By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park public works employees showed up en masse at Tuesday’s City Council meeting in a last-minute attempt to win public support as five months of contract negotiations come to a contentious close.
Union leaders say they’re being asked to shoulder an unfair burden in the city’s attempt to close its budget deficit while administrators escape the same level of pain.
“We gave a lot last year,” electrician Steve Gossage told the council. “We’re giving a lot this year. When does it end? These cuts are really going to hurt.”
Mayor Gina Belforte and City Manager Gabe Gonzalez gave little response to the pleas. Both said they were bound by confidentiality during negotiations, which are set to end Thursday when the council meets in closed session to discuss contracts.
“All I can do is listen,” Beforte said.
In an email last week, Gonzalez wrote that the city’s 15 management and confidential employees, including himself, would have salary and benefits cut by more than 13 percent.
But Jim McIntyre, a city mechanic who heads the Service Employees International Union local, disputed that number, saying those reductions are mostly to perks, not salaries.
Public works employees, meanwhile, are facing a near-certain 11 percent cut in real pay, he said.
In response, the union wants the city to lay off seasonal part-timers, freeze hiring for a year and agree to a two-year contract, he said. He said Tuesday’s turnout at the council meeting was an attempt to win support from the public watching on television and in the audience more than to address the council.
“”We can’t change their minds, but the public can,” he said.
He said he was not optimistic an agreement would be forthcoming Wednesday when negotiators meet with city officials for a final attempt to hammer things out.
By Friday, he said, he expects to be working without a contract under an agreement unilaterally imposed by the city.
Still, he was more optimistic than Angie Smith, president of the 24-member Rohnert Park Employees Association, which represents office workers.
The union met with city leaders earlier Tuesday and got nowhere, she said. She opted not to address council on Tuesday.
“We basically realized we were banging our heads against a wall,” she said.
Earlier this month, the city and its public safety officers union agreed on a contract containing $2.3 million in concessions.