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Union criticizes Ott’s move to withhold planned raises

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 by Austin Monitor

A spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has criticized City Manager Marc Ott for his decision to withhold market rate raises from city employees because of the downturn in city revenues.


On Friday, Ott notified city employees that vacancies would not be filled and that those scheduled to receive a pay raise later this month as the result of a market study would not do so. The two decisions together will save the city about $3 million, Ott said. The city is looking for total cuts of at least $25 million in light of falling sales tax revenues and the possibility of other revenue shortfalls.


Union spokesman Jack Kirfman said Monday that AFSCME was not consulted as it should have been before Ott made the announcement. Although he said the union agrees with the hiring freeze, they do not agree with the decision to put off the raises.


“This is his first rodeo. It’s not ours. We’ve been down this road before and we’ve been helpful in getting the city through an economic downturn. The workforce has been through a downturn,” in 2002-2003, Kirfman said, adding that city employees “preserved the highest level of service possible.”


According to Karen Sharp, acting director of Human Resources, about one-third of the city’s jobs were studied last year to determine which employees are being paid below their counterparts in the private sector. As a result of that study, she said, “1,088 employees would have gotten a pay increase had we implemented the market this month.”


Kirfman also said because the City Council approved the budget with the market raises in it, the City Council must approve a budget amendment in order stop the expenditure represented by those increases.


Ott, who is attending the inauguration of Barack Obama as President in Washington, DC, said he disagreed with the idea that the City Council would be required to make the decision about the budget.


“Even if that was the case I suspect that nobody on Council would disagree with my decision,” Ott said.


City Chief Financial Officer Leslie Browder said the city is saving about $900,000 as a result of not implementing the raises. The hiring freeze should result in a savings of approximately $2 million, she said.


In his memo to employees, Ott wrote, “(G)iven the current economic conditions, most organizations are not increasing salaries, while many others are even decreasing wages across the board or eliminating positions entirely. Therefore, due to our continuing financial pressures and taking into account the changing “market”, I feel that we must postpone this initiative.  However, I do want you to know that I remain dedicated to this important employee compensation program and fully plan to reconsider the situation as conditions improve.”


The hiring freeze and market raise decision impacts all departments except for fire, police and EMS and 911 call takers. The police and EMS unions have a contract with the city that is not impacted by these decisions. The firefighters do not have a contract.


Regular city employees received a 2.5 percent pay raise at the end of December. At the time, however, Ott axed an additional raise for those ranked “above average” or “exemplary” by their managers.

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