Local news

City layoff list puts 120 workers at risk

Department heads consider options for getting by with fewer employees

Spokane administrators next week will inform about 120 workers that they will lose their jobs by the end of the year.

Some could be demoted but remain on the city payroll.

Mayor Mary Verner said that the notices will be given to affected workers on Oct. 1 but that unions will have more time to agree to concessions to lower the number of pink slips.

“I will not turn down a reasonable proposal that helps us save jobs and services for the city,” Verner said during an interview late last week. “We really just don’t have the flexibility to offer very much at this point except saving jobs.”

Earlier this month, Verner announced that she was asking unions to give up their 2010 pay raises and to cover more of the cost of health insurance.

Erin Jacobson, the city’s acting human resources director, said the city is working through civil service and contract rules to finalize the lists of layoff and demotion notices.

Included in the cuts would be 47 positions in the police department and 28 in the fire department. City officials did not have firm numbers immediately available for other departments.

The number of layoffs is based on a 9 percent cut in most city departments funded primarily through taxes. About 800 workers in the city’s trash, water, sewer and other departments funded by utility fees are not affected by the cuts.

Kristy Pettit, president of the Spokane Managerial and Professional Association, said her group has not been told how many jobs could be lost in the union, which represents about 320 workers.

“We’ve been asking the city for quite a while for a list,” Pettit said. “It’s a little difficult to negotiate if you don’t know what you’re up against.”

Still, Pettit and other city union leaders say they will work to prevent job losses.

Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams said 15 of the 28 positions have been kept unfilled in fear of layoffs. It’s possible, he said, that enough employees will retire to prevent any firefighter from losing a job.

Even if pink slips are avoided, he said, losing 28 positions would have a serious effect on the department’s service levels.

Williams said he has proposed two ways to cut the jobs with different implications to service and response times. One possibility would lower from six to two the number of stations that have four on-duty firefighters.

Another would close one of the city’s 14 stations – possibly Station No. 9, at 1722 S. Bernard St., and lower from six to five the number of stations with four on-duty firefighters.

Police Officer Jennifer De Ruwe said that of the 47 police positions slated to be lost, the department estimates that about 10 will be vacant through retirements or other departures.

Cuts planned by Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, if necessary, include elimination of a fraud investigation unit, reduction of the Neighborhood Resource Officer program from six to two officers and cutting two K-9 officers, De Ruwe said.

Verner said the city lacks as much flexibility as it did a year ago when union concessions helped prevent layoffs. Employee groups were given wide flexibility in creating savings.

Firefighters, for instance, gave up no pay or benefits. Instead, the city gave them an early retirement plan that saves money by removing higher-paid veterans from the payroll. The Spokane Police Guild agreed to forgo a pay raise in 2010 in exchange for 52 hours extra in vacation.

“I think we’re of a common understanding,” Verner said. “They understand what my options are, and I understand that it’s challenging for them and that they have a lot of work to do with their members.”

Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley noted that workers in governments across the country have been making similar concessions to save jobs.

“I really think we’re having productive dialogue,” Cooley said. “I would say the tone of all the labor discussions right now is very positive.”

Unless concessions are made, workers who receive pink slips will be on the payroll until Christmas – the final day of the last full pay period of the year, Jacobson said.

“We all looked at the calendar and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”

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