Mayor and Council Cut Off Debate on Fire Contract

asmundsonThe City Council last night approved the Firefighters Contract by a 3-2 vote ending a prolonged battle that may define the future of this city and its fiscal sustainability.

In a heated discussion, Councilmember Sue Greenwald pressed the Finance Director to explain where the inflated savings figures came from.  During the course of that discussion, Councilmember Greenwald demonstrated that the level of savings was actually considerably less in year three than the 3.6 percent trumpeted by city staff.

Sue Greenwald told the Council:

“The savings from the base year to year three of this contract was only $57,000 which is .82 percent not 4%, 6%.  So there’s a lot spin in how we’re presenting this.”

She continued:

“I really take issue with this $800,000 savings, this is a savings that’s a savings that is over and above your projection.”

As she pressed the issue, Mayor Ruth Asmundson abruptly cut off the debate.  The council would then vote by a 3-2 vote against having a 30 day sunshine period or referring the matter to the Finance and Budget Commission as they requested.  The Council then voted by the same 3-2 margin to approve the MOU.  Councilmembers Greenwald and Lamar Heystek were the dissenting votes on both votes.

The Finance and Budget commission expressed disappointment through their council liaison Lamar Heystek that they were not able to review the MOU at its December meeting.  They repeated their expressed desire for more transparency and asked for a 30 day sunshine period prior to formal ratification.  However, staff recommended against this approach and council backed them on a 3-2 vote.

One of the key issues has been the reported $800,000 plus in savings, purported to be 4.1% over the course of the three year contract.  It finally became clear what that baseline was.

“When we looked at the overall cost of the firefighter MOU and we calculated the savings over the three years compared to the cost of the current contract extended for the same period of time, because we’re not starting from zero at the beginning of the process, that on the one hand the overall cost of the total contract in the third year is the $6,788,000 which is $236,000 or 3.6% less than the $7,444,000 figure that would be the cost of the current contract in 11-12.”

As Sue Greenwald pointed out the real savings in year three is only $57,000 or 0.8 percent less than we are currently paying.

“When we look at the total savings, these very inflated figures that the staff spin has put on it, if you look at the figures that Paul gave me when I asked him, what is the total amount that we’re paying the baseline year of 2008-09 for the current contract?  $6,845,000.  In year three of our contract year now, fiscal year 11-12, it’s going to be $6,758,000.  In year three we’re going to be paying .8 percent less than we do now.  Only $57,000 less, I don’t count that an $800,000 savings.  It’s an $800,000 savings over a bogus high projection based on past unsustainable contracts.  That’s what I call spin.”

The difference in the two figures that Councilmember Greenwald refers to is that she is using what we are currently paying whereas Mr. Navazio is using a baseline that assumes a continuation of the current contract.  It remains unclear what annual rate of increase in cost is assumed to be.  However, it should be noted the last contract increased salaries by 36% over the course of the four year period, that would mean that Mr. Navazio might have been project somewhere around a 9% annual rate of increase and then baselined the decreases from that.

The bottom line as Councilmember Greenwald correctly pointed out, we are not saving 3.6% in the final year of the MOU, in fact, far less at 0.8%.

The Cafeteria cashout was another a huge issue.  This is the policy that allows an employee whose spouse has full health insurance to take cash for the value of the insurance policy.  That amount is currently set at around $18,000 per year–that is essentially cash that the city gives an employee in lieu of health insurance.  The new contract calls for a small 20% reduction of that to around $15,000.

Councilmember Greenwald:

“The cafeteria cash out is an extraordinary benefit that the city gives that means that if you have a spouse that have coverage, you can take home in cash, what that insurance would have cost you…  If we didn’t have this extraordinary benefit that hardly any other public sector agencies have… and if we structured it intelligently, we could pay off our entire unfunded employee retiree liability.”

She continued:

“The cafeteria cash out is the biggest fiscal disaster facing us and it’s where we could really, if we had wanted to, had made a difference.  Unlike almost every other public agency, a worker who lives in Davis, our employees, if they have a spouse, who has coverage, they get to take home currently 100 percent of the cost of their medical and related benefits.  So they get to take home cash, it’s about $18,000 in the base year.”

