SALT LAKE CITY — More than 100 city employees packed the Salt Lake City Council chambers Tuesday night to protest Mayor Ralph Becker's proposal to do away with merit pay increases.

The proposal, part of the mayor's 2011-12 budget, calls for the elimination of predetermined steps for salary increases included in previous contracts with the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees union.

That issue resulted in Tuesday's protest, and it was the main reason AFSCME representatives broke off negotiations with city officials last week, said Patty Rich, the union's executive director.

"We chose to declare impasse," Rich said.

But Becker's budget also requests between 3 percent and 4 percent raises for union employees — the first pay increases offered by the city in three years. Those increases essentially would cover employees' additional responsibility for health insurance costs.

"Salt Lake City stands virtually alone among Utah municipalities in terms of protecting employee wages," said Art Raymond, spokesman for the mayor's office.

City officials looked at 29 municipalities and found that 15 of those are not offering wage increases this year. Another 11 of those cities are proposing raises of 2.6 percent or less, Raymond said. He also noted that most state employees did not receive raises this year.

"The mayor and his administration appreciate the sacrifices made by city employees during these past few years of unprecedented economic hardship and remain committed to the work of protecting and advancing wages, even as costs associated with retirement programs and health insurance continue to increase," Raymond said.

AFSCME representatives took issue with the mayor deciding to eliminate merit pay increases without first negotiating with the union. They're also frustrated by the proposed broad pay scale and its lack of a formula for earning raises.

"They don't really have a plan — at least they haven't shown it to us yet — of how an employee would progress through that pay range," Rich said. "Until they can sell us on something that makes sense, the employees are not inclined to give up their merit steps."

Both sides said they're ready to return to the table to continue negotiations.

AFSCME represents roughly one-third of Salt Lake City employees. The union's current contract expires June 30.


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