They packed City Hall by the dozens this afternoon -- the firefighters in bright yellow, the police in dark blue, the general service workers in civvies. They beat the floor, pounded the windows and whistled while their leaders excoriated the Miami City Commission over its proposal to slash salaries and benefits.
The unions, in short, are pissed. "When you destroy my people's lives, I'll spend my dying breath to come back and show you that you were wrong," Charlie Cox, president of the general services union, told commissioners.
Overheated rhetoric? You better believe it.
But the unions and their supporters were in no mood to mince words after Chairman Marc Sarnoff called a parade of witnesses to testify as to the city's general financial shape (completely screwed) and their opinion about who was to blame (the unions).
"We've all been trying to figure out how to balance the budget when 90 percent of the costs are people costs -- salaries, benefits and health care," Carlos Migoya, the city manager, said to open the meeting.
City consultants then proposed cost saving measures including reduced salaries for every employee making more than $39,000, topping out with 12 percent cuts for everyone hauling in more than $120,000 a year. They suggested upping the retirement age, and adding larger deductibles to health care plans.
Then the union bosses came to the podium to share their thoughts on the measures. The messages were not measured.
"I am speechless about this process that has almost certainly gone against Florida law," said Robert Suarez, chief of the fire union.
"The actions you're going to take today are going to cause irreparable damage to the City of Miami and its police force," said Armando Aguilar, the police union head, before pulling out a gigantic hospital-bed poster of a cop who'd nearly had his eyes gouged out by a suspect earlier this week.
"Is there respect here? There used to be. Is there anymore? I don't believe so," Cox said.
The crowd of cops, firefighters and city workers thundered with applause at each broadside aimed and Sarnoff and his commission.
But the plan is likely to go forward anyway. The commission went on break around 3 p.m. and should be voting on the measures now. We'll update when we hear the results.
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Aguilar, meanwhile, promised to file a lawsuit to challenge the changes tomorrow. Incidentally, here's our favorite homemade protest shirt on Dinner Key in a larger format:
photo by Tim Elfrink