She pointed out this was not even a fair benefit, since some get it and some do not.

“It’s not fair between employees and it’s not standard in public employment.”

We only make token changes in that cash out.  She went on to point out that if we reduced the cash out to 25% of the cost, there would remain the incentive to utilize other insurance while at the same time saving the city a lot of money.  She estimated that we could save around $3 million a year by such restructuring since the cash out cost is $4 million per year.

“If we took that $3 million a year and put it into a dedicated fund to pay off the unfunded employee liability, we would be able to pay it off.”

Councilmember Heystek had several concerns about the process employed and the lack of ability now to address long-term structural issues.

“This is not about what dollar amount certain employees may or may not deserve.  This is about what we as a city can afford to pay and we have a responsibility to get the best deal for the taxpayers and the community as a whole.”

He went on to point out several deficiencies in the process.

“Previously there have been calls for the retaining of an outside negotiator, the city council did not decide to do that.  With all due respect to our staff, we have the same administrators making programmatic decisions that affect the bargaining unit as well as make decisions that effect personnel and their compensation.  I wish that we would have been one step removed from the process by retaining an outside negotiators who can directly engage the bargaining group so that we can have a truly independent bargaining process.”

The problem as Sue Greenwald later pointed out that the city management was expected to negotiate on contracts with the same people they would later rely on to implement policy and have to work with.  This puts staff in an awkward position.

Councilmember Heystek also complained that these discussions in closed session had a strict time limitation placed on them.

“We don’t time or limit the discussions of anything else, but we do limit the discussions of what I feel are decisions that are integral and critical to the financial well-being of the community.  If we are not allowed the time to really discuss these issues, then we are not doing the process a favor.”

He then hammered on the issue of personnel costs and the lack of changes that we have made in this system.

“We often talk about dollars, and dollar amounts are important, because there is a target of $1.25 million personnel cost savings.  It’s doubtful, as I said last week, that we will meet that target.  Under the guise of short term salary reductions, we are dodging the bullet on long-term structural issues.  The agreement insulates us from taking action to change the formula for calculating pensions.  It is a means for us to avoid serious discussion about what we do with new hires and how they earn their pensions.  It’s a way for us to not have a real discussion about medical benefits for folks under the age of 65.  It’s another way for us to avoid a real discussion about holiday, about how we compensate managers.

With this particular discussion we also know that the city council has also taken action about the battalion chief’s model.  What that amounts to is the lifting of the ceiling for compensation, as we said before and I said during that discussion, we’re going to have musical chairs here where folks will have a clear path moving up the payscale.  I’m afraid that’s another way that we’re not accounting for costs.”

For now I will leave my comments brief and have a longer commentary later this week.  However, what is clear to me today is that the public got the short end of the stick here.  Let us look not at the outcome but the process.  The council’s own commission asked for a sunshine period where they could look over the agreement and make a recommendation.  That was rejected.

We found out about this contract late on Friday.  That gave us essentially four days to evaluate it.  To make matters worse, Mayor Asmundson truncated debate as Councilmember Greenwald was asking questions and making her points.  The only limited public discussion after months of closed door meetings was cut off by the Mayor.  That is outrageous.  The people in Davis should be up in arms about this and yet given that this is a fiscal matter rather than a land use issue, very few likely will even notice.

After the level of complaints about the Measure process, this amounts to the exact same lack of public discussion.  Will there be lengthy diatribes by a local columnist in another paper?  Will it be mentioned at all?  The Davis Enterprise beat reporter left halfway through this discussion and never even witnessed the truncation of debate.

The problems that the city faced before this contract, it faces now except it is now worse because we have another three years locked into place whereby changes cannot be made and that should be the greatest outrage of it all except it is not.  The real travesty is that the city has been able to spin and manipulate facts and figures to support its position and few have called them on it.

