Impasse Being Bandied About

citycatFor those who have not read Rich Rifkin’s column in the Enterprise, it was an outstanding piece.  The idea of declaring impasse in the current labor negotiations is probably an increasingly necessary step.

As Mr. Rifkin explained, once a council declares impasse in its labor negotiations state law then allows the council to impose its “last, best and final offer” on the city unions involved in collective bargaining negotiations.  Davis has a particularly labor-friendly ordinance however, and under current law it could take four to six weeks to impose its contract terms after declaring impasse.

Mr. Rifkin suggests of course that this would necessitate a new ordinance, however, I think the act of declaring impasse alone would probably get the labor negotiators to take the issue more seriously.

But let us be honest about two things.  First, despite Mr. Rifkin quoting Councilmember Lamar Heystek as saying that impasse is fast approaching, it does not seem likely given the council majority.

Second, impasse probably at this point only limits the damage, it does not save us.

Here is where we stand:  According to indications from Navazio, the council had projected on paper that it would see $1.25 million in savings from reductions in employee costs.  However, on Tuesday, Navazio suggested we may fall $350,000 short of that.  Because we are nearing the halfway point in our fiscal year, that means we actually have to find $700,000 in savings to plug that gap.

It is unclear if that $350,000 represents the best offer from labor or management, but even if the Council does manage to grow some fortitude in the next week, let us assume that is a best case scenario.

But the problem is there is no indication to me that the Council will grow any fortitude any time soon.  We saw that in the much rehashed fire sale where the council gave away $400,000 in potential savings so the fire department that donated tens of thousands to the council majority over the last two respective elections can get their Battalion Chief Model.

One of the most interesting portions of Mr. Rifkin’s piece was this conversation with Mayor Ruth Asmundson.

Mayor Ruth Asmundson told me that my writings in this column have empowered the council to get a backbone, this year.

‘The council has been holding the line,’ Asmundson said. ‘It’s not like in past years. The council wants to make sure there is some structural change. We might give a little bit on some things as long as we get some on the structural change.’

There was a time last year, when I actually believed that the Mayor could be a third ally on fiscal matters.  She has long trumpeted herself as a fiscal hawk.  She called for the independent investigation into the Grand Jury report along with Councilmember Heystek in the summer of 2008.

But since then she has severely disappointed.  She held the deciding vote in the decision to withhold the Aaronson report from the public.  And two years after voting against the Battalion Chief model under the rationale that it would be too expensive, and one week after suggesting privately to many that she would oppose it, she ignored the math and voted for the Battalion Chief model. 

It seems that she has decided to run for council again and wants to gain the firefighters endorsement.  She has work to do because I recall in the days when the union head still spoke to me, him telling me how angry they were at Ruth Asmundson.  That is bound to change now with her key support on both the Grand Jury report and now the Battalion Chiefs.

If these are examples of the council having a backbone, well, I just do not see it.

The fact is that impasse represents now the best of many very bad alternatives that the council faces.  It seems very clear that the council and the city negotiators have a long string of failures in this process.  They failed to take the issue out of their hands by hiring an independent negotiator that could have played hardball.  They failed when they failed to plan to make the process more transparent.  They failed when they forgot to hold the line at $1.25 at worst.

But worse of all they have failed because they have forgotten that the $3.4 million deficit, while substantial was just the tip of the iceberg.  They have yet to address the city’s growing $42 million unfunded liability, much of which will go to people who retire as young as age 50.  We have failed to deal with our pension problem and the growing unfunded liability there.  We have failed in any real way to slow down the runaway growth in salaries, benefits, and retirement benefits and if we do not do this, the city will face severe fiscal challenges in the coming years. 

This was our chance, but by all indications, we have completely blown it and impasse will not save us.  What it will do is cap the damage at what it is now.  The sooner they act, the sooner the damage stops accruing.  However, I have no faith that will occur because I have no faith in the fortitude of our leadership.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Phil

    Everyone I know who is a State worker (myself included) is receiving a furlough. UCD is cutting back. The private sector is cutting back. This is an unfortunate reality. Davis seems to be in a different world.

    An innovative plan might be progressive cuts where lower paid workers do not assume as much of a burden. Once again our CC needs to step up to the plate or be removed from office.

    Our CC majority seems to be on the wrong side of every issue–their only concern is where their next campaign donation is coming from. This is no way to run a city.

  2. Crilly

    Ruth suggested to me the other day (though she didn’t come right out and say it) that she was, in fact, going to be running for another term. So I think David’s assessment is correct. The fire department has candidates in this city by the short hairs, and it takes far more courage than she has to oppose them.

  3. wdf1

    This is not a good move if one wants to cultivate good long term community relations. In the future we may be asking leaders and collective bargaining groups, what did you do to help keep the city solvent during the worst economic downturn of our lives?

    And the longer the collective bargaining groups hold out for a better deal, the worse the situation will get. Monday’s Sac Bee reported that the state has to close an additional $14 billion deficit next year. If recent past trends are any indication, that number will grow.

  4. Plankton

    Don’t usually care for Mr. Rifkin, but we all know that politics makes for strange bedfellows. I thought that his article detailing the defacto impasse was the nailz. Good job Satan! Ruth? Take a hike. The progressives in this town don’t want you now, if any ever did. The “over the hill” gang. Now, that’s a different story. They’re susceptible to your BS but they’re fast fading away, and as they do so goes your constituency. What we need now is a modicum of vision and actual leadership. Something you (Ruth) have never exhibited. To the rest of the city’s management; It’s past time to declare an impasse and shove some reality down some throats. We can do better, and you better get on board or get out of the way.

