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Published: Tuesday, 12/28/2010

Bell again asks concessions in midcontract

Mayor Mike Bell's letter suggests a reopener is necessary because of City Council inaction. Mayor Mike Bell's letter suggests a reopener is necessary because of City Council inaction.
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For the second time this year, Mayor Mike Bell is looking for concessions from Toledo's unionized employees.

Late Monday, he sent letters to the bargaining units suggesting midcontract givebacks are necessary to keep the 2011 budget in balance.

No union leader or council member contacted Monday night had been told of the proposal in advance. The mayor announced it in a news release.

The mayor implied in the release that reopening contract negotiations is necessary because council has not acted on key proposals of the administration's: the Ottawa Hills Fire Department merger and water and sewer rate increases. Council also has not taken action on a proposal that the city drop refuse collection and turn that responsibility over to Lucas County.

Unionized employees are to get pay hikes next year of 2 percent to 6.5 percent under contracts adopted by City Council in 2009. The raises were factored into the administration's budget proposal submitted to council Nov. 15.

If council adopted all of the proposals, savings to the general fund would amount to $3.2 million, about the cost of the pay increases, according to the mayor's office.

"I don't see how we in the city can justify pay increases on the backs of our constituents when we are not willing to make policy changes that will save this community money and create greater efficiency in the long run," the mayor is quoted in the release. "It is an unacceptable option when others in city government are unwilling to change the way we do business."

The mayor wants a response from each union no later than noon Monday.

Union leaders reached Monday night were skeptical of the proposal.

Alan Cox, whose AFSCME local represents supervisory and professional personnel, said the mayor had "left a pretty bad taste in my mouth" in imposing concessions earlier this year, and said he would approach the call to reopen the contracts cautiously.

Another AFSCME leader, Don Czerniak, whose local represents lower-paid workers, said flatly that his membership had nothing more to give and was mostly outside the general fund anyway.

Council President Wilma Brown said Mr. Bell should wait before attempting to engage the unions in midcontract negotiations.

"I think we are trying to come up with a solution for Ottawa Hills and the water rates and he needs to give it time," she said. "We are trying to come up with something next month and I have said all along we would come up with something in January."

With the exception of Firefighters Local 92 and Teamsters Local 20, no city union agreed to midcontract concessions in 2010 until after the city declared "exigent circumstances" and forced even harsher givebacks. Midcontract accords in 2010 offered a way out of harsher givebacks.

Local 92 agreed to a midcontract concessionary agreement before the exigent circumstances, and Teamsters Local 20 was not forced into exigent circumstances because it was negotiatinG a new contract.

The Toledo Police Command Officers would not agree to concessions and are still fighting the city's exigent circumstances declaration and imposed concessions before the State Employment Relations Board.

Councilman George Sarantou said he had not seen the mayor's letter to the unions and declined to comment Monday night.

Councilman Joe McNamara said the mayor contributed to the budget impasse.

"Mayor Bell exacerbated labor costs by pushing deferred overtime into the 2011 budget and is now attempting to blame council for the financial strain that decision created," he said. "The proposed 2011 budget is premised on an unprecedented raid on the capital improvement fund and a dubious asset-sale assumption. Therefore, I am glad that the mayor is talking to the bargaining units."

He said he is hopeful the city unions will "appreciate the great financial strain most Toledoans are facing and would at least consider deferring overtime for another year." He said income tax collections would return to normal levels as the economy continues to recover and the city would be better able to meet its contractual obligations.

Councilman Lindsay Webb said she assumed the unions would agree to talks but not necessarily concessions again.

"It is my belief the mayor would enter into midcontract negotiations regardless of the three items mentioned in his press release," she said. "Since he has taken office, he has consistently returned to the bargaining table asking for concessions and at the same time not communicating with the bargaining units."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: ignaziomessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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