City Council asks Providence to end DPW furloughs

Providence

A photo provided by the Providence City Council of mattresses lined up against a fence. A spokesperson says the photo was taken on Sunday (Courtesy: Providence City Council)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Nearly all the members of the Providence City Council signed on to a petition Wednesday asking Mayor Jorge Elorza to end furloughs among Department of Public Works employees, citing a decline in services this summer.

The furloughs — which affect roughly 500 city employees — are currently scheduled to end on Sept. 5 per an agreement with the union, according to a city spokesperson, but are authorized through the end of the year through the R.I. Department of Labor and Training’s Workshare program.

The Workshare program allows businesses or municipalities to pay their employees for part of the week while the workers receive unemployment insurance on other days. Providence furloughed 500 city workers for one to two days per week through Workshare in June.

In a statement, 14 of the 15 members of the council asked the city to end the furloughs specifically for DPW workers.

“This summer we’ve experienced a rampant decline in the quality and frequency of these services due to DPW workers being put on furlough one and two days a week,” the statement read in part. “This decline is of no fault of our hardworking men and women in the DPW, but of the circumstances we are facing due to the above mentioned furloughs.”

Councilor Rachel Miller was the only member whose name was not listed.

The council also emailed photos of piled-up mattresses and tires and graffiti, which spokesperson Billy Kepner said were taken on Sunday throughout the city.

“While we understand that the city must find cost-saving measures to preserve the short-term financial stability of the city, we do not think those savings should come at the price of allowing our city to decline into a hazardous eyesore,” the council statement said. “Graffiti, illegal dumping, rat infestations have become a serious threat this summer to our residents’ quality of life.”

Elorza’s press secretary said the furloughs are being used to avoid layoffs during the pandemic.

“The City of Providence is participating in the State Workshare program as an ongoing effort to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19 and to avoid the layoff of city employees,” Patricia Socarras said. “We look forward to continuing our work with the City Council to ensure the Workshare program has minimal impact on the delivery of city services.”

It is not yet clear what further budget cuts might become necessary, as the city has not yet approved a new budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that began July 1. The Elorza administration and the council are still waiting for the state budget approval — which may or may not include all of Providence’s expected state aid — before making decisions on further cuts.

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