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Rockland workers rebuff city officials request to forego pay hike

By Stephen Betts | May 15, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts Rockland fire and police officers, as well as other regional law enforcement officers, appeared at a ceremony last year to mark the 18th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.

Rockland — Rockland municipal workers have said they will not forego a 2%  raise for next year.

The issue was raised by City Councilors at their May 13 budget review session. Mayor Lisa Westkaemper asked the city manager if he had asked union employees to forego their raises for 2020-2021. City Manager Tom Luttrell told councilors he would make a formal request.

"We all know this will be a tough year. There will be people who will have a tough time to stay in their homes," the mayor said.

Councilor Valli Geiger agreed.

"We can't do enough to help the taxpayers. They can give a little too," she said about municipal workers.

But the request did not sit well with workers and their representatives.

Rockland Firefighter Carl Anderson, president of the Rockland Professional Firefighters Local 1584, said it hurt to hear the comments made by councilors.

He said firefighters are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to work since the outbreak began in Maine in mid-March.

"We will continue to be there on the front lines," Anderson said.

The City Council approved labor contracts with the various Teamsters unions in the city as well as the firefighters in 2018. The contracts called for 1% raises in both 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, and a 2% raise for 2020-2021.

"We're here every single day. We are not working from home. And they want to take something away from us that was bargained two years ago," he said.

Rockland firefighters are paid less than counterparts across the state in areas of similar demographics, Anderson said.

"It was almost like they were not talking about people, just lines in a budget no different than tree cutting or road paving," Anderson said.

Joe Piccone — the business agent for the Teamsters that represents Rockland's police officers, clerical workers, public services workers, and wastewater treatment employees — said these workers also will not forego raises for next year.

Piccone said that Geiger owes the workers an apology for her comment.

"There is no intention of opening up contract talks or foregoing raises," he said.

Raises of 2% for all city employees would amount to $155,000. Anderson said that the firefighters share of those increases would  only be $15,000 — about 1% of the entire budget.

There are about 100 municipal workers.

Both Piccone and Anderson said they have good relations with the city and respect the City Manager.

Anderson said the fire department has already given up a lieutenant's position for emergency medical services that would have helped with an increase in calls, training, certification, and billing.

The new contract year begins July 1.

At the Monday evening, May 18 meeting, Mayor Westkaemper and Councilor Geiger both offered praise to the workers.

The mayor said she wanted to send special thanks to the staff of the city government. She also thanked the City Council and boards and commissions for their work during the COVID-19 outbreak. She said that the work continues as the city faces new financial stresses.

She called for unity even in these stressful times.

Geiger too said she the employees of the city are valued. She said she wanted to avoid layoffs.

Geiger said the country is facing depression-era job losses.

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Comments (12)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | May 18, 2020 09:20

Most predictable that as the lifeboat sinks police & firefighters demand they should be on the higher side.  Let me go ask the minimum wage  convenience store workers who report  faithfully everyday with their $1.99 mask they most likely had to pay for with no pension & no health care insurance, or the lady at Dunkin Donuts that hands out hundreds of coffees each day what they think about your whining.  We're all in this sinking boat together no matter what side you are on.  Get over it.

Posted by: ananur forma | May 18, 2020 08:27

WRONG to ask them, so wrong.

Posted by: Harry Fitzgerald | May 17, 2020 17:06

I do not think anyone believes our front line workers anywhere are not important, and I don't  think asking well-paid people to forego a "measly 2%" raise during this unprecedented crisis is unreasonable. No one is asking you to take unpaid furlough days like the state did back in 1992, or delay paychecks for 1-2 pay periods, also done to state employees. No one is asking for a cut in your extremely generous benefits package. All they are asking is to forego a raise when most people would be happy to have your job. A year with no pay increase is better then layoffs.

Nancy Fitzgerald

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 17, 2020 09:38

When I worked construction it was always give and take during contract negotiations. We agreed on working conditions and wages. We decided how much went to health and welfare and how much went in our pockets. Vacations for us was when we had no work or could afford to go without a check. Everyone had a different opinion on what we should give and what we should take, some were happy, some were not but the important thing was to keep union jobs. We would work retroactively if a contract couldn't be agreed on in time. So I would say it is a tough decision to make. I don't think there is a good guy, bad guy situation here, it is something we haven't had in our lifetime. I'd say let your conscience be your guide.

