Police and fire hit by layoffs
By ALAN BURKE
and SEAN CORCORAN
PEABODY -- Four firefighters and four police officers were to be told last night that they are being laid off, bringing to 15 the number of city workers who have been let go during the past two months in the face of cuts in state aid.
Five City Hall workers were axed in May, and two people in the Health Department were given notices two weeks ago. All but one of those workers have since departed, said Personnel Director Heidi Henson.
"Next week we'll send out several more notices," said a downcast Mayor Mike Bonfanti. He estimated that as things stand today, as many as 70 people may lose their jobs before the fiscal year 2004 budget is balanced. But that number could change.
"We're trying to be flexible based on what the final budget might be," he said. "We're still trying to do everything we can to save people."
City officials are hoping to cut $3.4 million from its fiscal year 2004 budget, which kicks in July 1. The budget still must be approved by the City Council, which will get its first look at the mayor's spending plan tonight. The budget totaled slightly more than $111 million this fiscal year.
The mayor blamed Gov. Mitt Romney and the Legislature for the job losses and warned that if Beacon Hill fails to pass a pending early retirement package for cities and towns, matters will swiftly grow worse.
"The Legislature is too concerned with saving Billy Bulger," he said, lamenting that cities and towns haven't been given the tools to deal with their money woes.
"This is just part of the budget crisis forced on us by Gov. Romney," the mayor added, noting that Romney has refused to consider an income tax increase.
As it is, Bonfanti estimated that as many as 21 workers on the city side of the budget and up to 47 school positions (some are not full time) are likely to be axed.
Bonfanti stressed that the process of choosing people to let go is an agonizing one, done systematically in consultation with department heads. "These are our neighbors," he said.
The public safety workers, whose names have been withheld, were to be issued notices based on seniority. They were to be given the bad news in personal interviews with their respective chiefs. The four firefighters are not regular employees, but are designated "working reserve," Henson said.
Henson explained that the date of their departure cannot yet be determined, but she added, "I don't believe that they'll be working past July 1."
City Councilor and state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis expressed optimism that the retirement package will pass the Legislature. The initiative is part of a municipal relief package that the House approved last week and the Senate is scheduled to debate on Thursday.
"I can't imagine that the Senate wouldn't go along with it," Spiliotis said.
She expressed surprise that the layoff notices were sent out before the budget was finalized.
"I thought the layoffs would come after July 1," she said.
At a May 27 meeting with the Finance Committee, city Finance Director Patty Schaffer said that about 80 city employees have expressed interest in taking advantage of any early retirement benefits that might become available.
"The early retirement would be a big thing," Finance Committee Chairman Jim Liacos said yesterday. "It would pretty much help us avoid any mandatory layoffs."
One down side to offering early retirement packages is that during the first year they are implemented, the city must absorb additional costs such as buying back sick leave. However, Liacos said savings would then be experienced in later years.
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06-10-2003, 11:52 PM #1
Another Mass. city under staffed as is,gets more cuts!
06-11-2003, 08:51 AM #2The mayor blamed Gov. Mitt Romney and the Legislature for the job losses and warned that if Beacon Hill fails to pass a pending early retirement package for cities and towns, matters will swiftly grow worse.
Explain to me how communities can be hiring people to replace personnel when the town next door is laying off? One headed the warnings while the other did not. Cambridge, Ware, Amesbury, Winthrop, and others have sent out cards to me or to my friends from the civil service list. Explain how they can hire while others cannot.
By the way, I continue to hear very big rumbles that next year will be the same if not worse with another 15% cut to local aid and reimbursements."Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." Will Rogers
The borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7 - Debt free since 10/5/2009.
"No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." - New York Judge Gideon Tucker
"As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government." - Dave Barry
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06-12-2003, 08:55 AM #3
The impact of such cuts in any part of emergency services only looks good on paper to those in high places. These will be the same people who ask the chief in Peabody why a house burned or why that cardiac arrest didn't get a quicker response. Paramedic ridealong-- how about politician ridealong?!? Good luck to everyone experiencing layoffs.
06-12-2003, 12:27 PM #4
Peabody police, fire unions may sue over layoffs
By SEAN CORCORAN
PEABODY -- The president of the Police Patrolmen's Union says he and his membership were "blindsided" when four officers received layoff notices on Monday.
Union President Manny Costa called the layoffs "a violation of the law," and said the union intends to file a grievance against the city with the state Labor Relations Commission, as well as seek a court injunction to block the cuts.
The firefighters union -- whose executive board also was unaware layoffs were coming this week -- is considering launching a court battle of its own.
Firefighters union President Dave Ahern said the job cuts violate a city ordinance that requires at least 80 full-time firefighters in the department. Already down two people due to retirements, Ahern said, the department's staffing level would drop to 74 with the layoffs.
"It would be up to our attorney as to how to proceed," Ahern said. "But it would be my expectation that, if nothing else, we would seek a court injunction pending the outcome of a ruling."
Ahern compared the case to one recently brought by the Salem Fire Department. Last month, a judge in that case ordered Salem to fully fund the department at 95 firefighters, as specified in the firefighters' contract.
The Peabody firefighters' contract does not specifically set staffing levels, but Ahern said it references the city ordinance that mandates 80 full-time firefighters.
Told of the union's intention to seek relief in the courts, City Attorney Daniel Kulak said referencing the city ordinance is not good enough.
"They are two different cases," Kulak said.
In the case of the Police Department, Costa said, the layoffs were "a slap in the face to our association." State law required the city to negotiate with the union about the impact of the job cuts, but that was not done, Costa said.
In Kulak's view, the law required only that bargaining occur prior to the layoffs taking effect, not before the notices are sent out. An attorney for the police union is scheduled to meet with Kulak Tuesday, Kulak said, which will fulfill the requirements of the law.
In any case, rather than laying off police officers, Costa said the city should first cut the department's civilian dispatchers. Unlike the dispatchers, sworn police officers can play several roles in the department, including dispatch.
"I don't want to make it civilian dispatchers versus us," he said, "but it seems like they should go before the police officers.
"We should not be replacing officers with arrest powers and training to work in more than one capacity ... (with) one-dimensional personnel."
Costa also criticized Mayor Mike Bonfanti for having the police chief distribute the layoff notices. As the leader of the city, Bonfanti should "have the guts to meet face to face in these situations, not hand the job off to someone else," Costa said.
Costa recounted how last Friday morning, he was told by Chief Robert Champagne that the chief intended to call four officers into his office Monday at 4 p.m., but the meeting would be informational only.
"They were to be told that possible layoffs were coming and other employment opportunities were out there," Costa said. "This was to be done so they could get their names out there prior to others.
"These poor guys got blindsided Monday, and didn't even know what they were getting into," Costa said.
Yesterday, Champagne said he told Costa the meeting would be informational because that was his understanding as well. But things changed.
"I anticipated there was bad news coming," Champagne said, "and I wanted them to hear it from me face-to-face before they were served with some papers."
"Unfortunately, between the time I talked to Manny Costa and the time they came in on Monday, I was told by City Hall that I had to serve them on Monday. Clearly, circumstances changed."
Costa met with Bonfanti yesterday and said he told the mayor that rather than cutting officers, the city should first remove specialty jobs such as motorcycle patrols, as well as discontinue membership in NEMLAC, a regional police organization.
"These are nice services to provide," he said, "but being part of a regional service and leasing motorcycles at the expense of bodies is unacceptable and should not be tolerated."
When told of the suggestions, Kulak said, "The city is more than happy to meet and discuss alternative methods short of the layoffs."
The layoffs are due to take effect June 28, Costa said.
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