Despite impassioned pleas by four city-employed tree trimmers facing demotion and pay cuts, the City Council has decided to hire a contractor for roadside tree trimming to save the city $136,000.
"I've put six years of my life into this place. I go to school as well as work here to try to improve my services," said tree trimmer Mark Moritz, 27, whose pay will drop from $20,000 a year to $11,000 after he is reassigned March 1 to another city job. "It's not fair to people who commit to you. Why can't you commit to them?"
Moritz said he will be forced to move from a condominium he rents with his wife, who works for the city part time.
The couple also will postpone starting a family, and he has sold his 1993 truck to cope with the cut in income, he said.
Both Moritz and Scotty Wilson, another worker facing demotion, have been referred to lawyers, said Robin Nahin, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Employees League.
Both were singled out for demotion as the least productive employees in their job class, Nahin said.
However, Moritz has had two knee surgeries from job-related injuries, and Wilson, 60, is slowing down after nearly 30 years as a city laborer, she said.
He will file an age discrimination lawsuit, she said.
She said it will cost the city more to fight the suits than to keep the employees at their current pay for a year, which is the settlement the union requested for them and others, she said.
Mayor John W. Hedges declined comment, citing Nahin's threats of litigation. City Manager Kevin J. Murphy said the demotions might be just the tip of the layoff iceberg because of the city's potential losses in the county bankruptcy.
"I wish I could provide reassurances to employees. . . . But unfortunately, we have another tight year ahead," he said. "I wish I could say it was going to get better. I can't."
Private landscapers have been forced to lower their prices in recent years because of the recession, General Services Director Dave Niederhaus said.
The city contracted the landscaping under similar circumstances in the late 1970s but switched back to in-house trimming after a year because contractor prices increased.