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Iowa City union may see wage increases despite potential cuts

BY AUDREY DWYER | JANUARY 23, 2012 7:20 AM

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Some Iowa City workers could get a raise this year, and others might lose their jobs.

The Iowa City City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a measure that would raise wages for the city's union workers by between 1.3 and 2.2 percent. The council will also vote on a measure to eliminate five positions.

Steven Miller — the president of the local American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees chapter — said he was pleased with the wage increases but called the city's position to abandon the public jobs "a sign of the times."

"With today's economy, we thought the [wage increase] was a fair figure," he said. "We'd like to see the city look into other cuts not involving layoffs."

The union will discuss alternative options with city officials, he said, including abandoning plans to build a $30 million parking structure and a similarly expensive parking ramp built over Interstate 80 and North Dodge Street.

Assistant City Manager Geoff Fruin said cost has driven city officials to hire outside firms to do work that city employees have usually done.

"The city routinely evaluates its services and pursues efficiencies in order to keep costs down," he said. "Often such evaluations result in no changes, but in some cases, the city determines it is more efficient to privatize."

Iowa City resident Vic Zender, a mechanic employed by the city for 15 years, faces losing his job because of the city's decision to seek work from a private source. He said he agreed with Miller's assessment of alternative budget cuts.

"Many other places can be looked at to cut the budget rather than one that is native within the city," he said.

Zender said he'll have trouble finding another public city job if the councilors follow through with the cuts.

"The other option is I'm out," he said. "The choices are rather limited."

Mayor Matt Hayek said the budget and wage decisions were the result of finding a balance in the face of declining state and federal support.

"The increases provide fair compensation to our valued employees while recognizing the tough financial times we face as a municipality," he said. "The flattening of property-tax revenues and other factors have resulted in tough financial times for municipalities throughout Iowa."

The majority of recent reductions came through attrition, Hayek added, helping the city minimize layoffs.

Maria Houser Conzemius, whose husband works for the union that represents city employees, said the city is hurting itself by eliminating public employees.

"Seems to me that the city is laying off the little people — the people who provide the infrastructure to make the city run," she said. "It's hard on working families. Things are tough all over."


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