SCRANTON, PA – Scranton’s police, fire and Department of Public Works unions Monday filed a lawsuit to overturn Mayor Chris Doherty’s unilateral slashing of their salaries to minimum wage.
The unions – International Association of Firefighters Local 60, the Fraternal Order of Police E.B. Jermyn Lodge 2 and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 2305 – are seeking an injunction against the mayor to prohibit him from cutting pay to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
Read the lawsuit HERE
The unions each have separate contracts with the city, the mayor cannot unilaterally slash pay outside the bounds of contracts and without any negotiations, and his decision is legally unfounded, according to the lawsuit filed in Lackawanna County Court by the unions’ attorney, Thomas Jennings of Philadelphia.
Mr. Doherty responded, “What am I going to pay them with? We don’t have the money.”
DPW leader Sam Vitris said of the lawsuit, “It’s not something we take pleasure in, but it’s something we have to do. We’re hoping the mayor and city council resolve this as quickly as possibly, ASAP. None of us want to go through with this, but it’s just that you can’t unilaterally lower wages without entering into any negotiations.”
On Wednesday, the mayor dropped a bombshell by announcing he would unilaterally cut the pay of 398 city workers, including himself, to minimum wage indefinitely due to the city’s cash-crunch crisis.
The city is fast running out of money, the mayor said, and unpaid bills, particularly health care coverage, are mounting. By paying only minimum wages, starting with the next payday on Friday, the payroll that is paid every two weeks would drop from up to $1.2 million to $300,000, leaving the remaining $700,000 in deferred wages to pay bills, Mr. Doherty had said. Once the crisis is over, employees would be paid the deferred pay, he has said.
The mayor and council have been at odds over updating an Act 47 recovery plan that Mr. Doherty said is required by banks before they would again provide financing to the city. Mr. Doherty’s plan proposes a 78 percent property tax hike over the next three years, but the council has refused to pass it and want the mayor to reduce taxes with alternative sources of revenue. The mayor says council’s proposals for alternative revenues won’t raise enough money and will not raise money quickly.
“We’re communicating with council, so we’ve just got to keep working at this,” Mr. Doherty said.
The earliest the unions’ lawsuit would be taken up in court likely would be Thursday in motions court, when hearing dates are typically set. The unions are hoping for an immediate injunction Thursday to prevent the minimum wages from taking effect this week, though they acknowledge such swift court action is probably unlikely.
While paydays are every other Friday, payroll funds usually are transmitted from the city the Wednesday before a payday. Because Wednesday is a holiday, the payroll funds would have to be transmitted no later than Thursday for employees to be paid Friday, Mr. Vitris said.
“We expect that this isn’t going to be taken care of by Friday,” Mr. Vitris said. “We’re not optimistic at all” that the mayor’s decision on minimum wage decision could be reversed this week, in time to have full, regular paychecks.
The lawsuit also claims the unilateral action violates state Act 111 and other labor laws. The suit claims that if the pay cuts stand, they would have a “devastating immediate impact” on workers by creating their inability to feed their families or maintain any semblance of a decent standard of living; pay medical bills and other expenses; pay for child care in some cases, particularly for single parents, thus making it impossible for them to work; and pay mortgages, loans and other bills that would destroy their credit ratings.
“There are people that are going to be hurting because of this” pay cut, Mr. Vitris said. “We hope it doesn’t go on too long.”