PHOENIX -- About 200 Phoenix city employees protested possible wage reductions outside City Hall on Thursday morning before they resume contract negotiations on Friday.
Calling it an informational rally, protesters demanded a fair contract, fewer furlough days and an end to concessions as they carried signs saying "Enough is enough" and "Fair contract now." The city of Phoenix has proposed cuts to some employees' salaries as a response to the city’s pending budget deficit, projected to be between $26 million and $52 million.
Acting City Manager Ed Zuecher said in a status update that the deficit is the result of slow revenue growth and mandatory expense increases for services such as health care and pensions. The recovery from the economic recession has been slower than expected, he said, and a full recovery is not expected to occur until 2015 or 2016.
Frank Piccioli, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 2960, said workers are asking to return to the contract from a few years ago.
"We’re the people who answer your 911 calls," said Piccioli, who with AFSCME represents thousands of city employees. "We’re the people who pick up your trash. All we want is a fair contract. My members have taken 18 furlough days over the past few years and all we want is to get rid of the concessions.
"In December, everything looked rosy, to the point that you could give ex-city managers $80,000 increase in salaries," he added. “But the guy making $20,000 answering your 911 call, they want him to take more furlough."
Brant Keeney, a lead dispatcher with the Phoenix Fire Department, said he and his fellow city employees were demonstrating to the City Council and the city itself how much they are concerned with getting a fair deal.
"If you want minimum wage 911 dispatchers, you can have minimum wage 911 dispatchers," Keeney said, "but when you pick up that phone for help, you're going to have to think about that."
The demonstration is important because it puts a human face on the issues, he added.
"We all have families," Keeney said. "We’re all living in Phoenix or the metropolitan area. We live here, too. We pay taxes. We are your neighbors."
Joseph Witt Jr., also a dispatcher, said the City Council has treated employees unfairly.
"We’re here to help the city just as much as we are to work for the citizens of this city," he said.