New London - The city gave notice this week to three employees in the finance office that their jobs are being eliminated, and the union representing two of the workers responded Friday by filing grievances.
On Tuesday, the purchasing agent was told his job was being eliminated due to budget cuts, and two clerical workers were told their job descriptions have been rewritten and the pay has been reduced.
"They're taking their jobs. Eliminating the jobs and creating new jobs and putting more work on top of that, and paying less money. That's considered a re-organization ... and they have to negotiate with us," said Rich Waselik, president of Local 1378 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Waselik, whose union represents the two office workers, accused the city of unfair labor practices.
He filed multiple grievances alleging the city has violated the terms of the contract and Connecticut state labor laws because it failed to discuss the changes ahead of time with the union.
"Not only was it the right thing to do, it's also the law,'' he said Friday. "They're basically saying we don't care about the law and we'll fight about it later.''
The changes are expected to take effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
William Hathaway, the city's purchasing agent who has worked for New London for 19 years, said he was surprised when he was told his job was being eliminated.
"Especially since that morning, in a story about the budget in the paper, the mayor said layoffs would be a measure of last resort,'' said Hathaway, who earns about $80,000 a year, plus about $30,000 in benefits.
He has been talking with representatives of his bargaining unit, the Municipal Employees Union, to figure out what do next, he said.
Bill Watkins, president of the local MEU, was not available for comment.
All three union members have what is called "bumping rights" and can fill another job within their unions if they are qualified.
Finance Director Jeffrey Smith said the reorganization would save the finance department about $100,000, but because some of the work will now be picked up by other departments, the net savings to the city will be $50,000.
"These things are never easy,'' Smith said. "But nothing is static. Everything has to be reviewed periodically. My goal has been to make this a stronger organization that is capable of being ahead of the ball and not behind it."
He said the changes have nothing to do with the individuals in the jobs, but rather, are a reflection of changes in the way work is being done.
New job descriptions will be made for the assistant to the tax collector, Kathleen Harrington, who earns about $50,000 a year, and assessment technician II, Evelyn Spinnato, who earns just over $52,000 a year. The cost of benefits for both positions is about $60,000.
"We looked at positions and we saw that two folks' pay was not equivalent to what they're doing,'' Smith said. "We eliminated their positions and created new positions at a lower level that is more reflective of the level of work they do."
Smith said a full-time purchasing agent is no longer needed because the state allows municipalities to "piggyback" on state contracts, and in some cases, with other cities or towns. The position has turned into an administrative one, he said.
"The times are changing, and we do have to change with them,'' he said.
He plans to replace the purchasing agent with a part-time purchasing agent/accountant. He also will hire a second part-time accountant for the finance department.
The personnel changes are part of a larger plan to restructure the department, Smith said.
Last month, the tax collector's and assessor's offices were moved out of City Hall and into a former bank building across the street, where the finance offices already are located.
The new office, Smith said, consolidates the different services of the finance department and is handicapped-accessible.
"I'm not going to say this is our last reorganization,'' Smith said. "But this goes a long way in increasing our strengths in the accounting area and allows us to be more effective and efficient."