By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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.