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Media Coverage
Richmond Votes To Cut 14 Workers
April 13, 1998



Thursday, April 30, 1998
Section: news
Page: A03
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND Fourteen workers are slated to lose their jobs if Richmond goes ahead with a layoff plan that has been approved by the City Council.

Pink slips will be sent to workers by May 8, but the council wants a final say before anyone is shown the door. And officials still hope a last-ditch effort will find enough money to save the jobs.

The council voted 5-3 on Tuesday to send layoff notices. Mayor Rosemary Corbin was absent.

The decision came after the city's top union rejected a wage cut and followed failed efforts to eliminate a top management job and tap into the city's reserve funds.

Union workers decried the proposed cuts, saying the budget is unfair to rank-and-file employees. They also criticized the city for failing to find new sources of revenue and for looking to them for wage concessions when other municipal unions received salary increases.

The vote came after weeks of indecision by the council about the budget. Council members, some of whom were heavily supported by employee unions during their campaigns, have tried to avoid layoffs.

And despite Tuesday's vote, they're still holding out hope that they'll find a way to keep from carrying out the cuts. Before any jobs are lost, council members will vote again, and they encouraged the city staff and the unions to continue searching for a better plan.

"Hopefully we will end up in a situation where no one has to be laid off, but the best that can be hoped for may be that it will be less than 14," interim City Manager Leveron Bryant said Wednesday.

Members of Service Employees International Union Local 790, which represents the majority of city workers, rejected a 3 percent across-the-board wage cut beginning in July. The cut would have saved the city about $1.5 million and would have avoided layoffs.

"It seems that the budget is always balanced on the backs of 790," said Marshall Walker III, president of the union. "We want no layoffs and we want no cuts."

Much of the union's opposition to the wage cut was triggered by the council's approval of a contract giving police officers with more than five years on the job a 4.5 percent raise, Walker said. The council had approved 2 percent raises for Local 790 and police and fire management, adding nearly $2 million to the budget, even as the city struggles with ways to make ends meet next year.

Cost-saving measures including retirements, elimination of positions and layoffs save about $4.2 million from the $68.9 million general fund budget for the coming year. The layoffs save about $1.3 million. The general fund pays for most city services, including police, fire, recreation and planning.

Some 60 union workers pleaded with the council to save their jobs at Tuesday's meeting.

"We're the front line of this city, we do the work of this city," said Greg Pirak, a nine-year maintenance mechanic in the waste water division. "You're top-heavy with management; that's where you need to cut."

The budget plan was drafted by the city's 10 executive managers, including Bryant and Finance Director Marla Taylor.

Councilman Tom Butt made an effort to eliminate the position of deputy city manager of cultural services, which is occupied by Henry Tingle, but he failed to garner the support of a majority of the council.

Several people spoke on Tingle's behalf, and some accused Butt of attacking Tingle for personal reasons. Some council members said they prefer to leave the decision to the new city manager.

Larry Hendel, a city staff member and East Bay political director of Local 790, chastised the city for failing to come up with ways to generate new revenue, and blamed the council for the failure of Measure H, which would have levied $3.4 million annually in property taxes.

An effort by Councilman Alex Evans to save an additional $635,000 by cutting in half budget reserves and grants to nonprofit groups was defeated by a majority vote of the council.

Councilman Richard Griffin called the idea of reducing budget reserves from $1 million asinine. Councilwoman Donna Powers said taking money away from the grants program is like taking food out of the mouths of the city's poor.

"What we're talking about here is services to the needy that the city can't provide," Powers said.