—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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31 thoughts on “Mayor and Council Cut Off Debate on Fire Contract”

  1. Gunrock

    I don’t get it… honestly, I really don’t. These three seem to be hell-bent on bankrupting our city. Not sure if what they need is an intervention or a recall.

  2. nprice

    I, too, don’t get it. What are the real figures, and then, what are the calculations? It’s basic math. Reminds me of the smoke and mirrors over the financial analysis of Wild Horse Ranch. This is no way for the council to run city finances. Why do we have a Finance and Budget Commission? I am totally fed up with the council majority! They should be recalled.

  3. Frankly

    My business is located directly across the street from the community church. We have had a few issues with homeless folk bathing with our garden hose and a few instances of panhandling, but other than that, there have been zero problems. I do see groups of what appear to be homeless guests of the church congregating in central park, and I can see how this might make some people feel uncomfortable… especially families with small children. However, in general, I do not perceive any problems with the numbers of people being served by the church. I suppose though there is a limit to what any neighborhood can absorb in the way of a transient population before it starts to impact the permanent residents’ quality of life. I worked at the 800 block of K street mall a few years ago where the relatively high density of homeless and transients makes for an unpleasant environment (e.g., the smell of urine and body odor everywhere and the constant bother of panhandlers). San Francisco has epic problems caused by a high density of homeless people.

    So, although the population of people served by the church does not seem to be a problem today, we definitely need some limits to prevent bigger problems. The key is to make sure we have a reasonable number of facilities in various locations to prevent too high density.

  4. davisite2

    It’s time for citizen initiatives! District elections! Modestly increasing Council members’ salaries and funding a part-time staff/researcher for each Council member would be a good way to get “value” for our tax dollars!

  5. wdf1


    Could you invite one of the council majority to post a guest blog column on why the contract and process is appropriate? If you don’t get a willing author for a blog article, then perhaps you can suggest that they write an op-ed piece to the Enterprise?

    When money is so tight and likely to get tighter, this does not appear to be an issue that will go away and be forgotten anytime soon.

  6. Phil

    Davisite2 suggestion for higher City Council salaries makes sense since it might encourage better people to run.

    In the long run these budget issues will determine the health of our City and to sweep them under the rug as our Mayor did last night is a disgrace.

  7. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]As Sue Greenwald pointed out the real savings in year three is only $57,000 or 0.8 percent less than we are currently paying. [/quote] In reality, there is no 0.8 percent in savings. I should have pointed that out in my comments to the council last night.

    Why no 0.8 percent savings? Two reasons: 1. We know that the rates charged for pensions by CalPERS are going to go up over the next 3 years. The model which finds a 0.8 percent savings presumes no change at all in the rate charged by CalPERS to its member agencies. That alone will more than eat up all of the savings in each of the 2.5 years of this contract; and 2. It is reasonable to presume that the cost of medical insurance premiums will rise substantially over the next 3 years. Paul Navazio, maybe 2 years ago, told me that insurance premium inflation was running at over 10 percent for a decade. That has not slowed down at all. The increase from 2008 to 2009 was even higher. If the inflation rate slows to say 5 percent per year, the added costs for the cafeteria benefits will again more than eat up all of the presumed savings.

    So there is very little chance there will be 0.8 percent savings.

    But, because of the caps on total compensation, the taxpayers will not — for the first time — eat all of the added costs. The second year of this contract (2010-11) allows for total compensation to rise by 1.5% (over total comp costs in 2008-09). When you combine a substantially higher CalPERS rate and a higher cafeteria benefit cost, it’s reasonable to assume that total compensation in 2010-11 would go up by 5-6% without a cut in salary. But the cut in salary that year will be by 4%. My guess, therefore, is that the 1.5% increase in total comp is a fair estimate of what we will see in 2010-11.

    In the last year of this contract, 2011-12, salaries will be increased, medical premiums will increase, and CalPERS rates will increase and the cap is moved up to 102% of current total comp costs. My guess is that without the cap, total comp costs would be closer to 104% of the baseline figure. As such, my expectation is that, while there will be no savings to the taxpayers, the salaries will be reduced — per the terms of this deal — in order that the cap figure is not broken.

