The rhetorical battle over the upcoming city budget has begun, just days before Mayor Eddie A. Perez releases what could be the city's toughest budget ever.
On Thursday, five of the city's labor unions announced they had formed the "Hartford Public Services Coalition." In a press release, the unions say they're willing to make certain sacrifices, but not at the expense of city services.
"The Hartford Public Services coalition believes it is irresponsible to continue balancing the city budget by cutting vital services without regard for the impact on residents, property owners, renters and businesses," they said. "We did not create the problems afflicting Hartford, but we intend to be part of a positive solution." (Getty Images)
In an email, Sarah Barr, Perez's spokeswoman, said the mayor appreciated the union effort but added that the unions have not yet given the city any "substantive concessions that will allow us to both retain services and the employees who provide those critical services."
As Cityline has recently reported, Perez has asked each of the city's various unions for concessions - the same type of concessions he says he asked his non-union employees for. Their mutual goal is to shrink the city's projected $40 million deficit next year.
Perez has been met with mixed results - some rejections, some continuing discussions.
(FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Here's the city's run-down of the current status of concessions talks.
"We currently have proposals from the MLA, HMEA and Fire Unions. These proposals are being reviewed and costed out. Also, we were told that 1716 will be submitting a proposal. The Police Union has said no to concessions. The School Crossing Guards and CHPEA Unions are in negotiations with the City. The concessions for the Non-Bargaining Union for Fiscal year 09-10 total $450,000.00.")
Now, though, the budget clock is ticking. Perez must, by law, file his budget on Monday and the city council will soon begin deliberating. Rumors about projected tax increases have started to circulate, and city employees no doubt fear more layoffs like the ones seen last year for non-public safety staff.
Barr said the city's employees should look to state employees for inspiration.
"It would be more constructive, instead of issuing news releases, that the unions in the coalition follow the example of the state employee unions and help find savings that make a real difference in the city's budget," she said.
But Richard Rodriguez, whose police union recently rejected the city's concessions proposal, said it's hard to agree to give something back when the city won't open its books.
"Let's identify the waste and work on that before we even go and jump to concessions," he said. "This coalition is not wiling to be a copycat for concessions when we don't know where the city is financially."
"Maybe the state is being transparent with their unions," Rodriguez said, "but the city is not."
Preserve Quality Services for Residents and Businesses
Hartford public service workers are uniting to confront the economic crisis gripping our capital city. Members of Hartford's municipal unions have formed a coalition to work with elected officials, community leaders, and the private sector to help turn the local economy around while meeting the increased need for quality public services.
Our unions' members have sacrificed to protect public services and help the city navigate its way out of economic challenges; we are willing to sacrifice. However, the city's public service workers believe any sacrifice must be part of a comprehensive solution that makes things better, not worse, for the people they serve.
The Hartford Public Services coalition believes it is irresponsible to continue balancing the city budget by cutting vital services without regard for the impact on residents, property owners, renters and businesses. We did not create the problems afflicting Hartford, but we intend to be part of a positive solution.
Members of the coalition's unions call on the city leaders to join us in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Our goal is to work with the Mayor and the Court of Common Council, as well as small businesses, community advocates, and other stakeholders to:
• Identify waste and inefficiencies before cutting services that impact residents and businesses at the neighborhood and community level;
• Lead by example in job growth and development by prioritizing front-line service positions over bureaucratic, patronage positions;
• Ensure the city's public service workers have a voice on the job in decisions impacting delivery of vital services and needs; and
• Lobby jointly for desperately needed municipal aid, improved healthcare options and our fair share of federal stimulus dollars.
Hartford's municipal employees have always understood that tough economic times are when the people they serve need public services the most. Members of the unions oppose deep cuts that will only make problems worse, and stand ready to help make things better for the city by delivering reliable, quality services that Hartford's residents and businesses count on.
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The Hartford Public Services coalition's member unions are:
• City of Hartford Professional Employees Association, CSEA SEIU Local 2001