Remember late in May when City Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Randy Leonard chose to award themselves a 2.8 percent pay raise after having cut 112 city jobs in May's budget? Well, it's payback time. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz this afternoon introduced a resolution proposing that next year, Portland's non-union employees (who include Commissioners, but also around 1500 other city staff) forgo their pay raises next year. Saved money would be set aside to reduce layoffs. If the economy recovers in the 2010-11 budget cycle, then non-represented employees would be awarded the money retroactively. Leonard took it pretty well, I thought:
"Our nation is experiencing an economic downturn unprecedented in most of our lifetimes; and many citizens working in public service and private businesses are experiencing layoffs, reduced compensation, and other impacts of the global financial crisis," the resolution begins. It also makes reference to Commissioner Leonard's firing of 150 staff from the Bureau of development services last week as "evidence of a continuing lack of recovery in the economy."
The resolution would save a potential $2.7million in next year's budget, but it's a surprise, to say the least: Fritz is usually renowned for her love of thorough public process, even at the cost of people's civil rights: She moved to extend the controversial sit/lie law for six more months, for example, so that Portlanders could have a more thorough discussion on it, even as the law continues to be enforced on the street.
But in this case, Fritz's resolution only covers non-union employees—effectively exploiting their lack of union representation.
"The global financial crisis is not over," said Fritz, introducing the resolution. "I realize that this proposal creates disparities between union and non-represented employees."
"I was elected by the people of Portland to make prudent decisions," Fritz continued. "Many city employees have already been laid off in the current budget. I believe the ongoing financial crisis demands making prudent choices throughout the fiscal year to avoid layoffs later on."
City Commissioner Nick Fish introduced what I'm going to christen a "f__k you motion" to postpone Fritz's resolution indefinitely.
"It's premature," Fish said, after a few polite preliminaries praising Fritz for bringing the resolution forward. "I had not had a lot of time to review this, and that's not the fault of the proponent but we have been busy with other matters on council."
"We've just completed a comprehensive budget cycle for 09-10, and there was a lot of time for multiple hearings, and this issue was never placed before us as something for us to actively consider," said Fish.
"If we were to consider a fundamental change I would want to do it as part of our budget process. I guess you could say I have a timing and procedural concern," he continued.
"Secondly, it essentially says to our non-represented workforce that they should be treated differently than anybody else," said Fish. "And I think as a matter of basic fairness, when we're dealing with policy questions like this, I'm uncomfortable targeting just a small sub-set."
Fritz said she started circulating the resolution several weeks ago, that she had raised the idea during the budget process with Mayor Sam Adams, and that she didn't think she could justify giving city employees up to a 4.1% pay increase next year.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman spoke in support of Fritz's resolution. "It is tough times," he said. "And it is tough to take away merit raises for all of our employees for a year. But we did vote for our 2.8percent COLA raise, and we took a lot of flack for that."
Commissioner Leonard said, perhaps sarcastically, that he "flirted with voting for the ordinance," because it might be a good way to unionize the non-represented employees. "This is unfair on a number of levels." Leonard also said he thought the majority of employees who would be affected were women administrative employees working for male managers, and that he didn't like that idea at all. "This is patently unfair," he said. "And it's not something I ever can or will support."
"I recognize that this resolution is requiring additional sacrifices from a particular group of employees," Fritz said. "This is designed to save non-represented jobs." She also said "I'm not going to go there on the gender issue."
Adams, the deciding vote on Fish's "f__k you motion," also shot Fritz's idea down. He said council could look at some of these issues as part of next year's budget, with the goal of making the cuts fair across the board.
While Fritz's proposal may appeal to some of Portland's fiscal conservatives, it's politically fascinating because Fritz brought it forward without having three votes. She essentially burned through political capital, while putting Leonard, Fish and the mayor on the spot over pay issues, in a manner that didn't appear consistent with her usual process concerns. I can't fathom why she did it. It's just odd.