    As I said last night and said in my column, I don’t like this contract because it is so focused on the short term. It ignores all of the long-term, structural problems in our city. However, it is smartly structured in the short term, even if the “savings” are all smoke and mirrors. The total comp cap is a very good idea. I would have made the caps lower — that is, froze them at 100%, not 101.5% and 102%. But even with those higher figures, this is a vast improvement and Emlen, et al. should be complimented for that accomplishment.

    P.S. I agree completely on district elections.

    P.P.S. I would also like to see the council pass a new ethics ordinance, which forces members of the council to recuse themselves from voting on any contracts or zoning changes or other material matters in which the member of the council received a campaign contribution from a developer or city employee who stands to benefit from that vote. If we had that last night, the contract would have been voted down 2-0.

  8. davisite2

    Does the “4.1% savings” mean that the contract offers 4.9% increase instead of the 9% increase. If so, it would appear that the new contract does “bend the curve” downward for the % increase for future contracts. It is certainly problematic whether this % decrease is adequate and THIS should have been THE issue for HARD negotiation on behalf of the city. Sue’s public outrage appears to rightly focus on the politically disingenuous way that this contract was presented to the public. To my mind, the “cash-out” for spousal medical coverage else ware is the most flagrant example of staff failure to protect the voters’ interests and exemplifies the need for a professional, INDEPENDENT negotiator..

  9. Don Shor

    I am curious what would have been the result had the council voted down this contract. Back to the drawing board, with the current contract prevailing? Declare an impasse, and implement the last/best offer from the city — with the likelihood of a labor action? Anybody with greater expertise on this issue care to hazard a guess?
    My question is not rhetorical; I actually have no idea how these things work.

  10. Rich Rifkin

    Don, that is a good question and I don’t know the answer. What is so confusing to me is why we have an ordinance in place which makes using the state impasse provisions in Davis so costly and so time consuming. In Palo Alto, which the staff discussed last night, the impasse was declared one week and the new terms were imposed the next.

    The big short-run problem with impasse is that our council’s “last, best offer” was essentially this contract.

    However, this contract (by way of impasse) would expire on June 30 of next year). So (as I understand the system), the council could have imposed that and then forged a long-term policy for the 2010-2011 contract with new terms which are better for the city’s long-term fiscal health. And if Local 3494 objected to those changes, the new terms could be imposed.

    Moving forward, I think the city council needs to get serious about fixing the structural problem — that is, unpaid for retiree benefits — and start to take back the really abusive provisions, largely those in the fire contract.

    Don, you are an employer. Could you imagine paying a worker time-and-a-half for 14 holidays a year? Even worse, the firefighters only work 10 days a month, so 11.67% of their days at work count as paid holidays! Could any private employer imagine on top of that giving an employee who works just 10 days a month another 20 days — 4 weeks! — of paid vacation each year! On top of all of that, could you imagine paying your workforce for 1,104 hours a year when they are not working for you, yet they are working for their labor union?

    You know what you call a company that has that kind of labor policy? Bankrupt.

  11. Rich Rifkin

    Oh, wait, there is more. Could you imagine on top of all of that, funding a pension system so a retiree from your company would receive 90% of his highest wage (approximately $10,000 a month for most) from age 50 to his death (normally about age 80, but in many cases age 90 or 100)? So the person works for you from age 20 to age 50, but for another 40 years you continue to pay him $10,000 a month (plus an annual inflator)?

    And wait, there is more. You also paid his health care, vision care and dental care for all his working years — $18,137.76 this year. And you are committed to paying for his health care bills at that rate until he reaches age 65 — that is, another 15 years. And then when he turns 65, you pay about half the rate, with MediCare picking up the rest.

    Could any business survive with such largesse?

