Negotiators try to limit layoffs
Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/01/2010 08:26:35 PM PST

COLTON – Struggling with the impending loss of a utility users tax that generated about 16 percent of the city’s operating income, officials are asking employee labor groups to agree to salary and benefits cuts in an effort to minimize layoffs.

However, layoffs will be needed, top administrators say, to close a shortfall between $5 million and $6 million that will come at the July 1 start of the 2010-11 fiscal year. But exactly how many is still uncertain.

“I’ve always felt that (cuts) need to be equitable in any organization,” said Mayor-elect David Zamora. “Everyone needs to be treated fairly.”

City Manager Rod Foster said negotiations with employee groups are a confidential matter, but fairness is being used across the board.

“We have treated all bargaining groups fairly and equitably and on-par with one another,” Foster said.

All employee groups are engaged in contract negotiations and being asked to accept concessions, utility workers and executive management included, Foster said.

“I am prepared as city manager to meet and quite possibly exceed any permanent concession agreed to by all our labor groups,” he said. “I would assume that the executive management team will follow in alike fashion.”

Doug Blinkinsop, a city fire engineer who represents the fire union, said its members were the only employees to agree to concessions during last year’s budget crunch and they’re willing to step up to the plate again.

“We’re not against (concessions) again as long as everyone else is doing it likewise and that includes the city manager and the department heads,” Blinkinsop said.

Officer Greg Castillo, the police union president, said members don’t want any officers laid-off and are willing to work with the city, but communication has been difficult.

“We’ve thought of ideas, but the line of communication, at least with our union, hasn’t been available,” he said.

A representative for the city’s general employee union was not able to be reached for comment Wednesday.

Councilman-elect Frank Gonzales said many residents have lost their jobs or earn less due to the recession, which is one reason the city is dealing with less tax revenue to fund its operations, including employee salaries. He hopes employees will agree to concessions so drops in service levels aren’t severe.

“All of us have a responsibility to chip in to help the people that pay (city employee) salaries,” Gonzales said. “The people that pay (city employee) salaries, they’re hurting, too.”

Regardless of how negotiations turn out, the council has a responsibility to make the necessary cuts needed to account for the loss of the tax, Gonzales said.

To read entire story, click here.