Public workers in the hard-up US city of Scranton, Pennsylvania have had their pay slashed to minimum wage-levels as a budget fight between the mayor and city council comes to a head.
About 400 municipal workers in the city — including police officers, firefighters and construction workers — are being subjected to steep pay cuts that have sparked a string of lawsuits.
The city, which is the birthplace of Vice President Joe Biden and has become synonymous with industrial decline, is facing bankruptcy and the mayor has refused to borrow more money to pay wages.
For police officers with two years on the job that now means a pay cut from $26 an hour to $7.25 an hour, a drop of more than 70 percent.
Construction workers who earn between $18 and $20 under union contracts will also get $7.25 per hour.
“All the vendors are getting 100 cents on the dollar, but the people keeping the buildings from burning down have seen their pay slashed by 75 percent,” Stephen Holroyd, an attorney representing three of the city’s workers’ unions, told AFP.
Roger Leonard, a heavy equipment operator for the city told National Public Radio last week that he typically gets a $900 check for two weeks of work. After the pay cut, it dropped to only $340.
“I have two children and a wife, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom,” said Leonard. “If the savings gets drained, we won’t be okay, but I’m hoping before that happens, that they come to a resolution,” he told reporters.
The city, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) north of Philadelphia is one of a number of so-called rust belt cities that have seen manufacturing and heavy industry flee over past several decades, leaving behind empty downtown storefronts.
But the cause of the immediate problem stems from mayor Chris Doherty and the city council’s inability to agree on a budget.
The Scranton Times-Tribune reported that the town had just $133,000 in the bank on Monday, but owed $3.4 million.
Holroyd said the town has the money to pay, because it has the ability to borrow money for salaries as it has done in the past.
“It’s not because the city’s broke, it’s because they are in a political squabble,” Holroyd said. “They’ve just decided not to go to the ATM.”
The mayor did not return a call for comment.
Unions representing the employees have also sought to hold the town’s mayor in contempt of court, saying he violated a judge’s order to reverse his decision to slash wages.
“He’s just ignoring the court’s order,” said Holroyd.
Many US municipalities have seen their finances decimated by a flight of businesses and residents to the suburbs and beyond, leading to an ever-dwindling tax base and predictions of a wave of municipal defaults.