WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa strikes deal on furloughs with largest union


The City of Santa Rosa and the leaders of its largest union have struck a tentative deal calling for workers to take one unpaid furlough day per month, a concession long-sought by city officials struggling to close a $3.8 million deficit.

If approved, the agreement would reduce the general fund shortage by about $700,000 this year — 28 percent of the $2.5 million the city hopes to save through employee concessions.

After months at the bargaining table, city negotiators last week came to terms with representatives of the 450-member Santa Rosa City Employees Association, whose members include the core of the city’s administrative staff, such as planners, secretaries, financial analysts and engineers.

The agreement amounts to a 4.6 percent salary decrease for workers. The deal is important because it involves the city’s largest union and could jump-start ongoing negotiations with other unions, said Fran Elm, director of human resources.

“We think this is really giving us a little momentum that we can get more people on board with more concessions,” Elm said. “We’re hoping others will follow.”

The union is holding an informational meeting Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Steele Lane Community Center to discuss the issue with its members. Voting takes place all day Thursday.

If employees approve the one-year contract, the City Council will be asked to accept it on Tuesday. The last contract with the group was for three years and ended June 30.

City Planner Noah Housh, who represents about 93 professional workers in the union, said it is the first time he’s ever heard of the membership being asked to consider salary reductions.

“I feel like someone would feel to have their salary cut at the same time their duties are increased because we have fewer staff,” Housh said.

Mayor Susan Gorin said the council was informed of the agreement in closed session last week, but she declined to discuss it Tuesday.

“I don’t want to interfere with their communications with their members before they’ve had a chance to vote,” Gorin said.

The City Council in the spring asked most of its 1,230 employees to share the pain of the ongoing budget crisis by agreeing to concessions that reduced the city’s employee costs by 5 percent.

That $2.5 million in cuts, when combined with $1.3 million from additional revenue measures, constitute the council’s solution to the $3.8 million general fund deficit. The $109 million general fund is the pot of money over which elected officials have the most direct control.

The first union to strike a deal with the city was the 140-member Police Officers’ Association, which gave the city the right to eliminate six vacant positions and lay off officers in exchange for a one-year contract with no salary or benefit increases.

The City Council accepted the concession as meeting its 5 percent goal.

The tentative deal with the city workers stands in marked contrast to other previous concessions, said Jason Parrish, president of the Santa Rosa Management Association, a group of 121 mid-level city managers.

“They are the first unit to come forward who, in the greater scheme of things, have actually given something up,” Parrish said.

Several groups have agreed in recent years to give up or defer scheduled pay increases or pay a greater percentage of benefit costs. But this is first contract in recent years that calls for salaries to drop.

The managers’ group has submitted its latest offer to the city, and is hopeful it will be accepted, Parrish said. It’s “in the same ballpark” as the SRCEA agreement, but not exact, he said.

His union, for example, is in contract for another year, which changes the negotiating dynamics, he said. In addition, scheduling furloughs is a little tougher for his membership because many of his members manage departments that operate 24-7, he said.

He’s hoping the city recognizes the differences are important.

“Expecting that one size is going to fit all, you know, you can’t manage like that,” Parrish said.

The city’s 120 firefighters are negotiating over a 3.5 salary increase that they deferred in July while concession discussions moved forward, Elm said.

If there is no agreement by the end of September, those raises would kick in, she said.

The two sides continue to meet over the issue. “We hope to be settled by next week,” said Jack Thomas, president of the firefighters union.

The total savings to the city from the proposed SRCEA deal will amount to $1.4 million. Only half the savings goes to the general fund because about half the employees in the SRCEA work for departments funded with non-general fund dollars, such as water and sewer rates.

In addition to the SRCEA workers, 42 senior and mid-level managers and administrative employees unrepresented by a union will have the same terms imposed on them. That is expected to save $208,000, of which $167,700 is allocated to the general fund.

All together, the savings for both groups would come to $1.6 million total or $870,000 for the general fund.

10 Responses to “Santa Rosa strikes deal on furloughs with largest union”

  1. bear says:

    A furlough IS a pay cut. It reduces disposable income, so just ask any merchant in Santa Rosa if sales are increasing? No matter how much you hate government, you have to admit that public employees make and spend money in the community. Less income equals less spending. How hard is that?

    Too bad private employers don’t try to spread the pain in this selfless way. Instead, they’d rather merge, cut costs anyway they can, push their stock prices up anyway they can, and screw their workers and rest of us.

    I do have sympathy for private sector employees. We are not so different, but we get treated differently. Has it occurred to you that unions are not entirely useless? Would you rather lose 5% of income (not to mention getting screwed on healthcare by insurance and drug companies), or get laid off?

