The City of Hartford’s economic woes hit home hard last Friday as over 30 employees were laid off.
“We knew they [the layoffs] were coming but the reality doesn’t really sink in until it actually happens,” said Clarke King, President of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Local 1716. “I’m sure the people who were laid off thought they were prepared but how can you prepare for this? It’s tough. It’s very tough.”
According to Mayor Eddie Perez, the layoffs were made in response to a projected budget deficit for the coming fiscal year. In addition to Friday’s layoffs, Perez has stated that 22 more city employees will be laid off, 47 employees have accepted early retirement packages and 31 budgeted positions are being left vacant. All together, these drastic cuts to the city’s workforce are expected to save Hartford $6 million.
In a statement issued last Thursday, Perez said, “These layoffs will not impact public safety and have been formulated in a way to maintain the quality of core city services. But, these are not just numbers, these are people I know and work with. I wish we could have avoided this step. Laying-off employees is the last thing any city leader wishes to do, however we have a duty to our taxpayers and residents to do all we can to meet financial challenges head on.”
But King, who heads up the city’s largest union, said he is furious that the unions were not consulted on who was to be laid off.
“We were kept in the dark, completely,” he said. “Last time this [mass layoffs] happened, back when [Mike] Peters was around, it was different. They called us in, showed us who was getting laid off and we were able to say no, not that guy because he has seniority. That didn’t happen this time... When you try to hide things, people start thinking there’s something wrong.”
Although no police officers or firefighters were laid off, three Fire Department support employees were let go, as were three support workers from the Police Department, according to figures released by the Mayor’s Office Tuesday..
As of Monday, October 24, the Health and Human Services Department had taken the biggest hit with nine employees laid off. Four employees from the Mayor’s office were laid off. Three employees each were laid off from Development Services and the Finance Department and two each from the Human Relations, Metro Hartford Information Services, Town Clerk and the Public Works Department. But King said more layoffs are expected in Public Works. “They’re just keeping them around until leaf season is over. That’s how they do it, use them up and let them go,” he said.
In addition to the layoffs, 18 Public Works Department employees opted for early retirement. Six Health & Human Services employees will be retiring early, four each from Development Services and Police, three each from Finance and Emergency Services, two each from Human Resources and the Office of Young Children and one each from City Council staff, Corporation Counsel, the Mayor’s Office, Management and Budget and Youth Services.
Public Works staff is also being further reduced because 14 of its budgeted positions are not being filled this year.