City government

Report agrees with city’s terms for MOU with fire union

By From page A1 | December 06, 2013

Recommendations for a new employee contract with the Davis Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494 were released to the public Thursday in a report issued by a third-party fact-finding panel, and the panel largely finds in favor of the terms preferred by the city.

Consistent with what city leaders have offered other major employee groups, the suggested terms include cutting down the cafeteria cash-out benefit, restructuring retiree health costs and asking the employees to chip in on the rising costs of pensions.

Unlike the fact-finder who released a report last month for a contract with the Davis City Employees Association, which recommended a better deal for those employees, this panel saw less reason to give the fire union a break.

“The city is pleased that the fact-finder agreed with the city’s proposed structural changes,” a city news release said. Fact-finding is the last step of impasse before the city can legally impose its last, best and final contract offer.

Specifically, the fact-finder, Charles Askin, agrees with phasing down the fire union’s cafeteria cash-out benefit from a maximum of about $1,400 per month to $500 by Dec. 31, 2015.

Under the cash-out, the city hands employees a set amount of money to buy health insurance each month. If the employee is covered by a spouse’s plan, for example, and doesn’t buy the city’s insurance, the employee can then take that insurance money home in cash.

An average city firefighter earns $93,000 in annual salary, according to city numbers. If that firefighter takes home the full cash-out, he or she pulls in an additional $16,800 per year.

Fire union negotiators had proposed to cap the cash-out at $450 by the beginning of 2015, but then ramp it back up to $870 per month the following year. The fact-finder advised against the idea.

The city presents “a more financially sound proposal that contemplates a ‘final’ lower cap, consistent with the recognition of both parties (and the fact-finder) that this very generous benefit should be curtailed in the current (and likely future) economic climate,” Askin said.

In addition to lowering the cash-out cap, the fact-finder agreed with the city’s position to reform retiree health care benefits by reducing the amount new employees will receive in health coverage once they retire.

In a two-tier system, for employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2013, the city would contribute an amount equal to the Medicare/ managed monthly rate based on the CalPERS Kaiser Bay Area rate, plus two or more dependents, which costs about half of what retired or current employees receive.

The panel also found in favor of requiring the firefighters to pay 3 percent of the city’s share of CalPERS pension costs.

The Davis Police Officers Association, which already pays 12 percent of its own share of pension costs compared to 9 percent by the firefighters, began paying 3 percent of the city’s share in 2009.

The fire union agreed it needs to pick up some of the city’s share as well, but proposed phasing in the increase over several years to ease the blow. Again, the panel did not find this to be “persuasive.”

Then, the panel agreed with the city to install a cost-sharing structure for future increases in the cost of health care, a provision that the city’s other labor groups agreed to in their contracts.

Under that structure, the city pays for the first 3 percent increase, the employee group pays the next 3 percent, and then any increase above that level is split equally between the two groups.
The city had proposed a base from where these health costs would rise at 2009 levels, but because costs were far lower then and health care costs only will continue to rise quickly, even from 2013 levels, the fact-finder found that this would be too much of a hit on the union and recommended a 2013 base.
That recommendation, and a recommendation to offer the firefighters a 5 percent raise over the life of the contract in exchange for these major concessions, were the only areas in which the fact-finding panel did not side with the city’s position.

“The fact-finder recommended a limited approach to health insurance cost-sharing and also recommended an additional salary increase not proposed by the city,” the city’s release said. “Whether these additional recommendations are feasible must be evaluated in light of the city’s fiscal condition.”

The city used very similar language when describing the fact-finding report that ruled on labor negotiations with DCEA. Less than a month later, the City Council imposed a contract on the employee group with the full terms and concessions it was asking for.

The police officers association and the Program, Administrative and Support Employees Association agreed to contracts in late 2012, and each deal made the majority of the city’s requested concessions.

When reached by phone Thursday, Bobby Weist, fire union president, declined to comment on the report.

The City Council will determine the next steps for labor negotiations with the fire union on Dec. 17.

— Reach Tom Sakash at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected], (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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