Published July 09, 2012
Employees of a Pennsylvania city, who have all seen their salaries cut to minimum wage as the mayor grapples with budget problems, are hoping a judge restores their paychecks in full.
Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty cut everyone's pay -- including his own -- on Friday, saying the state's sixth-largest city is broke because the City Council blocked his proposed tax increase. Doherty, a Democrat, warned nearly 400 police officers, firefighters and public works employees about his doomsday plan, prompting a Lackawanna County judge to order the city to pay full wages to all employees, citing that it is a violation of their contracts. Hours later, the payday envelopes went out, and, despite the judge's order, they were light.
“This needs to be resolved," Scranton firefighter and president of the local firefighters union John Judge told FoxNews.com. "My members are getting a check for $7.25 an hour. These are people that are the head of their households. They have mortgages. They have other living costs. They are now going to have to throw their bills in a hat and randomly pick what gets paid on time.”
The judge was not in his chambers Monday, but attorneys for the local city workers' unions were planning to go to court Tuesday morning to ask him to hold Doherty in contempt of court for violating the injunction.
In addition to scaling back wages, Doherty's move cut off overtime, worker's compensation and disability.
The city of Scranton has battled budget woes for years, but the problems reached a boiling point after the City Council blocked Doherty's plan to raise taxes to cover a $16.8 million shortfall, opting instead to borrow money to cover the budget gap.
“The mayor is trying to strong-arm the council into doing what he wants, but it’s the city’s employees that are paying the price,” Judge said, adding that the workers in his department saw their paystubs go from about $1,500 every two weeks after deductions to a gross pay of about $600. “This is not a case of no cash. It’s a cash-flow problem.”
The cuts were sudden, as city employees were only given eight days' notice. Doherty also claimed last week that there is only $5,000 left in the city’s accounts.
“The employees are the ones in the middle of this battle between the mayor and the council," said Sam Vitris, president of the public works union. “We’ve had four or five recovery plans over the years and none of them seemed to have worked. The stalemate between them has led the city to run out of money.”
Doherty has maintained for months that if the City Council had not refused his 2012 budget proposal, which included a 29 percent tax hike, the city would not be in a dire situation. Doherty did not return repeated calls for comment.