BY STEPHANIE WARSMITH, PHIL TREXLER and JIM CARNEY
The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
Akron has issued layoff notices to 201 employees — and more than half are police officers or firefighters.
The 14-day notices went to 96 police officers, though this includes 21 high-ranking employees who are eligible to bump down into lower positions.
Thirty-eight firefighters — including the entire rookie class hired last September — also got notices.
Other notices went to employees in departments throughout the city, including recreation, planning, health, service, finance and economic development.
“The numbers are absolutely staggering,” said Paul Hlynsky, president of the 460-member police union, who helped deliver the notices to officers.
Hlynsky said some officers given notices cried, while others lashed out in anger. He said some felt “betrayed.”
“I feel they have been betrayed,” he said. “Here we are laying off 25 percent of the Police Department and none of this was their fault.”
Mayor Don Plusquellic, who announced the layoff figures Tuesday — after most employees had been personally notified — said the numbers could have been worse.
Plusquellic said a local company is giving the city more than $2 million, which will be used to spare additional police and firefighters from layoffs. More details of the company’s assistance will be announced in a news conference at noon today.
The mayor said the city will apply this money mainly toward helping save police jobs.
Plusquellic said the city’s other departments have been trimmed more significantly through attrition and buyouts that kick in Oct. 1.
The city currently has about 2,150 employees, down about 1,000 from 1981.
The mayor also said police and fire make up about 65 percent of the city’s general fund expenses.
Akron is doing layoffs for the first time in 27 years to address a budget shortfall forecast at$7 million to $8 million by the end of the year.
The city has taken other cost-cutting steps, including offering buyouts that 123 employees accepted. That dropped the deficit from an original projection of between $10 million to $12 million.
Plusquellic said he is “not anticipating additional layoff announcements” for the rest of this year. He qualified this by saying there wouldn’t be any unless something extraordinary happens, like three big employers going under.
“I don’t know anybody who knows absolutely that this thing is over,” he said, referring to the economic downturn.
Plusquellic said cities are in “survival mode.”
Others can be bumped
Employees with at least five years of service who got layoff notices will have bumping rights to take the positions of less senior workers. They must notify Personnel Director Virginia Robinson within five days that they want to exercise this right.
“Just because an employee got a notice doesn’t mean they will be laid off,” said Jim Masturzo, deputy mayor of labor relations.
The city plans to use federal stimulus funds to save the jobs of 23 officers and to partner with Akron Public Schools to assign another 18 officers to work in the middle and high schools.
The district and police union must approve the school assignments.
Superintendent David James said the district is receptive to the idea, especially because it would mean officers assigned to the schools, rather than working there as a second job. When school isn’t in session, the officers could be redeployed to the streets.
The cost to the district would remain the same — $700,000 to cover the officers’ salaries. The city would continue to pay the officers’ benefits.
“We don’t have any extra money,” James said. “This isn’t a done deal. I haven’t seen any contract language.”
Akron will apply for stimulus funds to bring back laid-off firefighters as soon as the federal government releases the rules on applying for this money.
The city also is hoping the five unions will agree to concessions in the next two weeks that will reduce the number of layoffs. The union presidents wanted to see layoff figures before agreeing to any givebacks.
Hlynsky said he has told officers during roll calls that his goal is to rescind the layoffs or — if this isn’t possible — to bring officers back as quickly as possible. He said any concessions must be approved by his members and “must result in no layoffs.”
Union trying to help
Police union members are offering advice and help to officers and firefighters. A meeting with unemployment personnel will be held at 9 a.m. Friday at the union’s lodge, 2610 Ley Drive.
The Rev. Bob Denton, the police chaplain, said officers started learning their fate Monday evening, shortly after the second-shift roll call. Denton, who also heads the Victim Assistance program and is a reserve officer, said morale at the department is as expected: low.
“It’s been kind of like attending a whole bunch of funerals,” he said.
Phil Gauer, president of the 368-member firefighters union, said 36 of the 38 firefighters were notified at the department’s training facility in southern Summit County, where they were moved last week from their respective stations.
While the city doesn’t immediately plan to shutter any fire stations, Gauer said it appears inevitable.
“I personally don’t see how they cannot shut down something,” he said.
The union plans to try to help laid-off firefighters with the financial transition. They want to offset health-care premiums once firefighters are off the city payroll.
At Station No. 8 on Archwood Avenue, Lt. Bill Howe, a vice president of the fire union, called the layoffs “a tragedy.”
“You have these young guys getting laid off who were thinking they have a career here and long-term security and now they are being laid off,” Howe said Tuesday evening. “Some just got married. Some got houses. Now they don’t know what is going on.”
He said one of the firefighters being laid off left a job with the Ashland Fire Department.
“He has till Friday to let them know if he can go back,” Howe said.
He said he believes the city is not that broke.
“They have been secretive about what the numbers are,” Howe said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service