By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park labor talks turned markedly rougher this week as the city manager pushed back against unions that rejected contract offers and whose leaders said top level employees weren’t being asked to equally share financial sacrifices.
“I strongly disagree,” City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said in an email to all city employees.
Union leaders had said rank and file workers were being asked to should an unfair burden as the city tries to establish a solid fiscal footing.
It was a striking step by Gonzalez, who has criticized the unions’ willingness to speak publicly about the negotiations.
Gonzalez did not return calls or an email seeking comment Thursday. But his action, and union accounts of the negotiations, suggest the talks are nearing a final stage when neither side can agree on a contract. That could lead to an unprecedented labor battle in Rohnert Park.
“This thing’s just going sideways,” said Jim McIntyre, who heads the Service Employees International Union local that represents 30 public works employees.
The email sent Tuesday outlined cuts 15 management and confidential employees, including himself, are absorbing. Management employees’ salary and benefits are being cut by 13.6 percent and confidential employees, including human resources staff, by just over 14 percent, Gonazalez said.
“I want to make clear that these reductions are all cash value to the city, no fluff,” and add up to $266,679 in savings, he said.
But union leaders questioned the figures and said his email had thrown up another obstacle in negotiations.
“I don’t know how he got or came to those numbers,” said Angie Smith, president of the 24-member Rohnert Park Employees Association, which represents office workers.
“Now the groups are so inflamed, it just got tougher,” said McIntyre, a city mechanic.
Council members, who have supported Gonzalez, had little to say Thursday about the labor talks, which have become unusually public.
“He is very desperately trying to fix our structural deficit, that’s been one of his driving points, that we have to get this city on the right path,” Mayor Gina Belforte said. “Are people having a hard time, I don’t know.”
Both Smith and McIntyre said the city is pushing the unions toward the impasse stage, with final meetings set for Tuesday.
“We’re trying to get back to the table, they’re kind of rushing us to impasse,” McIntyre said.
At that point, there are limited options for both sides. The city could maintain the status quo, force the acceptance of its final offer, lock out employees, or negotiate an interim contract.
“We’ve never been down this road before,” said Smith.
Last week, the city and its public safety officers’ union agreed on a contract containing $2.3 million in concessions.