By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park has erased its multi-million dollar budget deficit through labor agreements that extract nearly $1 million in concessions from two unions that represent a third of its workers.
The contracts — which closely resemble offers the unions turned down two weeks ago — include $782,000 in savings over one year, a major victory for a city that had been facing a $2.4 million deficit.
The agreements, signaling a hardening trend of imposed austerity on city workers, follow one the city signed with public safety workers in July that included $2.3 million in concessions over two years.
“We fixed our structural deficit, what we need to do now is we have a fiduciary responsibility to spend our money wisely,” said Mayor Gina Belforte. “We can’t go back to the way we were doing things.”
Union leaders bruised by the outcome of five months of negotiations said it was now up to the city to do right by workers who have taken cuts for several contracts running.
“I hope that they are very wise and cautious with the savings we have created for them,” said Jim McIntyre, a city mechanic and shop steward for the Service Employees International Union in Rohnert Park.
The bulk of the latest savings are achieved through shortened work weeks and mandatory furlough days, and changes that will force members of both unions to pay their full share of retirement pension premiums under the CalPERS system.
For 30 public works employees represented by the Service Employees International Union, the concessions amount to just under a nine percent cut in compensation and benefits, for total savings of $415,000.
For the 28 office workers in the Rohnert Park Employees Association, the cuts are steeper, 13 percent in combined salary and benefit givebacks, for a total savings of $367,000.
City Manager Gabe Gonzalez called the new contracts “significant and important.”
Together with the agreements with public safety officers and the city’s 15 management and confidential employees, “The combined amount takes care of the deficit,” he said.
But the reactions on Monday of city leaders and employees underscored the deep divide that developed during labor talks that grew increasingly bitter and veered toward breakdown by the end.
The agreements reflected “leadership and dedication” from the unions, Belforte said. “We were able to find a solution and we were able to compromise.”
She added, “I know it’s going to hurt a lot of our employees.”
Angie Smith, a purchasing agent and president of the employees association, said, “They played hardball with us.”
The two unions approved the contracts under pressure from the city, which was close to declaring the negotiations at an impasse, a stage which would have allowed it to impose terms unilaterally.
“We were at the point of it,” said McIntyre.
Smith acknowledged the degree to which the union’s options had dwindled at the close of talks.
“It’s pretty much what we rejected,” she said of the final contract.
She and McIntyre also repeated objections voiced during the late stage of negotiations, saying that the management and confidential employee units — who do not bargain but rather are presented with contracts they have to agree to — took softer hits overall.
“This was pick and choose and some units suffered more than others,” said McIntyre.
“We hope in the future negotiations will be fair and equitable among all parties because this time they were definitely not,” said Smith.
Gonzalez said that both management and confidential employees took pay and benefit cuts of between 13 and 14 percent, largely from a reduction in the number of overtime hours.
McIntyre said his group was facing 13 percent cuts when it launched a last-minute lobbying effort at a July 26 City Council meeting, where members made impassioned pleas for a better deal,. He said that effort made the difference between bad and worse.
“That final push, it saved us almost four percent,” he said.