MADEIRA BEACH — The city may not have enough money to give raises, but it has found something else to reward its employees — a shorter workweek.
All city employees, except firefighters, are now working four hours less each week as they head home at noon on Fridays for an extended weekend.
The new schedule is part of the city's contract negotiations with the Communications Workers of America and affects about 40 city employees.
"We don't have the money, so we tried to find another way to reward employees," City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. explained Tuesday. "Madeira Beach is a good place to work and we want to keep it that way."
Although the new CWA contract does not go into effect until Oct. 1, Higginbotham has already started the shorter workweek.
"I wanted to get an agreement with the CWA as soon as possible, so we could better plan our budget this summer," said Higginbotham.
The CWA contract was overwhelmingly approved by city employees with only two voting against it.
The City Commission approved the agreement at its meeting last week.
According to the new contract, the shorter workweek will be in effect for six months in both 2010 and 2011 — May through August and November and December.
Higginbotham said there is no direct cost to the city for the new schedule, although it will mean that City Hall will be closed to residents on Friday afternoons.
"Not that many people are coming in late on Fridays," Higginbotham said.
The shorter workweek applies to all non-firefighter city employees, including administrators.
Higginbotham said affected employees would be paid as though they worked a 40-hour week, and would receive overtime pay for any work performed after 36 hours each week.
The City Commission approved the CWA contract and the new work schedule with only Commissioner Nancy Oakley opposed.
"These are tough times," said Commissioner Steve Kochick. "What we gain in holding up morale is well worth it."
Mayor Pat Shontz described the shorter workweek as "a very small thing" the city can do for its employees.
"This is a win-win for the city," said Vice Mayor Terry Lister.
Not all residents at last week's commission meeting agreed.
Dick Lewis called the move a "dangerous precedent," while Helen Palladeno said "working stiffs" in the city would resent the new benefit.
"Good luck getting this taken away (after the new contract expires). I know how unions work," Palladeno said.
However, Higginbotham stressed the shorter workweek is only for one year.
The city is still negotiating a new contract with the union representing firefighters, but Higginbotham indicated Tuesday the city will not be able to offer the same shorter workweek as it has given to other employees.
"We don't have the fire staff to do that," he said. "It would end up costing the city even more because we would have to cover everything with overtime."
Like the CWA members, firefighters have not had a raise in two years.