Members of three city unions have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a deal that defers roughly half of their cost of living pay raises to help the city close a $10.3 million budget shortfall.
Two city Service Workers International Union (SEIU) locals voted to reduce their pay hikes from five percent to 2.46 percent for the next ten-and-a-half months, when they expect to recoup the deferred percentage.
Also, police officers voted 116 to 25 to reduce their increase from five percent to two for six months. Officers also agreed to an additional $646 cut per employee.
The votes give the city one year of financial breathing room, and—city officials hope—increased leverage in exacting concessions from Berkeley’s three other public employee bargaining units that have resisted the city’s offer.
“[The vote] was a pretty dramatic statement by the employees that they’re willing to get behind this,” said Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna. “We’re hoping that the other unions that didn’t see it that way will reconsider this as a good option.”
Last month, the city invoked a fiscal emergency clause for Public Employees Union Local One and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, forcing them to accept the same conditions agreed to by the SEIU employees. Both unions have hinted at taking the city to arbitration over the move.
Berkeley firefighters, who don’t have a fiscal emergency clause in their contract and have rebuffed city requests that they defer scheduled salary increases, face $300,000 in budget cuts this fall. The cut is equal to the amount the city would have saved had the firefighters agreed to accept only a two percent increase, deferring the remaining three percent of their scheduled five percent increase.
Caronna said the city still planned to offer the SEIU deals to Local One and IBEW Local 1245, which, if they accept, would shield them from layoffs this year and prevent the city from invoking the fiscal emergency contract until their contracts expire in 2008.
Despite increasing political pressure on IBEW (which at 20 members is the city’s smallest union) and Local One (which as the representative of middle managers is the best paid among non uniformed personnel) neither group has shown signs of yielding.
“The vote will have no effect on us,” said IBEW Shop Steward Rick Chan. “If you stand on principal, numbers don’t matter.” He contends the city has not negotiated with his union in good faith under the “meet and confer” process and has ignored the union’s offer to save the city money through voluntarily taking time off.
In all, the salary deferrals and other employee related cuts will save the city $2.8 million, of which $1.4 million would go to the general fund.
The deal, however, is only a one year stop-gap measure. With the city forecasting a $5 million deficit next year, Caronna said further union concessions might be required.›