  12. Phil


    I think you have answered your own question. I like your idea (I think it was yours) that Council members who received campaign contributions should have to recuse themselves from votes–if ever there was a conflict of interest…

  13. Sue Greenwald

    [quote]Why no 0.8 percent savings? Two reasons: 1. We know that the rates charged for pensions by CalPERS are going to go up over the next 3 years. The model which finds a 0.8 percent savings presumes no change at all in the rate charged by CalPERS to its member agencies. That alone will more than eat up all of the savings in each of the 2.5 years of this contract; and 2. It is reasonable to presume that the cost of medical insurance premiums will rise substantially over the next 3 years — Rich Rifkin[/quote]I thought long and hard about this one before the meeting. The reason I didn’t adjust for PERS and health is that Paul assumed a 10% increase in health for FY 10/11 and a 12% increase in health for FY 11/12. He assumed no increase for PERS, but PERS is, unfortunately, considering kicking the can down the road and rolling most of the increase into an unfunded liability instead of charging for it. All in all, a projection is a projection, and a projection of less than 1% savings is virtually no savings.

  14. Sue Greenwald

    Davisite2: Actually, the savings to the city in year three of the contract over baseline FY08/09 is only about .8%. There is a small one-time savings in years one and two of the contract.

    As I said at the meeting, if the medical cash out were reduced to 25% and an employee health contribution were instituted which competed with those of other public agencies (we could replace, dollar for dollar the employee health contribution with a salary increase), we could probably maximize our savings at about $3 million a year, which would mostly solve our retiree health unfunded liability. This is what we should have done. We will very much regret not having done it in about a decade.

  15. Sue Greenwald

    [quote]I am curious what would have been the result had the council voted down this contract — Don Shor[/quote]If council had stuck to any of its earlier offers after negotiations, and the union didn’t accept them, council could have declared impasse.

    The parties would then go to a mediator. That process would take in the order of weeks. If we didn’t come to agreement, the council would could set the salary at the last best offer.

    That salary would hold for one year (I forget the starting date of the year). This would enable council to assess the budget situation and immediately start new negotiations that would have included the needed structural changes.

    Now we are stuck with a three year contract that doesn’t do enough to deal wit our looming unfunded retiree health and pension liabilities, or our structural deficit.

  16. Sue Greenwald

    Don–If you meant what have happened if the council majority had voted down the contract in open session after the council majority had voted to give the firefighters the offer which we saw last night, I don’t know. I would imagine that the union could argue that we had not negotiated in good faith. I don’t know if we could have found cause to change course.

    This is the problem with closed door negotiations. I pleaded with the council in closed session to make firmer first offers, since once the offer is made, it can’t really be retracted.

  17. Rich Rifkin

    Sue, Harriet said last night it would expire June 30, 2010. That is, the last day of the current fiscal year.

    If you can, Sue, please ask Harriet (or someone else who really knows how the state impasse law works) why our process in Davis is so much more involved than the process in Palo Alto — they declared an impasse in one meeting and imposed the terms the next week. She told me the difference was due to an ordinance adopted by the DCC in the early 1970s (before AFAIK any City of Davis employees were unionized). My hope is that you would then introduce to the council a change in our operating ordinance, so that we are under the same rules in this regard as Palo Alto. (I know that PA is a charter city, while we are a general law city. However, that makes no difference in this regard, from what I have been told.)

  18. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Now we are stuck with a three year contract that doesn’t do enough to deal wit our looming unfunded retiree health and pension liabilities, or our structural deficit. [/quote] Also, we are stuck for 3 years at least with the status quo for all of the non-safety contracts. And when the 2 police contracts are re-done in 2010, they too will not be repaired.

    The fire contract is the most ridiculous in many respects — no other groups get 1,104 union bank hours* for example — but the largesse is in the other deals, as well.

    *DCEA has a very small provision for union bank hours. Nothing like what Local 3494 gets. And the DPOA, which is “an association,” not a union, gets nothing approximating this rip-off. …. Being that police work in Davis is far more dangerous and more difficult most of the time than being a firefighter, the cops, because they are paid much less than the firefighters, are comparatively getting ripped-off, too.

