TAMPA — When the City Council approved Mayor Pam Iorio's budget last month, it included no money for raises.
But with contract negotiations with police, fire and general employee unions stalled, a handful of employees will get pay increases because terms of the existing contracts, which expired Thursday, remain in place.
The pay increases would be given to employees on the anniversary of their hiring.
Iorio, though, says she wants those employees to give the money back to the city if the final contracts include no raises.
It wouldn't be fair if some people got raises and others didn't simply because of the timing of contract approvals, she said.
In a letter to the City Council this week, Iorio said any final contract should include the payback provision. "The proposed remedy is endorsed by both our City Attorney and Labor Attorney," Iorio wrote.
Union leaders, though, question the legitimacy of the stance.
"Attorneys are checking into the legality of that," said Martha Stevens, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1464, which represents about 2,000 employees.
It's more than likely an unfair labor practice, said Greg Stout, head of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, which represents 985 employees. "I don't think they can do it."
The unions have generally agreed to forgo cost-of-living increases this year.
But the police and fire unions still want so-called step increases, which are based on years of service and growing responsibility.
City officials have said a year's worth of merit and step increases would cost the city $4.5 million and force mass layoffs.
The city declared an impasse on contract negotiations this summer. That means they need to go before a special magistrate, who will issue a nonbinding opinion. If the two sides don't accept the magistrate's ruling, the contracts will go to the City Council.
So far, only the police contract has gone to the magistrate.
Stout said it's possible the two sides will come to an agreement without the council, but Iorio said she expects the contract will end up in front of the board in mid November.
After approving the budget last month, the council sent a letter to employees letting them know that the current budget doesn't include money for raises.
"It is in the best interest of all involved to recognize the present economic realities," the letter reads. "We strongly encourage the bargaining agents for the unions to renew their efforts to find a mutually acceptable resolution within the constraints of the budget approved by council."
Stout, though, said he doesn't see that letter as an indication that the council will reject step increases. "We've spoken to all but one City Council person and not one has made an outright claim that they plan on voting against us," he said. "We've had several positive comments from at least three City Council people."