The fiscal and political crisis in nearly-broke northeastern Pennsylvania city of Scranton was expected to deepen Tuesday as public employee unions said they would seek to hold the mayor in contempt of court after he defied a judge and slashed workers’ pay to minimum wage.
The attorney for three unions, including firefighters and police, said he expected to proceed on several legal fronts Tuesday, including a motion to hold Mayor Chris Doherty in contempt and a separate federal lawsuit alleging violations of labor law.
Doherty last week ignored a court order and cut the pay of about 400 city workers to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. He said it was all the cash-strapped city of more than 76,000 could afford, and he promised to restore full pay once finances are stabilized.
"It’s incredible," the unions’ attorney, Thomas Jennings, said Tuesday. "I’ve never had a public official just say, ’I’m not going to obey a court order. I’m not even going to try. He can’t tell me what to do.’"
Doherty is locked in a dispute with Scranton’s city council over a financial recovery plan as it faces a $16.8 million budget deficit. The mayor didn’t return a phone message from The Associated Press on Tuesday, but he told the Times-Tribune of Scranton that his administration and the council remained at stalemate over the budget.
"If I had the money, I’d pay them," Doherty said of city workers.
Sam Vitris, president of the union representing public-works employees, said the steep wage cut has come as a blow to workers struggling to pay mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other bills. He said some of his members have canceled their vacations.
"It’s a solvable if the two branches of government just sit down and compromise. So far, that hasn’t happened, and the employees are caught in the middle right now of a political squabble," he told the AP. "What we’re hoping for is they come to their senses and realize they are not only hurting the employees, they are also hurting the image of this city."
Vitris said streets, sanitation and other public-works employees — who make around $20 an hour —remain on the job.
"Morale is low. There are a lot of questions. But the guys are showing up for work and they are doing their thing and I couldn’t be prouder of them," he said.
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