  19. Frankly

    Rich: Good job on the piece in the Enterprise. It cleared up a number of questions I had. These labor contracts become convoluted and difficult for the average citizen to analyze and understand the real level of compensation and benefits. It helps having someone like you digging through the details and explaining it in layman’s terms.

    Although I agree that the city didn’t accomplish near enough; I also agree with the Mayor’s comments related to the difficulty reversing what has been done when it comes to employee compensation and benefits. Some employees can never be made to truly understand or care about their situation relative to the rest of the world. Human nature causes them to constantly reset their expectations upward so victimhood is justified by any step backward… the reason why Bernie Madoff’s wife feels victimized after downgrading to millionaire status. So, we should not demonize the public employees benefiting from these contracts and for expecting their high compensation and benefits while so many have suffered salary cuts and job loss. It is not their fault our elected officials made such a mess of things. It is simply not fair that we demand a wind-down for the unsustainable gravy train. Everybody gets as much as they can, so why not firefighters who do such important work? It is great that the union protects these great employees from suffering so much financial hardship, and our politicians comply.

  20. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Rich: Good job on the piece in the Enterprise. [/quote] Thanks. [quote]I also agree with the Mayor’s comments related to the difficulty reversing what has been done when it comes to employee compensation and benefits.[/quote] I don’t agree with regard to benefits that in and of themselves are unjustifiable. Salary is very hard to take away (unless you just gave someone a 36% raise). But when you have something like the union bank hours, where no one can justify why they are there, there is no excuse for the council to leave them in the contract. It’s just a case of the piper calling the tune. The piper with all the campaign cash.

    As to things like 3% at 50, that would not be taken from any existing employees if we changed to a sustainable pension formula. So again I don’t think a council with intent would have had a problem altering the formula for new hires to 2.5% at 55.

    To my mind, this all comes down to will of the council. If the council thinks giving employees* 14.5 paid holidays every year and 4 or more weeks of paid vacation is not a wise use of the public’s dollars — in other words, the council does not want to see the utility bills of people on meager incomes going up 20% per year — the council could pare those giveaways back. But the council does not have that will.

    *I have far less problem giving such benefits to people who do hard physical labor 40 hours a week, all year long than those paid to sleep on the job and come in 10 days a month. The problem with those benefits’ packages is that they are equally generous to secretaries making $105,000 a year as they are to guys who climb down sewage pipes.

  21. Frankly

    I also agree with the Mayor’s comments

    I was being a bit sarcastic. Yes it is difficult, but I am really having a hard time having too much sympathy given how their comp and benefits stack up to just about any other comparable job. I don’t know about you, but I work 5 days a week and some weekends, and usually more than eight hours a day. I don’t get overtime. I get 8 paid holidays and 2-weeks of vacation. I have no guaranteed pension or retirement healthcare benefits… I have to save enough to cover my own retirement nut. Because of that I am hoping to retire a few days before I kick the bucket. I assume my situation is pretty much the norm these days.

    These are professional firefighters not professional athletes, right?

  22. ymous

    I am not going to comment on all of your concerns about the contract because you obviously THINK that you have done enough research on the subject. No one is going to sway your opinion about it even if it would make more sense than your thoughts. However, I would like to shed light on the value of firefighters.

    How many of you work a job where you have to leave your significant others or families for 24 hours, 240 hours a month, 120 days or more a year, including most holidays? How many of you work jobs where the average number of people that don’t make it back from work hover around 100 per year? How many of you work a job where you have to be prepared at all hours of the day and night to respond to events that most people wouldn’t even want to hear about? My feeling is that not many of you would.

    Some might say, “Well, it was his/her choice to become a firefighter.” A choice to do something doesn’t negate the realities of that job. A choice signifies a person’s will to become involved in something, regardless of the effects and dangers related to that choice.

    Ask a firefighter if he/she ever gets a full night’s sleep. Sure, maybe a few nights out of the year they might get a good 6 hours, but many studies have concluded that this isn’t even enough for a healthy person. I don’t know about you, but I hear sirens going off all night long even in the quiet neighborhood that I live in.

