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Control Board Approves Wage Freeze, Unions Outraged

By Joyce Kryszak and Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority Wednesday enacted an across the board wage freeze to help close the city's projected $50 million budget gap.

"We're out of other options, and so I think we're going to have to do this," said Control Board member Richard Tobe. "I wish this day had never come, but I think it has arrived."

With those final ominous words from, the board passed the resolution to freeze all city pay increases. The measure was approved by a seven to one vote -- with only Mayor Anthony Masiello opposing it.

Control Board officials say they have the authority to freeze any and all wage increases, under the law that established the board. But city department and union officials are already promising to challenge that power. Police Commissioner Rocco Diina says legal action is certain.

"Undoubtedly, there'll be a legal action, of course. And there will be a difference of opinion from the attorney representing the Control Board, and who knows what the decision will be," said Diina. "But in the interim time it's certainly going to hurt the morale of the department."

The vote will affect the city police department's recently negotiated contract. That contract called for concessions, including one officer patrols, in exchange for pay increases. The decision halts those raises. That means about $2.5 million the city will save next year alone. School district employees are also affected. The combined savings next year, from the freeze for just those two entities, is about $7.5 million.

The vote caught many city union leaders off guard, including Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore. He says no one knew about the wage freeze and calls it unfair.

"I really don't know why they are freezing wages," Rumore said. "The board doesn't even have the budget yet and we don't even know what they have. But we meet with other unions and we will, no doubt, be taking legal action."

Rumore says the wage freeze will make it very difficult to negotiate a new teachers contract. He says the school district will be in a position of asking for union concession without being able to offer teacher pay raises. But Control Board Chairman Thomas Baker said the city is running out of options.

"The city is no longer in a position to give. It's got nothing to give. It's going out and borrowing money to meet its payroll. There is nothing left to give," said Baker.

The freeze goes into effect immediately, stopping all existing and pending contract increases for all city entities. If the freeze remains, the city could save nearly $37 million dollars over the next three years in police and school salaries alone.