escondido, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 19--ESCONDIDO -- The city will lay off 46 middle managers, clerical workers, engineers and code enforcement agents if a last-minute deal for voluntary pay cuts can't be worked out with a labor union representing many of the workers, City Manager Clay Phillips said Thursday.
Prospects for the 5 percent pay cuts appeared to dim during Thursday's meeting of the City Council budget subcommittee, with union officials complaining about the city's layoff "threats" and city officials accusing the union of "posturing" and trying to create new bargaining rules.
Phillips said the union, which represents 187 of the city's 818 employees, would have to approve the pay cuts within the next few days for that approach to remain a viable option.
He said the layoffs would be presented to the City Council for approval Jan. 7 and take effect Feb. 1.
But union President Russ Lane said his group is concerned that the city might dismiss employees even if the union agrees to pay cuts.
"The 5 percent pay cut is no insurance that there would be no layoffs after the first of the year," Lane said.
On Thursday, Phillips provided new details about the possible layoffs, which were proposed earlier this month.
Those details included the number of people who would be laid off and a general summary of their jobs.
But Phillips declined to provide more specifics.
"I'm hesitant to say much because I don't want people to panic," he told the subcommittee.
After the meeting, he said no maintenance workers would be laid off and that the only employees cut from the police and fire departments would be support staff, not firefighters or police officers.
He said city department heads had the council's priorities of preserving public safety and infrastructure in mind when they created the list of proposed layoffs this week.
He said the list would be finalized Friday.
The layoffs would yield more than $900,000 in savings and would help the city shrink a projected $7.6 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that runs through June 30.
The pay cuts, which would affect all 224 employees in City Hall, would yield about $640,000.
The budget subcommittee members -- Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler and Councilman Dick Daniels -- said they would prefer the pay cuts over forcing people out of their jobs.
But they said the union, the Escondido City Employees Association, was giving them no choice.
The city manager said the layoffs, which would be combined with deep service cuts in public safety, libraries, recreation and other programs, would much more effectively solve the city's long-term budget problems.
Even when combined with all the other budget reductions, the voluntary pay cuts still would leave the city facing a projected $1.7 million budget deficit during the fiscal year that begins in July.
But if the other reductions were combined with the dismissals, the budget for that fiscal year would be balanced.
The union refused to discuss voluntary pay cuts for several weeks after the city first suggested them in early November.
But when city officials began threatening layoffs, union leaders said they would consider the pay cuts under certain conditions.
One condition was that the pay cuts couldn't be quickly followed by layoffs.
Another was that city officials couldn't impose any labor contract changes unless both sides fully agreed.
In typical negotiations, the city may unilaterally make contract changes when no agreement is reached.
Lane explained his group's position to the subcommittee on Thursday.
"If we're going to meet and confer, we need something besides threats," he said.
But no city officials were willing to promise that the pay cuts would not be followed by layoffs, and they also balked at the union's demands for new bargaining rules.
Assistant City Manager Gail Sullivan said the new rules would make the process "meaningless."
Pfeiler said bargaining would have to follow the normal rules.
"If there's conditions, we can't get to the end of the process," she said.
Pfeiler also tried to quell any speculation that the other three members of the council might have different opinions of the layoffs.
She said the entire council came to consensus on the issue during a closed session meeting Wednesday night.
Daniels blamed the union for the stalemate.
"The only thing that's holding us up is the posturing of the union's leadership," Daniels said.
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Copyright (c) 2008, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.
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