Mayor says RPA councilmembers protecting their special interests during budget discussion

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The Richmond Progressive Alliance members on City Council claimed to be free from special interests when they won a near-majority in the 2014 election, but during budget discussions Tuesday they showed how they’re going to lengths to protect the city union that helped put them in power, according to Mayor Tom Butt.

SEIU-1021, the union representing most city workers, was the principal supporter of RPA candidates during the 2014 elections, and has endorsed RPA initiatives such as rent control. The mayor points out SEIU is an “allied organization” of the RPA and “holds a seat on the 17-member steering committee.”

During a council discussion Tuesday on how to close Richmond’s massive budget deficit, RPA council members Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez and Jovanka Beckles did not hide how they have become beholden to SEIU, Mayor Butt noted in his e-forum Wednesday morning.

The RPA councilmembers, according to the mayor, proposed shaving $2.9 million from the city budget by achieving salary concessions from the highest paid city employees, such as high-ranking police and fire officials, with some seeing salary cuts as high as 38 percent. The proposal came after an East Bay Times opinion piece revealed that Richmond’s skyrocketing employee costs may be what’s causing annual budget deficits.

The problem with the RPA’s proposal, Butt says, is it protects SEIU-1021 while targeting other unions that did not support the group during the last elections.

“SEIU would be the least affected by such a plan while other bargaining units would bear the brunt,” Mayor Butt said in his e-forum.

Now, City Manager Bill Lindsay has the difficult task of trying to gain concessions from all city unions before City Council is required to pass a budget by the end of June.

“The next two weeks will likely be dominated by potentially contentious negotiations between the city manager and public employee bargaining units,” Mayor Butt said. “If agreements on OPEB [Other Post-Employment Benefits, i.e. health insurance] reductions cannot be reached, some layoffs will likely occur.”

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