Members of AFSCME Local 7 protest Toledo City Council in front of One Government Center Tuesday.
The City of Toledo’s largest employee union Tuesday resoundingly rejected a fact finder’s report that calls for workers from tree trimmers to mechanics to pay more toward health-care and pension costs and accept a wage freeze for the next two years.
Altogether, 659 employees represented by Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees voted against the report, issued last week by independent fact finder Daniel Zeizer. Another 52 workers voted in favor. Some 200 of the union’s approximately 850 members also protested outside city hall earlier in the day, holding up placards and shouting slogans criticizing the proposed cuts and city officials.
“We’re just asking for a fair contract. This is taking too much too quick,” Local 7’s chief steward Rick Akeman said. “You can’t take too much too fast from hard-working people. They’re very upset. ... They can’t support their families.”
The report follows a hearing earlier this month in which city and union representatives put forward their positions on concessions sought by the administration of Mayor Mike Bell.
The city has been seeking to rein in labor costs to help balance its ailing budget and stretch revenues. The report recommends employee wage freezes for 2012 and 2013, and an increase in health-care contributions over the same period from the current 5 percent to as much as 15 percent, depending on worker income. Mr. Zeizer also advised that the city reduce its contributions to the employees’ pensions from 10 percent to 3 percent over the next two years.
Speaking in response to the report and protests Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Bell said the city needs the concessions so it can remain financially solvent. The workers should direct their anger at the economy, not the city, Mr. Bell said. Private businesses have already downsized, and the city is simply following suit, the mayor added.
“What we are attempting to do is be fair to everybody. This is not anti-union, this is very pro-citizen,” the mayor said. “We can only afford to pay what we have inside our bank.”
But union representatives said the city is attempting to balance its budget on the backs of its lowest-paid workers. Such concessions would cause immense hardship to the affected employees, union officials maintained. On average union members make $38,000 a year and would lose about $6,000 in take-home pay if the fact finder’s recommendations are implemented, they said.
“You’re looking at people who will be collecting welfare, food stamps, and losing houses over this,” Local 7 President Don Czerniak said. “Local 7 did not put the city in this situation. ... Don’t keep balancing your budget and slamming us for what you guys have spent money on.”
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell spoke Tuesday in response to the union's protest.
One of the protesters, waterline repairman Butch Bricker, said he has already seen his take-home pay drop over the past 12 years because of other union concessions. He said he lost his home to foreclosure four years ago and any more cuts would leave him unable to pay his basic bills. Mr. Bricker estimated losing $456 a month over the next two years if the fact finders’ recommendations move ahead. His current take home pay is $1,400 a month, he said.
“I’m already struggling,” the father of two stated. “My transportation bills are higher, my utility bills are higher, my grocery bills are higher. I can’t afford to lose another $450 a month.”
Matt Sutton, another waterline repairman and a father of three, said he was outraged by the fact finder’s recommendations. He said city officials in higher positions should be taking pay cuts, too.
“It’s always the little man getting the hit,” he said. “We should be able to afford to at least support our families because we work.”
Mayor Bell Tuesday countered that many nonunion employees have had to endure wage freezes too. He said that he is earning $14,000 less a year than previous mayor Carty Finkbeiner. This wage decrease was recommended by an independent salary review commission, not the mayor himself. The mayor’s salary is $122,408 a year.
Toledo City Council has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday at 1 p.m. to discuss the fact finder’s report.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett