By Worcester District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller
I am writing this after a recent Worcester City Council budget meeting. By the time you read this, changes may have happened because this coming budget is still a work in progress. Here is where we stand now:
The CHALLENGE a week ago: find ways to close a $7,000,000 budget gap.
The STRATEGY: negotiate with our City’s unions on health care reform and wage increases. This is actually 3 pieces: (1.) City Manager O’Brien has developed a local health plan that significantly reduces costs to both employees and the city. (2.) We are asking city employees to pay 25% of the cost of health care. (3.) We are asking employees to take 0% wage increases for this coming year.
The PROMISE: the money saved with each union who agrees to accept these 3 conditions will go back into that same union to save jobs for the union and services for the taxpayers.
(Note: The City Manager moved all non-union city employees to these 3 conditions, including himself and his Administrative staff, earlier this year and preserved jobs and services. The City Council has also accepted these conditions, although there are no job savings that result and not all councilors use the city health coverage.)
The WRINKLE: All unions must agree to all 3 conditions in order to generate enough city-side savings to restore overtime accounts. This means that services that rely on overtime will be cut even if the union that works in those departments accepts the 3 conditions. You will see how this plays out further into this article.
WORCESTER FIRE DEPARTMENT union has agreed to the conditions. This saves 35 firefighter jobs, 1 Ladder Company, 1 Engine Company, and preserves our present average response time of 5 minutes and 49 seconds (the PROMISE). THANK YOU WFD! It does not, however, restore the overtime account (the WRINKLE) because not all unions have signed on as of now. Because of the overtime loss, brown-outs and temporary closings of companies will be used during periods of summer vacation and the like (NOT GOOD FOR US).
WORCESTER POLICE DEPARTMENT unions have agreed to the conditions. This saves 35 police officers, restores support to Community Policing, the Traffic Division, the School Liaison Program, and prevents demotions and 100 re-assignments (the PROMISE). THANK YOU WPD! Like the WFD, it does not restore the overtime account (the WRINKLE). So we will lose important programs like the Summer Impact, SWAT training (NOT GOOD FOR US). City Council voted, under the leadership of CC Bill Eddy, to hold the WPD budget for a few weeks to see if we could figure out a way to restore the Summer Impact. We all know that this program keeps us safe during highest risk summer months and we are not willing to kill it without a fight. The City Manager tells us that there is nowhere to find the money except by having all the unions agree to the 3 conditions (the STRATEGY).
That was the good news.
PUBLIC WORKS & PARKS: No union (Local 495) agreement yet. This means 19 layoffs, closing 2 yard waste sites (Foley and Clark Street) on Wednesdays and Saturdays, essentially the end of Keep Worcester Clean, no services for litter, overgrowth, trash, bulk items, graffiti. No parking enforcement except for downtown. New signage will only happen if $ can be found on an individual basis. No sweeping, no litter collection on business corridors, including downtown. Downtown trash receptacles will be emptied 3 times a week rather than 6. No park maintenance at 15 sites. No maintenance of veteran’s squares and monuments. THIS IS BOTH BAD AND UGLY FOR US.
INSPECTIONAL SERVICES: No union (Local 495) agreement yet. This means 6 layoffs, longer stretches between inspections, no Canada geese egg addling, neighborhood crime watch attendance reduced to every 3 months, reduced nuisance enforcement, reduced problem property reviews.
DEFINITELY NOT GOOD FOR US.
PUBLIC LIBRARY: No union (Local 495) agreement yet. This means 4 layoffs, reduced hours at Greendale branch, reduced outreach with WPS, must obtain a waiver to get State aid (if we fail to get the waiver the results will be 7 more layoffs and dramatic reductions at the Main branch), 10 Sunday closings at Main Branch, longer lines at the service desks. Also, fewer purchase of books, DVDs, audio books. All of this while the demands on the WPL are growing. OUCH! We have run out of Band-Aids. City Manager O’Brien tells us that he has groups that are interested in contributing money to the Library but only if the union agreement is in place – they are not willing to fund a system that no longer works.
CLERICAL POSITIONS: No union (Clerical Union) agreement yet. This means 8 layoffs in various departments. This will lengthen response times to housing court, assessment questions, and financial reports.
LESS WITH LESS.
Like I said at the beginning, the city budget is a work in progress. We need Local 495 and the Clerical Union to stay at the negotiation table and figure out how to stop the dire cuts in jobs and services. Our other unions have found a way to say “yes” and we cannot stop there.