Chandler plans to bring in a mediator to help resolve a deadlock in labor negotiations between the city's management and three employees' unions over plans to scale back merit pay.
The City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to give the mediation effort until June 25, when the council is slated to meet once again on the issue, said Jane Poston, city spokeswoman. There is no cost to the city for the mediation, she said.
The city's existing contracts with the Chandler Service Employees International Union, the Chandler Law Enforcement Association and the local International Association of Firefighters expire on June 30.
Tuesday's hearing, which attracted a crowd that filled the council chambers and spilled out into the hall, was the result of an impasse over two management proposals. The first calls for a one-time, 5 percent merit bonus for all employees in fiscal year 2009-10, according to City Manager Mark Pentz's June 3 memo to council members. The payment would total nearly $2.3 million.
Previously, the annual merit bonuses would increase employees' base pay, compounding over time. The latest proposal would not increase base pay.
Management also has asked for the ability to renegotiate labor contracts in times of a fiscal crisis, which includes current economic conditions, according to Pentz. Both Peoria and Tempe are attempting to do it, as well, Pentz has said.
Union reps had harsh words for Pentz.
Lombardo Robles, CLEA president, said Pentz didn't take seriously the unions' counterproposals. Robles has called Pentz's attitude during the negotiations shameful, unreasonable and disrespectful.
"There has been no true faith negotiations on the city manager's behalf," he said.
Robles also has said the city should cut $49 million in funds earmarked for downtown redevelopment - not related to construction for the new City Hall - and $10 million for a business incubator at the Motorola site on Price Road.
Cassandra Cocking, a negotiator for the police union, said the merit pay cut could have a "devastating effect" on the city's ability to recruit new officers.
"I wonder why the city doesn't have the money to cover merit when I read about the millions of dollars spent this year," she said.
James Kame, Chandler SEIU president, said the proposal is arbitrary and unfair and that it will increase employee turnover and make it harder to attract qualified applicants. Kame has said union members offered to reduce work hours, participate in some job-sharing, and undergo furloughs.
Pentz has said those options wouldn't save enough money. Chandler has slashed 116 jobs; curtailed benefits, pay increases and perks; scaled back spending; and is increasing some fees in an attempt to bridge a projected $21.5 million budget deficit next year.
Pentz said employees have received significant merit pay increases over the last five years. With a 5 percent increase to base pay per year, a police officer's pay would have increased up to 69 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to Pentz. A firefighter's salary would have increased by up to 49 percent and an information technology worker's pay would have increased by up to 57 percent.
Meanwhile, the consumer price index only increased 16.3 percent in that time, Pentz wrote.
Poston said the City Council has the authority to step in and resolve the dispute if the two sides cannot come to an agreement. The City Council is slated to give final approval to next year's budget on Thursday.