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Ax falls on 10 Lathrop municipal employees
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LATHROP — In the end, there were no concessions made.

The Lathrop City Council, during a special meeting Saturday morning, made the “difficult decision” to lay off 10 city employees as part of a proposed fiscal “survival strategy.”

There are actually 15 positions that were eliminated; however, five of them were unfilled positions but have been previously budgeted.

The financial belt tightening though does not yet end there for Lathrop. The elimination of 15 positions from the city employees’ roster is just Phase 1 in a series of difficult measures the city needs to implement to whittle down the projected $2.5 million annual deficit that’s expected to balloon to nearly $16 million in five years. More layoffs could be coming and even employee furloughs which could cut down business hours at City Hall.

Saturday’s special meeting, with Council member Robert Oliver again joining the discussion via teleconference from Ventura where he is recuperating from hip surgery, was a continuation of the discussion that started at another special council meeting Wednesday about the proposed layoffs. At the request of the union employees’ SEIU (Service Employees International Union) representatives and to give city staff time to answer the union’s questions, the council agreed to continue negotiation talks one more time, which they did on Friday.

However, as the unanimous council decision on Saturday showed, none of the union’s suggested options to minimize the number of their members who lost their jobs made any impact whatsoever on the final council vote.

“I’m absolutely heartbroken about this,” Mayor Kristy prefaced her brief comment before answering the roll call for vote, “but it’s something that we need to do,” she said.

“It’s a tough day. It’s the hardest day of my three-year career as a councilman,” council member Sonny Dhaliwal said echoing the mayor’s sentiments.

“We have to make these hard decisions,” he said, “but we still care. I wish we have another option but we don’t.”

But union spokespersons Ralph Pullido and Caroline Lucas, who were deeply disappointed by the council’s action, insist they don’t believe that city officials truly exhausted all the options presented before them to save at least some of the jobs that were cut. They also maintain that this first, and they hope, last round of layoffs was not fair.

“We don’t think it was done fairly. When you lose eight (union members) to one (non-union), I don’t think that’s fair,” Pulido said.

Added Lucas, “I think there were more options” that city officials could have considered.

For example, she said, “management has benefits we (union members) don’t have, and they refused to make cuts to those perks.”

But those were issues that city management and the union have discussed several times since February when they started meeting to sort out and find an equitable resolution to the budget deficit, according to staff in a written response to all the points brought up by the union representatives at the council meeting on Wednesday.

Council member Oliver said he appreciated “all input received” from the union but that they have the responsibility to make sure the city is fiscally sound. He pointed out that the ongoing fiscal pain is not limited to Lathrop alone, that it’s even worse in some cities such as Stockton which laid off 100 people, and Manteca which lost 44 positions.

Council member Christopher Mateo somberly stated that he was pinning his hope on the city manager to continue efforts to minimize the job bloodletting in the employee roster.

“I have faith in our city (workers) and I have full faith in our city manager,” he said.

Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo did not offer any comments prior to the vote.

In response to the union’s charges of inequality with respect to the unequal number of union and non-union members laid off, staff repeated what they have already pointed out before that they looked at the monetary value of the layoffs which, “on a person-to-person basis,” was virtually equal. According to figures crunched by the finance department, the layoffs will save the city a total of $1.3 million annually with savings from union members amounting to $0.66 million and $0.68 from non-union positions.

Still, there’s $1.2 million in deficit that the city needs to whittle down. That will be the object of Phase 2.

Despite the disappointing news on Saturday, Pulido said, “We’ll continue to work with management to work with the deficit.”

In the meantime, he and Lucas said the union is planning to hold a fund-raiser to help the union members who are losing their jobs, including a young maintenance worker in Parks and Recreation whose wife is expecting their first child in January.

Assistance being provided by the city to the laid off employees include a 25-day severance pay and extending their COBRA (health insurance) coverage with the city paying 65 percent of it for one year, or having it paid by the city 100 percent for six months plus another three months at 65 percent.