A decision by the Civil Service Employees Association to forgo a giant inflatable rat at a Spa City protest was well advised, as torrential rainfall besieged pickets in front of the City Center shortly after their demonstration began on Tuesday, June 30.
But many of the several dozen Department of Public Works employees marched in the front of the building through the pouring rain carrying signs that read I'm your Zamboni driver and "I plow the streets." They were largely protesting what they say is an unfair stance by the city in recently stalled union contract negotiations.
"Our members feel slighted by the city and they feel neglected by the community," said Jon Premo, CSEA's chief negotiator for the DPW.
The negotiations officially ended on June 4, when both sides made their final proposals. The city made a final offer of no raises this year, followed by 1.5 and 2.5 percent raises in 2010 and 2011, provided that employees who don't pay for health care would pay $500 annually toward health care costs.
CSEA counter offered, accepting a zero percent raise in 2009 but proposing a 3 percent raise " along with a 1.5 percent raise in July " for the following two years.
Mayor Scott Johnson said the city cannot afford the CSEA's proposal. He was with hundreds of his colleagues inside the City Center on Tuesday for the New York Conference of Mayors, where the central theme was maintaining government in lean times.
The city is facing a fiscal crisis that largely stems from lagging tax revenues and the removal of VLT aid funding from the state. The City Council is expected to vote on $2.8 million of mid-year budget cuts on July 7.
"We're developing a new mindset on what is fair compensation for union workers that the city taxpayer can actually afford," said Johnson. "We simply can't afford to be overly generous."