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City negotiating furloughs to avoid layoffs

The City of Bainbridge Island has been in negotiations with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union to impose 10 days of unpaid work furloughs for most city employees.

If approved by the City Council and ratified by union members, the furlough would shut down City Hall periodically for a total of 10 days during 2009 in a bid to reduce labor costs without worker layoffs.

If imposed, it would cut 80 billable hours for each city employee, saving an estimated $370,000 or the equivalent of almost four full-time employees in 2009. The furlough would not affect employees of the city’s Police Department.

“As the council made their conservative revenue estimates we’ve had to look every place possible to make cuts,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said.

The negotiations have been spearheaded by City Administrator Mark Dombroski over the course of a three-week period.

“I went over and spent a lot of time going over financial projections with the union,” he said. “Additional labor savings need to be achieved and furloughs are a good way to do that.”

The IAMAW was also part of negotiations between King County staff and administration officials to institute a 10-day unpaid furlough for public-service employees on that side of the water. The King County municipality is facing a project $93 million shortfall, and the furlough is expected to save the county $15 million.

Ron Harrell, business representative for IAMAW Lodge 160, said that while unions usually frown upon furloughs, these strained economic times have forced the union to reassess its position with the city.

“We’re in particularly unusual times,” Harrell said. “I think that with the proposal, as I understand it, there is a short-term loss with the prospect of that loss being returned at a future date if the economy rebounds. So it’s a no-lose situation for employees in the long term.”

The move will also allow the city to keep the majority of its employees without having to impose future layoffs.

“Since we don’t know how long this (economic downturn) will last, to use forced layoffs means we could be turning around to hire people back if things turn around and in the middle of 2010,” Kordonowy said. “If we have to rehire, that is a major cost to bring new people back and train them.”

The option of closing city hall has been mulled for a number of months. Earlier this year, the administration asked employees if they would be willing to voluntarily cutback on hours to reduce operating expenditures.

The city is looking to bring the proposal to the council on Dec. 3, hopeful that the agreement can be approved so the first day of closures could begin on Jan. 2, 2009. There are indications that the majority of the council would support the measure. The proposal would then go to the union for a membership vote.

“It represents an appreciation on the part of the staff and the union that everyone is having to feel some pain that is being shared by all of the employees,” said council member Chris Snow. “The union was convinced that the budget is not being balanced on the backs of employees.”

Furlough dates have already been selected for 2009, and potential dates for a furlough in 2010 have also been drafted, Dombroski said.

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