  2. Lyn Cramer says:

    @City Worker

    Yes, public safety workers are treated differently. Why? Because the public values what they do more than anything else the city does.

    Those who don’t risk their lives to protect the public, don’t work nights, weekends, and holidays, those who, basically, have a normal job will need to face facts. Other, more dangerous, jobs will sometimes get benefits and pay they don’t.

    I begrudge them not a bit. They earn it.

    Now, I’ll tick everyone off by saying that every city worker needs to face the new reality: the days of regular raises and spectacular increases in fringe benefits and retirement packages are, and should be, over.

  3. City Worker too says:

    Mr. City Worker,

    The article was well written but surely didnt include everything, including the truth. Public Safety HAS given back (approx 9%). Remember this insn’t the first year of budget crisis. PS gave back in the first two consecutive years while the SRCEA actually didnt give up ANYTHING! The article is simply talking about who is giving up what THIS TIME. As I recall SRCEA got a nice increase not too long ago.

  4. public worker says:

    While I agree with the Idea of furlough days, I think the real problem is that the work is not going to be getting done when it needs to be done and increasing pressure on the workforce to get tasks done. Another thing I’d like to point out is “Why and how much money is the city paying to construct and install these new modern art structures all around the city”. Like the 65 foot bicycle structure at the corner Santa Rosa Ave and Barham Ave. If you haven’t seen it go look and see what the City Council is up to while the workers who maintain the public infrastructure, streets,parks,water/sewer are being asked to take a pay cut. Kinda makes you wonder where there priority’s are at, Art or infrastructure?

  5. @Steele

    Are you prepared to give jobs to those you think should be laid off? If not, I’d suggest that you consider the fact that these city employees rely on the income from their jobs, just as I am sure you do. Instead of pushing for mass layoffs, why don’t we consider all of the other expenses that the city could cut back on, such as artsy projects in Downtown Santa Rosa. If the public at large can’t afford to buy extras, maybe we should ask the city to stop spending on those things as well. Just a thought.

  6. City Worker says:

    I don’t get it. Police let some vacant positions be eliminated and Fire has had significant pay increases over the last 5 years (~15%?)… It is Police and Fire’s retirement packages that are causing most of the City Budget problems, and yet it is non-safety employees who have to \share the pain\ by taking a pay cut! I wouldn’t mind if it were across the board, but this agreement is not sharing the pain. Police and Fire, you need to step up!

  7. Steele says:

    How about a lay off instead?
    Furloughs are in effective in that the demoralize the employees and encourage lower productivity.
    Grow a sack and cut the workforce.

  8. Dan says:

    Why do we keep referring to furloughs as salary reductions? These are two very different things and blurring the line between the two keeps both sides talking past each other, not to each other. I understand of course that in the race to when the hearts and minds of the largely ill-informed majority of voters out there the terms “salary reduction” or “pay cut” resonate as something greater than what is actually taking place. But lying about what is happening serves the interest of no one (well maybe it does, but that’s a subject for another time). I mean no disrespect to the workers who have accepted furloughs and fully understand the result to them is indeed a reduction in personal income. But this reduction in income is a trade off, accompanied by time off (even if not desired) and job security (layoffs avoided, for the moment anyway), which simply means the workers are working fewer hours. They are, and this is the key point overlooked in these discussions, still working at the same RATE of pay. That means the city’s payroll expense will increase right back to unsustainable pre-furlough levels once the hours are restored. The furlough reduces only temporarily the payroll cost to the city, and it does so at a loss of service to the community and does nothing to address the issue of public employee salaries that have over the years increased to unsustainable levels. Long term solutions to the city’s finacial plight require true reductions in unsustainable payroll costs to the city (be it personnel reductions or true salary reductions). Furloughs, as with so much in municipal finance, are only illusory, short-term fixes that provide no long term benefit.

  9. cornucopiosity says:

    I’m a City employee disgusted by these “negotiations.” We got virtually NOTHING in wage increases when times were good and now that the budget has been mismanaged and those responsible have taken other, better paying positions elsewhere? We’re asked to share the pain and give, give, give.

    Just please explain to my mortgage company, utility companies, and the warm and understanding tax folks that I’ll be reducing my payments to them by 5%. Oh, and I’ll include an “Oh, I’m sorry” note with every check I send.

  10. John says:

    What happens to the work that normally would be done on the furlough day? Does it get dropped and forgotten or is it added to the other work days and then…

    The answer is not Furloughs or pay concessions.

    This city needs to AGGRESIVELY pursue businesses to establish in Santa Rosa. Do WHATEVER IT TAKES and drop your lofty principles until the economy recovers. Be proactive and fill all of the empty commercial buildings. Generate Jobs and tax revenue. Don’t punish and smear your employees in the press.
    Be a good employer and support your people. Help them be successful. Management 101