Pay cuts for public employees in Newark

March 31, 2009 4:38:46 PM PDT
The mayor of New Jersey's largest city announced furloughs and pay cuts for more than 2,000 municipal employees one week after a new state rule cleared the way for the action. Newark Mayor Cory Booker said Tuesday he will impose 18 days of unpaid furloughs through the end of next year on all full-time employees except for police officers and firefighters - a move expected to save 5 percent of their annual salaries. The salaries of 61 top city staffers, including Booker's own $130,722 annual pay, will be reduced an additional 2 percent.

Booker said the cost-cutting moves are needed to avoid layoffs, sustain the city's comeback and stabilize its budget amid a deep recession that has pushed the city unemployment rate to a 5-year high of 12.5 percent.

"This is a difficult time of sacrifice for our city," Booker said. "We are following our governor's lead by doing what's necessary in this fiscal crisis."

New Jersey's Civil Service Commission adopted a rule March 25 giving Gov. Jon S. Corzine and local governments emergency power to impose temporary layoffs because of the economic crisis. Corzine wants to save $35 million by forcing state workers to take two days off this spring. He also sought the authority to furlough them for 12 days - one day a month - beginning in July.

Booker estimates the Newark furloughs will save $6 million. The additional 2 percent salary reduction applies to city employees earning more than $100,000 a year and will save about $100,000.

The pay cuts and furloughs become effective when the new city budget, which is expected to total about $650 million, is approved. Officials are still working on a spending plan for the fiscal year that began Jan. 1.

Booker will forgo about $9,151 of his own salary under the plan. The mayor, who called on Newark residents to hunker down economically for the next three years, vowed to work without pay on his furlough days.

Newark has 4,141 full-time employees. Booker said the cost-cutting measure will not affect the city's 1,700 fire and police employees to maintain improvements in public safety.

Shootings and homicides have declined precipitously since Booker took office in July 2006. Newark recorded 67 homicides and 297 shootings last year, compared with 318 shootings and 104 homicides in 2005.

Booker said he will continue expanding the police department, while trimming the overall city work force by attrition. Booker has reduced the payroll by 17 percent since taking office in July 2006, when the city employed 5,000 full-time workers.

Rahaman Muhammad, executive vice president of Local 617 of the Service Employees International Union objected to the exception for firefighters and police. His local represents about 600 city sanitation workers and crossing guards as well as members of the water and sewer, 911 emergency call center, and recreation departments.

"I support anything that keeps employees from being placed on these overextended unemployment lines, but I'd like to see police and fire employees making the same sacrifices as everyone else," Muhammad said.

The Booker administration has whittled down the $180 million budget gap it inherited to about $85 million and hopes to eliminate it by 2012, according to Michelle Thomas, Newark's acting business administrator.