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City and two employee groups work through impasse, await third-party input

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From page A1 | October 11, 2013 |

Details

Average salary and benefits for each of the city’s four major employee groups:

Police officer*: $81,800 in salary, $67,600 in benefits

Firefighter: $93,000 in salary, $91,300 in benefits

DCEA employee: $56,700 in salary, $64,300 in benefits

PASEA employee*: $56,900 in salary, $43,300 in benefits

* Denotes that the group has signed a new contract

While the majority of the city’s labor groups inked new contracts almost a year ago, two of the city’s largest unions have continued to fight against the concessions that all employees have been asked to make and have yet to sign deals.

Mounting unfunded liabilities and deferred maintenance in Davis — including retiree medical costs and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of road and bike path pavement work — have led city leaders to ask employees to give back some of the benefits they received in more financially stable times.

But the Davis Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494 and the Davis City Employees Association, who make up roughly 40 percent of the city’s workforce, have resisted, and the overall cost savings the city expected to realize through labor negotiations remain unachieved.

When the City Council approved the budget for fiscal year 2013-14, which started in July, it appropriated about $463,000 for the additional costs the city will incur because it has not yet reached deals with the fire union and DCEA.

City Manager Steve Pinkerton said Thursday they’ve budgeted up to Nov. 1 to cover those costs, but the city may have to reassess if the process extends any further.

Negotiations with both groups have entered impasse and all sides now wait for third-party fact-finding panels to release reports with recommendations regarding what they see as fair compensation.

That still may not be enough to push the two sides to reach agreement, however, as the recommendations are not binding.

Impasse is a several-step procedure as part of the collective bargaining process — often occurring once negotiations have broken down — that requires the two parties to first sit down with an arbitrator to try to work out a deal and, if that fails, enter a fact-finding stage.

If a deal still hasn’t been reached, the city can impose its last, best and final offer on the labor group. But while the employees would have to abide by that imposed contract, the two sides eventually would have to meet at the bargaining table and work out a full, long-term contract.

Despite a failure to reach an agreement thus far, Dave Owen, president of DCEA, said this week he believes negotiations between his union and the city should not come to imposition.

“We are hopeful that we can get through this collective bargaining process” and agree on a deal, Owen said, adding that the DCEA fact-finding report should be released to the public within the next two weeks.

Pinkerton said while the city would rather not impose, it soon must resolve the situation one way or another.

“Our goal is never to impose, but at this point it’s a real challenge; we’re running out of time,” Pinkerton said. “The goal is always to reach an agreement.

“I will say that typically when it’s taken so long to reach an agreement, (employee groups agree to contracts) at the very last second.”

Bobby Weist, president of the fire union, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

The terms

Pinkerton has said previously that the city is asking for similar concessions from DCEA and the fire union as it received from the other employee groups.

Late last year, the Davis Police Officers’ Association and the Program, Administrative and Support Employee Association both agreed to three-year memoranda of understanding, or contracts, agreeing to various cuts in compensation.

Both groups agreed to cap the cash-out medical insurance benefit at $500 per month over a three-year phase-in process, a fairly steep reduction from the current $1,500 maximum.

The cash-out benefit awards employees who don’t sign up for the city’s health insurance plan with a cash bonus in addition to their salaries. For example, if employees are insured under a spouse’s plan, they’re eligible to cash out what they would have received from the city, up to a certain amount.

Both city officials and DCEA leaders have acknowledged the cash-out has been a point of contention during labor talks.

The police union, meanwhile, also agreed last year to have its retiree medical coverage lowered to 75 percent of other post-employment benefits for employees who have served the city for less than 25 years. Employees who have worked for the city longer than 25 years still will receive the full retiree medical benefit once they retire.

In return for those concessions, the police officers will receive a 6 percent raise over the three-year term of the contract.

PASEA, made up of miscellaneous non-safety employees, also agreed in December to pay more into CalPERS for their retirement plans. Over the course of the three-year contract, that rate will rise from 5 to 8 percent. Police officers already have been paying 12 percent of their retirement benefit costs and were not asked to increase their commitment.

Me, too?

Meanwhile, if the city isn’t able to lock in new deals with DCEA and the fire union with the same terms they agreed to with PASEA and the police officers, it could fall even further short of the cost savings city leaders were hoping to realize.

In the contracts agreed upon by PASEA and the police officers, the city has written in a “me, too” clause intended to ensure that all employee groups receive equitable deals.

But if DCEA and the firefighters sign contracts that see less cut from their pay or benefits, the contracts signed by PASEA and the police officers union would have to be brought in line, meaning even less savings for the city.

Weist has said in the past that the other employee groups’ leaders have approached him to remind him of the importance of their negotiations, given the clause.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

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Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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