EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 23, 2009

Lawrence lays off 19 workers who rebuffed furloughs

LAWRENCE — Mayor Michael Sullivan laid off 19 workers yesterday, members of a laborers union who refused to voluntarily accept a 10-day unpaid work furlough.

Those let go include four mechanics assigned to the city yard on Auburn Street, Lawrence Municipal Airport maintenance worker Dennis O'Connell, dog officer David Parsons, and 13 workers assigned to the Sewer and Park departments, including School Committee member Greg Morris.

Describing the cuts as unfortunate, Sullivan stressed he's willing to save the jobs and renegotiate a furlough plan with the workers as early as today.

"We would rather approach this as a unified city than a fragmented city," said Sullivan, noting eight other municipal unions already agreed to the 10-day furloughs before June 30. City Hall is closed on Fridays through mid-June as the workers take the days off unpaid.

Public works Director Frank McCann is expected to submit a report to Sullivan today detailing how his department will transition and get the work done without the 19 workers.

The furloughs and layoffs are expected to save $1.5 million in payroll costs — money needed as the city tries to close a $4 million deficit, largely created by a $2.38 million unforeseen loss in state aid.

While expected, yesterday's layoffs were not welcomed by the laborers union, Local 3 Firemen and Oilers.

"All the guys are disappointed. They have been here a while and they like their jobs. ... These are all family people," said Thomas Fritschy, a shop steward, heavy equipment operator and 25-year city employee. He was not laid off yesterday.

Fritschy said union members felt the furlough proposal was cobbled together and thrown at them at the last minute. Also, members feel furloughs are unfair because it didn't affect every union in the city, including the School, Police and Fire departments.

The police superior officers and patrolmen's unions are expected to vote on the furloughs by the end of this week. The Fire Department is closing firehouses on a rotating basis to save money.

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