News & Events

Recent News Coverage: Lawrence lays off 40 workers, More pink slips due in attempt to trim budget

By Russell Contreras, Globe Staff
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Forty full-time and temporary Lawrence city employees were handed pink slips yesterday in the city’s effort to close a $2.3 million deficit, officials announced.

Twenty more layoffs are planned for Friday, said Frank Bonet, the city’s director of personnel.

"I feel for these employees; this is the most depressing time of the year for this to happen," said Bonet. "But we have no choice."

The layoffs angered union leaders, and it was not clear if the action could be rescinded.

Bonet blamed the layoffs on city councilors who did not raise water rates last week and who delayed approving Mayor Michael J. Sullivan’s $222 million budget this summer, putting the city three times on the brink of shutdown.

But Patrick Blanchette, City Council president, blamed Sullivan for the deficit.

"This is a result of a history of mismanagement by this administration," he said. "This could have been avoided. The mayor is basically saying to these workers: ‘Merry Christmas, you’re fired.’ "

Sullivan could not be reached for comment.

The city’s Department of Public Works was the hardest hit, losing 20 employees. The city also laid-off all 10 employees in the city’s water treatment plant. Bonet said the city will contract a consulting firm to run the plant. The city also laid off seven employees in the library department and a city nurse. In all, Lawrence has about 1,000 workers and 2,000 school employees.

Bonet said the city will only save about $70,000 with the layoffs this budget year because it will have to pay unused vacation and unemployment. However, he said the city expects to save at least $500,000 through the layoff over the next budget year, which begins July 1.

Sullivan also notified the police and fire departments that they must cut $250,000 each from their budgets, but Bonet said he doubts they will lose any positions.

News of the layoffs drew sharp reaction from unions in this city of 71,000.

"There is no way that one nurse can manage the public health mandate of a city this size," said Brian Zahn, the lone remaining nurse in the department and chairman of the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "One nurse cannot provide the services of this department, and as a result, residents . . . are being placed at risk for harm."

Bonet said the city is not endangered by having fewer workers, but it may have to shut down some offices during less busy times of the week to save money.