Fire, police, school teacher and municipal employee unions have been asked to join non-union workers in providing budget savings
With a $10-12 million budget gap looming as the city looks ahead to FY2012 and the very real potential of additional cuts in state aid later this calendar year or in early 2011, Curtatone emphasized that the unions must offer sustainable savings.
"We cannot afford to think only of the short-term" he said. "Otherwise we will find ourselves suffering the same plight as other nearby cities and towns that have made deep service cuts."
Ward 2 Alderman Maryann M. Heuston stated on Thursday night that the state government is "starting to crumble" because the federal government is threatening to pull aid money from the states and that FY2012 looks as if it will be even more brutal when it comes to balancing municipal budgets. She drew a direct connection between these potential cuts and municipal jobs.
"We should make clear the devastation something like this can wreak on a city such as Somerville," she said. "We are not wealthy. We do not have deep pockets. We have people who the only thing they want to do is work. They want to be able to work and they want to be able to live here."
Somerville's Board of Alderman also has taken a temporary pay cut. During Thursday's Board of Aldermen meeting, Ward 7 Alderman Robert C. Trane expressed his hope that union employees would join in the push to protect more of the working families threatened by this budget crisis, praising the Mayor for making this latest overture to the unions.
"Hopefully they're going to step up to the plate here and help their own membership, help their own brothers and sisters," Trane said. "It's in their court now. They can make a big difference in some peoples' lives. These are people we all know. We all grew up with them. We see them daily on the ballfields and in the supermarkets and in the squares around the city."
The City had planned a reduction in force of 10 jobs, with another eight lost via attrition in order to help close its $8.1 million budget gap. The City also has identified a potential savings of $1.2 million that can be achieved by outsourcing school custodial services. Initially, the school custodians were unable to match those savings, but Mayor Curtatone has pledged to continue negotiations.
"We will work around the clock with the custodians to see if they can deliver the quality of service we are seeking for the savings we need to balance our budget," Curtatone said.
Ward 5 Alderman Sean T. O'Donovan added Thursday night that union leadership should heed the calls for shared sacrifice coming from the union membership.
"I know Aldermen have received emails from many union employees expressing a desire and hope that we would be able to hold onto the school custodians," he said.
The City and school unions have been given until noon on Monday, June 28 to respond to this appeal to help save jobs. Curtatone stressed that a show of solidarity from the unions is the last hope for find a way to balance the budget while retaining the maximum possible number of jobs.
"We have stretched every dollar and identified every efficiency," he said. "Non-union workers have done their part. If the unions are not willing to make concessions, then we will have no alternative but to eliminate these positions."
Letter that was given to union leadership by Mayor Curtatone
This past Tuesday evening at the public hearing for the FY11 budget, many people in Somerville came out in support of City employees facing layoffs. They spoke eloquently about the value provided by our librarians and school custodians. In fact, many of the people who made those impassioned speeches were City employees themselves.
The administration agrees that the people who comprise our City government have a value that should be respected. While considering options to close the $8.1 million FY2011 budget gap, we have done our utmost to protect City employees and the services they provide. Yet the budget gap must be closed and the only viable options currently on the table involve significant reductions in force.
It must be emphasized that the City of Somerville is caught in a budgetary bind not of its making . Compared to 10 years ago, Somerville will pay $30 million more in healthcare costs while receiving $16.6 million less in state aid. That is $46.6 million the City does not have compared to FY2001. The City has done a remarkable job of wringing out efficiencies in order to maintain services and jobs, but it is unable to keep ahead of these larger trends without making some drastic changes.
That is why we are coming back to our workforce and asking for concessions that will allow the City to preserve some of the jobs currently in jeopardy of being eliminated. We have been moved by your calls for solidarity. If we are to save the jobs of these employees, it will require sacrifices to be made by their brothers and sisters inside the City workforce. Already, department heads and non-union employees have agreed to a furlough in order to save positions threatened with elimination at the library. We are hopeful that the rest of our workforce will exhibit the same spirit and join this rally to preserve City jobs.
We stress that it will require assistance from all bargaining units to save these jobs. We cannot and must not repeat last year when only certain segments of the workforce agreed to a wage freeze or furlough (notably the Police Department, E-911, non-union employees and elected officials) while most others refused to share the sacrifice. The numbers simply will not work if this is not a collective effort.
We are sending letters to each bargaining unit today to lay out creative options where savings may be achieved. We will continue to ask more of our non-union employees and elected officials as well. Discussions will take place starting tomorrow to see if jobs can be saved thanks to sacrifices made by other segments of our workforce.
Once again, we have heard your pleas and we are willing to work up until the budget deadline next week to pursue alternative solutions.