Mayor expects city layoffs next year

BUDGET: He says city revenues likely to fall short by $20 million.

September 22, 2009 

Monday's rejection by city employees of a shorter workweek means layoffs and cuts in public services next year, Mayor Dan Sullivan said Tuesday.

"There's going to be some hue and cry out there as, I think, people see programs reduced, hours reduced, that sort of stuff, but it's what you have to do to balance the budget," he said.

Sullivan had asked the eight unions representing city workers to consider moving most of the work force from a 40-hour weekly shift to 37.5 hours, which would mean a pay cut of 6.25 percent. The largest union, the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association, turned the idea down 188-40 in a vote Monday, and Sullivan said two other unions have also refused. He said he wouldn't implement the change piecemeal even if other bargaining units agree.

Anchorage has been struggling with budget deficits all this year, and Sullivan and his finance team say more shortfalls lie ahead. He says city revenues are likely to fall around $20 million short of what is necessary for a continuation budget in 2010.

The mayor said he knew the decision wasn't easy for employees, many of whom won new wage increases in long-term labor contracts approved by the city and Assembly late last year.

"You're losing 2 1/2 hours a week, about a 6 percent cut," he said. "I know it was a tough decision for them."

Union officials had complained that Sullivan and his executives hadn't given them enough information about the workweek change, and a coalition of unions sent the mayor's office a request for clarification late last week. They said they hadn't gotten an answer as of Monday.

Employee Relations Director Nancy Usera said the coalition's letter arrived the same day she responded to a separate set of written questions from the AMEA. Union members also wanted more specific details about some issues, including how many jobs would be saved if they agreed to shorter hours and how many lost if they refused.

In her written response and at a meeting with AMEA members last week, Usera said some layoffs would likely be necessary even if the employees accepted shorter hours. She said she couldn't be specific.

"One of the things they asked was, will this guarantee no layoffs in the future?" Sullivan said. "We can't guarantee that because frankly this budget situation gets worse in each subsequent year."

Sullivan faces an Oct. 1 deadline for submitting his budget plan for next year to the Assembly. He wouldn't speculate on what the bottom-line number for that spending plan would be.

But he said that he still wants unions to suggest concessions "that will provide real, recurring savings" and not add to the overall cost of the long-term contracts.

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