PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The City of Providence is talks with the union that represents city workers to potentially extend a furlough program that was originally set to expire this week, a spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza confirmed.
Elorza’s administration originally furloughed 500 workers in June for one or two days a week as part of the state’s workshare program, which allowed the city to pay workers for part of the week, while they were paid with unemployment insurance through the state on their furlough days.
Initially, the agreement with the union was for the furloughs to last until Sept. 5, but the R.I. Department of Labor and Training approved the city for the program until the end of the year.
Patricia Socarras, Elorza’s press secretary, confirmed discussions are underway with the union to potentially resume the furloughs after workers come back full-time next week to receive their annual “longevity” checks. The payments are made once a year to Local 1033 members based on their hire date and number of years of service.
“We are working with the Local 1033 to come to a solution that mitigates the economic impacts of COVID-19 and avoids the layoff of city employees,” Socarras said.
Socarras said the longevity payments initially would have gone out this week, but were delayed so that workers would not become ineligible for unemployment this week due to the increased income.
Employees on workshare were initially receiving the extra $600 per week for those on unemployment as part of the federal CARES Act, but that extra payment ended in late July.
Damian McNamara, who works in traffic engineering at the Department of Public Works and is a member of Local 1033, said it has been frustrating to lose money when some non-union employees were not furloughed.
“Pretty much everyone on the workshare program is losing money at this point,” McNamara said. “It’s just going to continue to hurt more families.”
McNamara said he did receive the one-time payment of $900 that was disbursed by FEMA. But there’s no additional stimulus money currently on the horizon to supplement the unemployment payments, which do not cover 100% of lost income.
“They initiated this program knowing there wasn’t anything after July 31,” McNamara said.
The Providence City Council recently started a petition asking Elorza to stop furloughing DPW employees, citing a decline in city services. The council emailed out photos of piled-up mattresses and graffiti throughout the city.
“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 from the council 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.”
The city responded by saying the furloughs are aimed at preventing layoffs during a difficult budget year. Providence still has not passed a budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, as leaders await aid from the state, which also didn’t pass a budget.