OAKLAND, CA The city quickly retracted a letter it sent Thursday to the president of Oakland’s police union warning of possible layoffs as the city begins work to balance its upcoming budget.
In a follow-up letter issued late Friday, Oakland Employee Relations Director Renee Mayne apologized for the letter noting that the city could not lay off any officers this year because it would violate a recently-passed ballot measure.
Oakland issues warning letters to its unions when it has a budget deficit that could necessitate layoffs, but Sgt. Barry Donelan, whose union lost 80 members to layoffs in 2010, was angered to receive the letter Thursday given Mayor Libby Schaaf’s stated commitment to rebuilding the undermanned force.
“The rhetoric we keep hearing from Mayor Schaaf is public safety is our number one priority,” he said Friday before the city apologized for the letter. “But the actions of her administration don’t match that. Not when we get this letter that says they might lay us off.”
Schaaf said Friday afternoon that she was unaware of the letter and that police had no reason to fear layoffs.
“There is no possibility that we are laying police off,” she said. “Zero. Less than zero.”
The layoff letter came as union and city negotiators begin talks on a new contract. Negotiations could get contentious given that the union agreed to several concessions during the Great Recession and the city is forecasting an $18 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year and larger deficits in upcoming years.
But unlike several other unions whose contracts expire this June, the police don’t face any layoff risk. Measure Z, a public safety tax extension passed by voters in November, only allows for police layoffs if it results in a force that is still above 800 officers. Currently, Oakland’s force numbers just under 700 officers.
In her follow-up letter to Donelan, Mayne wrote that the city was committed to passing a budget that would preserve and seek to increase “the current levels of service across the board.”
Other unions didn’t seem particularly concerned about receiving the layoff letter, noting that the city has been in worse financial straits. “We usually get it anytime there are negotiations,” said Vickie Carson, policy and political director for IFPTE, which represents middle-level workers. “I’m not hair on fire about it, but we are studying the budget to see what’s real and what’s not real.”