  5. Rich Rifkin

    I went into that council meeting on Tuesday somewhat optimistic that this council was going to stand up for the citizenry* (after having spoken on the record with the mayor and talked off the record with a labor negotiator for one of the city’s employee associations). However, my heart sank when I went home and watched the discussion about the “fire department reorganization.” I just could not believe anyone could be so dishonest in a public forum as to suggest this b.s. plan was designed to save money, when in fact it’s going to blow another $400,000 a year and provide the people of Davis [i]even worse**[/i] fire protection than we are getting now.

    Some suggested to me that my column was too easy on the mayor, because I quoted her saying: “The council has been holding the line. It’s not like in past years. The council wants to make sure there is some structural change. We might give a little bit on some things as long as we get some on the structural change.”

    I’ll be the first to call b.s. on Ruth if a) we see the contracts and they are not structurally improved; or b) we don’t get new contracts and the council continually fails to declare an impasse.

    I should add one more thing about what I learned took place in Palo Alto: the leader who pushed for the declaration of an impasse was their city manager. (I exchanged emails with a Mercury News reporter who gave me the background.) He was faced with a very hostile firefighters’ union (you should understand that our union in Davis is the same as the fire unions all over the state in terms of its avarice) and he knew this was the only way to stand up to them. I think we won’t get this kind of leadership out of our city manager. It’s just not Bill Emlen’s style. I have spoken with maybe a dozen city employees who work with Bill, and without exception they all like him very much. He’s not a pushover, they say. He’s just a very nice guy who doesn’t raise his voice and doesn’t like confrontation. He also doesn’t have a big ego where he needs to take credit for the work of his subordinates. In ordinary times, I think all of those are admirable qualities. But when we need leadership to buck the system, to make enemies, to grab the bull by the balls we are not likely to get that from a city manager whose style is more gentleman than general.

    *I include in the citizenry all of the lower-paid city employees who will lose their jobs so that a battalion chief can make an extra $50,000 a year and so our esteemed fire captains can afford world class fishing boats when they retire on pensions at $10,000 a month.

    **But for the fact that our firefighters waste endless amounts of time chasing after ambulances when they are often not needed (in order to artificially inflate their quantity of service calls), they could spend a lot more time removing dry brush and weeds to prevent brush fires. The problem with that approach, though, is it doesn’t make more money for the fire union. It’s just good for the people of Davis, not for them.

  6. indigorocks

    haah, so you guys are just figuring out about the davis conundrum? how is it possible that so many years of education could produce such an easily manipulated voting public?
    i think we do need a recall, but unfortunately ppl’s pocket books are not as much on the line with this issue. ppl came out with a vicious nasty hatred against measure P. where are they now? comon ppl. come out with your mob, and kick out schitty least the ones who are clearly beinb bought by the fire department, and the ones that voted against making infill projects environmentally friendly.

  7. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]i think we do need a recall[/quote] I would be for a recall* only if a member of the council did something which was illegal or which violated the agreed upon ethical guidelines that the council operates under. Unfortunately, the decision to waste another $400,000 a year to pay off their patrons in the fire union is not illegal and is allowed under their guidelines, even if it violates standards I believe in and even if a majority of citizens in Davis, in the face of a $3.4 million deficit and much worse long-term problems, don’t like it.

    It’s important to understand that three of the five seats on the Davis City Council will be open next Spring. Don Saylor is running (unopposed at the moment) for the Board of Supervisors. The terms of Lamar Heystek and Ruth Asmundson are expiring. Ruth looks to be running again, while Lamar has announced he won’t run. If the voters in Davis really do care about getting our fiscal house in order and having the City provide good services to all of the citizens and solving our long-term woes, they will elect three new members who are not funded by the fire union and who promise to fight for those ends.


    *Gray Davis was easily the worst governor of California in my lifetime. There isn’t even a second worst. He kowtowed to the fire, CHP and prison guard unions (and less importantly to the teachers) which had funded his campaign. Davis repaid his patrons by greatly inflating their salaries, benefits and most importantly pensions. (I recently read that Davis also helped to put pro-union lackeys on the board of CalPERS who then pronounced the massive increase in pension plans “affordable.”) The changes made while Davis was governor got the ball rolling downhill which is now crushing just about every city and county with pension payments none of them can afford. Yet, I did not favor the recall of Davis. I voted against it. I don’t favor recalling someone who makes policies I disagree with. Recall should be reserved for much more serious violations of the public trust. And that is my position for the City of Davis as well.

  8. Frankly

    Recall should be reserved for much more serious violations of the public trust.

    I generally agree that recall should be reserved for serious violations of the public trust… including gross incompetence or significant demonstrations of performance so lacking it proves a serious risk to the welfare of the country, state or city. Gray Davis had all of these.

    None of the city council, in my estimation, have demonstrated gross incompetence; nor have they demonstrated such poor performance to put our city at serious risk. To my knowledge they have not broken any laws. Some just have a different opinion about growth and the merits of certain projects.

    As Sue opines, the solution to the problem is to support new CC candidates that promise to support the will of the voters over developers and have a vision of less agressive housing growth.

  9. indigorocks

    gray davis did no worse than schwarzneggar, he should be recalled..look at what a mess we’re in today? oh no but where are all the republicans comeing out against arnold?
    arnold went against every campaign promise. he raised taxes, just not for the rich.. everyone else got a tax increase…but he didn’t raise taxes for people like himself, so the republicans are quiet.
    i can’t believe you fail to see the huge partisan bias in the recall election of gray davis… you’re probably a republican

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