Posted by: James York | May 16, 2020 23:39

The men and women who come to our houses when it is on fire, provide clean drinking and public water services, patrol or plow our streets all hours of the night and continue to put themselves out there during the pandemic honoring their side of the bargain (contract) should be asked to sacrifice a measly 2% raise?  (and teachers beware here) When just months ago we were being told this was the best economy in the history of economies by Trump.  Outrageous. You Got to be Kidding Me.  Mayor Lisa Westkaemper have you tried living off a Fireman's starting wage in this city?  How about a the guy working at the sewer dept working his/her days off to avert a catastrophe in our city's water or sewer system. And Councilor Geiger, who is seeking to be our next state representative, shame on you, you want to turn your back on the workers and unions (what is left of them) in your community, for what? some petty bourgeois b.s. liberalism that has the back of the tax payer, really?  Didn't you help run Wal-Mart out of town so they can continue use their plastic bags and dictate to workers in Thomaston because you didn't want your city to be associated with that- yeah, really sticking up for the tax payer there.  And not to mention every other proposed development or potential new tax revenue gets flipped over the council's BBQ for several meetings- even when the proposals are within code- discouraging badly needed development and tax revenue.  It is no wonder the workers of Rockland (union or not) look to blowhards like Trump or Lepage at least they stand for something.  With friends like these, Westkaemper and Geiger,  We, workers need to look elsewhere than condescending liberals praise our service and stab us in the back.  If you know anything about politics I hope the local Democratic Socialist/Workers Party takes note.  It is the age old question - being exposed in times like these- WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?

Solidarity with all my brother and sister municipal workers in TEAMSTERS LOCAL 340 and the IAFF

Posted by: Doug Curtis Jr. | May 16, 2020 20:53

I've seen this before.  A couple times while I was on active duty we were just told our pay raise would be delayed.  It happened.  I also saw what happened in California when Proposition 13 passed and there was no crisis.  The state employees union insisted on a pay raise and they got it.  They also got a lot more laid off employees.  I think most people today are hard working dedicated employees. Everyone has to do their part and like the greatest generation will make sacrifices for the good of the whole.  Everyone appreciates these employees.  It is not a question of that.  When you serve along side men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice this seems so trivial to me.  Thank you for your service but remember as a government employee you made the decision to serve the public.  Your job is important and when we get past this you will be rewarded more than money can buy.

Posted by: James Clinton Leach | May 16, 2020 16:40

A deal is a deal....what I would like to see is little friendliness from these employees., perhaps just a wave back when their looking right at you as you drive by them and your waving.....

Posted by: ananur forma | May 16, 2020 12:33

ask the non-profit agencies to cough up some dough

Posted by: Pamela R Miller | May 16, 2020 10:08

The State of Maine is estimated to receive $1.25 Billion in aid from the CARES Act.  And Congress is working on additional relief. We need an accounting of exactly where that money is going. I hope the City Council is on top of this. Surely Rockland is entitled to some of this Federal Aid.

Posted by: Pamela R Miller | May 16, 2020 09:52

The Federal government has passed legislation allocating Trillions of dollars to the states to help with virus related issues. And Trillions more is being considered.  It is estimated that Main is getting $1.25 Trillion from the CARES Act. Where exactly is that money going? Is the City Council on top of this?

Posted by: Jack S Copp | May 16, 2020 08:32

Yeah, Things are tough all over, but when you start cutting corners, maybe, just maybe you should honor the agreements you already made to all the men and women who make Rockland go, because in every sense they do. From our fire fighters and police to our road crews, water works employees, and various other municipal workers, these hard-working, selfless men and women are essential, and a 2% increase is a bargain compared to the services they provide. Services, I might add, which will be needed more than ever during this emergency. If City Council want to save some money, how about revoking the tax-exempt status of the many entities which call Rockland home. Tens of thousands of tax dollars could be added to the cities coffers and, frankly, these same entities, many of which are flush with cash, should donate their just due to the city who has hosted and cut them huge financial breaks over the years. " Noblesse Oblige," anyone? Then there are other city projects pending, which can be put on hold to save enough money to fully fund this modest "barely a cost of living increase", and a lot more: Harbor improvements, street light retrofits, etc. As you can see, pointing a finger at these fine men and women whose jobs are to protect us, maintain our health, and serve us all is a bad idea on a good day, but is a terrible idea during a time like this, when we need them the most.

Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | May 16, 2020 01:49

While it is true that the 2% increase was agreed upon 2 years ago, there is no way the City could have foreseen such effects the pandemic would have on the economy with so many people having no jobs at all.  Sometimes an offer is made to employees to make concessions to avoid laying employees off. This should be considered by the employees in considering their options.  Perhaps the City could make a new agreement to divide the increase over a number of years and add to any new cost of living increases once the economy had become whole once again.  It is not that the City does not consider these employees worthy, if the money is not coming in on revenues, the money is not there.

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