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City to Cut Jobs as COVID-19 Stresses Budget; Announces Hiring of Chief Equity Officer

Patti Singer

Mayor Lovely Warren at a Zoom news conference May 5, 2020, about job reductions because of COVID-19.

Hours after Mayor Lovely Warren announced job reductions because of COVID-19, the city released a statement confirming the recent addition of an employee.

Cephas Archie, whose dismissal as chief diversity officer by the College at Brockport in January led to student protests and an examination of diversity efforts on campus, was hired as the city’s Chief Equity Officer.

According to a news release, Archie was offered the position on March 4, before the COVID-19 crisis, and he started April 27.

However, Archie’s hiring appeared to have been leaked — it was reported by several news outlets on Twitter a few hours after the mayor’s online news conference announcing the city’s job reductions.

When asked about the timing of his hiring, Archie deferred to city spokesman Justin Roj. Archie did say not to assume his hiring occurred the same day as the other job actions.

About two hours after the mayor’s news conference ended, Roj issued the following statement:

“The City of Rochester is mandated by State and Federal law to have a manager oversee its Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action programs.

“Dr. Archie’s hiring fills this role after his predecessor accepted a promotion. … Dr. Archie is a recognized leader in his field and we welcome him to City government to help us and our residents build a more just and equitable community.”

During the controversy at Brockport over Archie’s dismissal, Warren had attended a community town hall.

Archie is not a department head; he is part of the Human Resources department.

As for the job reductions that the mayor said take effect May 11, trash still will be collected on schedule and police and fire still will answer 911 calls.

But other city services will be affected as Mayor Lovely Warren announced May 5 that 403 employees across 11 departments – including her office – will be furloughed, share a job or be laid off.

The reductions will save $2.1 million in the current fiscal year and the next, which starts July 1, 2020. Warren said the city already has cut out discretionary spending, which saved $14 million.

The mayor is scheduled to present the 2020-2021 budget May 15 to City Council.

The job reductions break down to 178 employees on furlough, 208 on work share and 17 separations. The changes are expected to continue through the COVID-19 crisis. The affected employees are eligible for aid under the CARES Act, and they retain health benefits for a period of time.

The city has 3,404 employees. The job actions affect 11.8%. The biggest single department affected was library services, where 151 employees were put on furlough.

As far effects on unions, Roj said the city reached a memorandum of agreement with AFSCME employees, which represents 1,119 members, regarding the changes. Roj said that an agreement is outstanding with CSEA, which represents 130 employees. The police and fire unions are unaffected.

Roj also said the city anticipates that job-sharing and furloughed employees will return to work after July 29, when enhanced benefits expire under the federal CARES Act.

In recent weeks, the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology and Monroe County have announced furloughs as private and public institutions cope with the loss of revenue from the shutdown implemented to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Warren said 60% of cities in the nation have taken similar steps. “Our city’s challenge is America’s challenge.”

The city gets its revenue from state aid, sales tax and property tax. Money from the state is going to decrease because of expenses related to COVID-19, and sales tax has taken a huge hit with all-but essential businesses closed.

“The three-legged stool does not work well on only one leg,” Warren said. “Clearly, we face a significant, obvious challenge.”

Warren said the federal government must help cities. She said the timing of the job actions is to qualify employees under the CARES Act.

Warren said that to comply with federal and state regulations, officials looked at what were considered essential versus non-essential employees and where they could implement job sharing.

Warren said the city is trying to preserve as many uniformed services as possible. As for when or if job cuts would affect police, fire and other essential services, she said she didn’t anticipate a mass reduction in those departments. “But our budget is changing daily as we get updates. We will definitely have a final number for City Council by May 15, when we have to present to them a balanced budget.”

The reductions by department:

  • Mayor’s Office: 1 furlough, 20 job share, 1 laid off ;
  • Human Resources: 1 furlough;
  • Law: 4 job share; 1 laid off;
  • Emergency Communications: 1 furlough;
  • Environmental Services: 2 furlough, 28 job share;
  • Library: 151 furlough, 28 job share;
  • Information Technology: 12 furlough;
  • Neighborhood & Business Development: 10 furlough;
  • Finance: 3 laid off;
  • Recreation & Youth Services: 48 job share, 8 laid off; and
  • Police (non-uniform): 46 job share, 1 laid off