Three large labor organizations distributed a statement Monday criticizing Mayor Karl Dean’s budget proposal for its suggested pay freezes and its bypassing of longevity bonuses for the next fiscal year.
The Service Employees Industry Union, along with the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters represent about 11,000 Metro workers, according to their media release.
“In these trying economic times, now is not the time for Mayor Dean to put Nashville’s working families in the unemployment line,” SEIU Local 205 President Doug Collier said. “We have examined the administration’s budget proposal and believe that there are ways to bring balance without all the layoffs and cuts they are proposing.”
The union groups expressed anger at Dean’s proposal to skip longevity bonuses and freeze pay for the next fiscal year.
Richard Riebeling, Metro’s finance director, said the decision was not one the administration relished. He said the administration had to make tough choices considering the difficult economic times.
“I respect their opinion,” Riebeling said of the union groups’ criticisms. “We proposed a budget we thought was fairest to all the Metro employees. The options are, as we talked about shared sacrifices throughout the government, employees have to make some sacrifice. The end result was trying to avoid potential layoffs.”
At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry said considering the pay freeze and skipping of the longevity bonuses proposed by Dean will be the biggest question facing Metro Council during its budget process.
“It’s like you heard during the budget hearing today, the questions of asking about longevity pay to department heads,” Barry said on Monday. “We are trying to get a sense if there is a belief from department heads if their employees are going to be in a position to be grateful, as one person put it, for just having a job.
“Or is there is going to be a lot more discussion regarding the fact that if we do continue to have longevity pay, what is that going to mean for the overall budget?”
The labor groups also criticized Dean for a lack of communication surrounding the budget process.
“There has been a troubling lack of communication from the mayor’s office,” President of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 140 President Doug Conquest said. “All of us have meet-and-confer agreements that the mayor’s office has signed off on. Those agreements have not been honored during this process and city employees deserve better treatment than that.”
Metro saw revenues dive $27 million this fiscal year, forcing Dean to make cuts or propose raising property taxes in order to balance the $1.5 billion budget. Dean proposed 10 percent cuts to most departments, which along with the pay freeze and skipping the longevity bonuses, also means laying off about 125 workers.