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SF council OKs furloughs for hundreds amid protests


John Vigil, who works with the city of Santa Fe Senior Services Division, takes part in a protest outside City Hall. Forty vehicles participated in the protest against furloughs, which some workers say disproportionately affect lower-wage employees. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that hundreds, not thousands, of city employees are subject to furloughs.

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After four hours of discussion, the Santa Fe City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday night to furlough 1,048 city employees, the latest in a series of cost-saving measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Alan Webber cast the deciding vote.

Beginning May 6, some employees’ weekly hours will be reduced by four, while others must take off 16 hours every workweek.

Webber said the 16-hour furloughs will apply primarily to departments closed under the public health emergency, such as libraries, recreation centers and parking.

“We feel that there isn’t enough productive work to be done to substantiate a shallower furlough,” Webber told a news conference Monday.

The furloughs are expected to save the city $1.3 million, still leaving a $16 million shortfall created by plummeting revenues.

City employees voiced their disapproval of the furloughs, with many holding a protest in their cars and driving around City Hall.

The main complaint was that lower-paid employees would be more affected by the furloughs, with such positions accounting for a larger portion of the 16-hour furloughs, while higher-paid employees would receive lower furloughs.

One of those employees was Ramon Coriz, who has worked in the city’s Parking Division for 19 years and is facing a furlough of 16 hours a week. He said he’s not sure how he will pay his bills on the reduced income, because he is paid only $13 an hour.

“Can’t afford it,” he said. “I can barely afford it as it is.”

City councilors also criticized Webber and city officials over the furlough plan. Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said she thought the council had been “backed into a corner” by not being given prior notice of the plan.

“(The plan) makes lower-salaried employees carry the weight,” she said during the meeting. “We could come up with a better furlough plan.”

Webber insisted that the city’s plan was the least negative option but that the effect on employees still “really sucks.”

The furloughs come as the city wrangles with an estimated $46 million shortfall, caused largely by a sudden drop in gross receipts tax revenue, which makes up around 70% of the total budget. The city has until June 30 to make up the deficit.

Multiple councilors offered to donate part of their salaries back to the city, and Webber said he would cut his own pay by 30%.

Some city employees said the mayor could afford a larger pay cut, because some low-wage employees will receive a 40% cut in pay.

“He should be 75% at least,” Coriz said of Webber. “He’s rich; he can live. We’re not rich; we cannot live.”

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