WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Joseph Solomon is planning to lay off up to 50 municipal workers as the coronavirus pandemic causes a “significant decline” in revenues for the city budget.
Solomon, a Democrat, said in a statement he initially offered the Warwick municipal workers’ union a guarantee of no layoffs for a year, if the union was willing to forgo scheduled pay raises in its contract with the city.
The union declined to forgo the raise, according to Solomon.
“I thought that a compromise was the best solution for our taxpayers, as well as for our union employees and their families,” Solomon said. “During this unprecedented time of economic instability, when most municipalities are facing drastic losses in revenue, I believed it was a fair and equitable request to ask our union to forego a 2.75% raise in exchange for job security and continued healthcare for themselves and their families so that we could keep our budget balanced while saving our taxpayers from additional hardship.”
The layoffs affect the Local 1651 Warwick city employees union, not the police, fire, or teachers union. (Though police and fire dispatchers are in the municipal workers’ union.)
In an interview with WPRI 12 Tuesday afternoon, Solomon said he expects the layoffs to save the city around $1.6 million in the budget. He also described the layoffs as “phase 1,” with more potentially coming.
“That’s a possibility depending on the financial obstacles that this pandemic may throw at us,” Solomon said. He said the city needs to know how much state aid it will receive for the upcoming budget year before making that decision.
It is not yet clear which jobs will be eliminated to balance the budget. Emily Martineau, a spokesperson for Solomon, said individual affected employees would be notified in about 15 days.
Walter Hartley, the head of Local 1651, confirmed he received the layoff letter from the mayor Wednesday morning. He said it did not indicate how many workers would be laid off or which category of jobs would be lost.
He said 190 of the union’s members participated in a Zoom meeting last week to vote on the mayor’s proposal to forgo raises in exchange for job guarantees, and “the majority voted to reject the mayor’s proposal.”
Solomon said Warwick receives about $9 million in revenue from the airport, hotel taxes, and meal and beverage taxes, which the city is projecting could decline by a third in the upcoming fiscal year. The mayor plans to submit his budget proposal to the City Council by May 15.
The city is self-insured for unemployment, meaning it will still be responsible for paying a portion of the workers’ salaries when they file for unemployment benefits with the state. But the layoffs will save the city the full cost of health and pension benefits for the affected employees.
Multiple other municipalities have said they are considering layoffs and furloughs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena confirmed all part-time employees in that town are currently on furlough until further notice, with no timeline on when they’ll be brought back to work. No full time employees have been affected so far, Polisena said.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has also described layoffs or furloughs of state workers as “probable” as state revenues decline sharply.
Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.