In the wake of all Tempe employees receiving a 5 percent pay reduction, the union for the city’s fire department is disputing a possible breach of contract.
Tempe imposed the reductions as voters passed Proposition 401 in May, which temporarily increases the city’s sales tax from 1.8 to 2 percent, to help reduce its $33 million deficit.
Though all city employees received the pay reduction through furloughs, members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Union 493 believe the 5 percent decrease to be a breach of the salary contract they originally signed with the city.
Union President Rich Woerth said the contract has already been changed twice in the last two years, and now the city is trying to change it again, as well as make changes to the contract with the Tempe Officers Association, a group that advocates the rights of officers and sergeants in the Tempe Police Department.
“They’re just going in and cutting everybody’s pay,” Woerth said. “Let’s try and work something else out to make that 5 percent cut, but maybe extend our contract and give us something a couple years down the road.”
A spokesperson for Tempe Police could not be reached for comment at press time.
“We signed a contract in good faith,” Woerth said. “Police and fire were the only ones that had a solid contract. But they still [said], ‘Eh, it doesn’t matter.’”
Woerth said the union will file a breach of contract if it cannot come to an agreement with the city.
Tempe City Manager Charlie Meyer said he is open to city department heads suggesting alternatives to the furloughs the 5 percent reduction would require as long as their methods achieve the same result.
“That’s consistent ... with the direction of the city council,” Meyer said. “City council wasn’t looking to impose furloughs, they were just looking to realize the 5 percent savings.”
Meyer added that both the temporary sales tax increase and pay reductions were necessary to balance the city’s budget, and that the tax increase never accounted for those reductions.
With talks ongoing, Woerth said he is confident the two groups will reach a conclusion this week. However, he said they will not allow the city to use what he referred to as a “loophole.”
“They found a loophole. They just said, ‘We can implement furloughs [because of the financial crisis],’” Woerth said. “We understand the city had to cut. We think 5 percent is too much. The firefighters and police ran Prop 401 to bring in more money and save those police officers’ jobs and firefighters’ jobs.”
Woerth said the departments had to work hard to keep two engine companies from being cut.
“All we’re saying is what the council has been saying,” Woerth said. “If the revenues come back, just give us the money back.”
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