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Tensions have been increasing recently for City of Aurora employees with negotiations on new labor contracts with two unions, AFSCME Local 3298 and 1514, a few hundred city "frontline workers."
On Tuesday, viewers report union members showed to fill the city council chambers for the Aurora City Council meeting and represenatives used the public comment period to make statements saying the city must be "fair" to employees.
Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner responded to various complaints by union represenatives by saying the city is in the midst of economic challenges, but the city is being fair and will be applying cost-cutting moves to all other employees as well.
Union reps complain executive-level employees have been receiving raises averaging 10%, some getting 20% raises at times, but Weisner said that average was only about 3%.
The City of Aurora is eliminating a few vacant positions, but instead of major layoffs and staff reductions, negotiators are asking for 9 unpaid furlough days over the next 18 months, larger contributions to health insurance, elimination of retiree health insurance for new employees and a salary increase lower than previously received.
Previously, AFSCME employees received annual salary increases as follows:
>2003 - 4.00%
>2004 - 4.00%
>2005 - 4.00%
>2006 - 3.75%
>2007 - 3.50%
>2008 - 3.40%
Weisner says executive-level employees will be getting a 0% increase for next year and city officials say other unions, including fire and police may even be asked for rollbacks and adjustments before their current contracts expire, so AFSCME may be the among the first, but all unions will be asked to sacrifice.
"Salaries & Benefits" is the largest part of the city's budget, so percentage savings on costs has an impact on the overall budget, which is about $435 million for 2009.
Many say city employees, at all levels, have enjoyed years of stable wage increases, growing employment, benefits and security, but with the fiscal situation of the city, economy and reduced revenue streams, the concept of guaranteed employment and raises must end.
Union reps say they recognize there must be adjustments, but say frontline workers are the wrong target to hit first. They question the city's fiscal situation by saying the city is not only spending large amounts on items like the new police station, Shodeen project and the proposed RiverEdge Park, but they point to deals that have given large cash incentives or rebates to businesses and projects such as car dealers, restaurants and numerous donations to organizations and social-service agencies.
Weisner says the city has been forced to make big infrastructure expenditures in areas such as sewers and bridges to make-up for a period where little was being done. He says these investments will be necessary for future growth.
Is everyone correct to some extent?
City needs quality workers at all levels, but should they have automatic raises and guaranteed positions? Would trimming the workforce, getting early retirement for some of the more inflated salaries of longtime employees and adding furlough days help the financial situation and efficiency of the city?
City needs to invest with infrastructure and capital projects, but should the city take a comprehensive review of all spending, change the habits of the past and reshape priorities so that funds are focused on the most important investments for future growth, transforming the city and increasing revenue streams?
What changes would you implement for the City of Aurora workforce? Which "frontline" or "executive" areas could be trimmed? Which executives should go and/or replaced?
AFSCME represenatives and the city will be entering into third-party mediation. What would be fair for all union contracts?
Most importantly, what is in the best interest of taxpayers and the future of Aurora?