Following an amicable and diplomatic self-introduction by Mayor Palmer DePaulis' representative in upcoming salary negotiations, the union boss representing the city's blue-collar workers rose from his seat.
"I'm your worst nightmare," growled Gordon Ottley to those at Tuesday's Salt Lake budget meeting, thus setting the tone for what will likely be a contentious collective bargaining season.Last year's salary talks, which ended without a pay raise for city employees, were punctuated by police officers demonstrating their frustration through a daylong sick-out and firefighters picketing a city picnic.
Unions in 1988 pledged not to go another year without pay raises. But this year city officials are expecting another austere budget. Already, finance officials predict a $2.5 million revenue-expenditure gap for next year.
Union bosses say, however, they aren't asking for a great deal.
"We're not asking the officers to be made wealthy," said David Greer, head of the Salt Lake Police Association, which represents officers who have not had a merit raise for three years. "We're just asking that we not keep losing ground."
Greer said he will be taking to the bargaining table a request for a modified benefit package that will have no fiscal impact on the city's general fund budget.
But officers' demand for 5 percent merit increases, the equivalent of the 2.5 percent raises Greer said should have been received the past two years, and the "reasonable request" for a 9.5 percent cost of living increase will have an effect.
Such a package would cost roughly $800,000 above the city's current police payroll, a huge chunk of the city's annual budget, roughly $80 million next year.
"I don't think the city can afford not to give us a raise this year," Greer said.
"The city has expected a great deal from these officers and given them nothing in return," he said, adding since 1980 the department has undergone a 15 percent decrease in manpower but an 18 percent increase in activity.
Firefighters are also looking for changes in salary structure, said Charlie Quick, head of the International Firefighters Association local 1645.
The firefighter's union will be proposing a shortening of the graduated salary increase scale so that union members will climb to the top of the pay scale in 10 years instead of 15, Quick said.
DePaulis has said he wants nothing more than to give city employees a raise, a philosophy he has passed on to John Geisler, who will be representing the city at the bargaining table.
"There's no question that the mayor is of a mind that there needs to be some kind of increase in pay for city employees," he said, adding that because of incomplete budget figures he is unable to tell how likely raises will be.
Recognizing the difficult fiscal condition the city finds itself in, however, Geisler said if pay raises can be given to employees, there may have to be some "concessions" on the part of employees.
One concession might be identifying "productivity improvements" in employee's performance that could bring about savings to pay for raises, Geisler said.
Any concessions will likely have to be artfully negotiated. Unions have said they won't take a short shrift from the mayor without DePaulis seeing "enormous pressure placed on him," Greer said.