    I found the following words written by a veteran fire lieutenent named Ronald McDonald (yes, you read that right). Take it for what you will:

    “In a bad week a firefighter sees more tragedies and destruction [than] most people see in a lifetime. And when he finishes his shift he cannot get out of that corner of the world. The experiences are forever imprinted in his mind. When he goes home he may be irritable, moody or depressed and never realize why.

    It is a corner of the world where the divorce rate is three times the national average. Life expectancy is nine years less than that of the real world.”

    I just want to throw something else out there. The life expectancy of US citizens is 78. So, if McDonald is correct, the average firefighter lives until 69 (some studies report that 57 is the average life span of firefighters). That appears to be far shorter than Rifkin’s and Greenwald’s assumption of 90 to 100.

    Oh, and one more thing, talk to your firefighters. Get their opinion, learn about what they do before you listen to some columnist who spends most of his time throughout the day “researching” stuff instead of actually asking real people questions.

  23. civil discourse

    I actually agree a bit with ymous and another commenter. It would be good to put this entire debate in more human terms. One example might be interviewing a firefighter and interviewing Davis Community Meals executive director, for instance. Just putting a human face on all of this would provide some interesting perspective amongst all the political diatribes. I say this having no agenda other than furthering the “human” side to this ongoing story.

  24. David M. Greenwald

    Rich: I think this gets to Lamar’s point and a bit to Terry Whittier’s point from the meeting last night, this isn’t about what the dollar value of someone’s worth or what they deserve, if it was, a lot of people would be paid more such as teachers and others like professional athletes and actors would be paid far less. This is about what we can afford. I don’t see anything in ymous’ response that addresses the issue of what the city can afford. That’s what this is about and from my standpoint, that’s all this is about.

  25. Avatar

    When its all said and done , the firefighters can hold there heads high because once again they have done the right thing .
    Did Bill Emlen do the right thing ? No , he kept his current salary and didn’t cut his benefits at all .
    Leading by example isn’t his strong point .
    Good job Davis Firefighters your concessions are the best and fairest that I’ve read about .

  26. Rich Rifkin

    I echo David’s 10:22 pm post. And as far as Avatar’s sentiment goes, I don’t necessarily disagree. My view has always been that every working person or person who is represented by a union has every right to ask for all he can get in a negotiation. The question is Davis is why the other side, the City Council, has for many years not fully grasped the idea that their job is to push back, to try to get the best deal possible for the taxpayers, the ratepayers and the people who depend on city services. Part of that reason, but not the whole reason, appears to be the campaign cash paid to three of the five members of our city council.*

    The analogy in my mind to the firefighter’s union (or any union) is a good defense attorney. Her job is to fight for her client’s best interests. She is charged to do everything legal to get her client off, even if he is guilty. And if she can’t get him off, to get the best possible deal she can for him. No one does — or at least no one should — blame a good defense attorney for vigorously representing her client. And I don’t blame Bobby Weist for doing a great job representing himself and the members of his union.

    *The campaign cash does not explain everything. I’ve looked over the contributions to candidates over the last 8 years or so in Davis and I don’t recall a single other contribution made by city employees who were not in Local 3494. Nonetheless, the non-firefighters who work for us are in some cases highly overpaid and overbenefitted and overpensioned. The same councils which have for years gone soft on Local 3494 have been almost as soft** on everyone else. But the campaign cash is still significant. I think it explains why firefighters are paid (in total comp) about 130% as much as cops in Davis, despite the fact that police work in our city is a more demanding and more dangerous job.

    **So why have our councils been so soft? I think that reflects the general, pro-labor ethic of the citizens of Davis. Davis is a Democratic city; and Democrats are generally pro-labor. The members of our council, also, are in regular contact with city employees. They form relationships. City employees are generally very nice and competent people, and the council wants to be nice to the people they like.

    Also, our councils have been misled in some cases to think that they need to keep up with the packages offered by every other comp city. To some extent, we have to. However, the implication is that there is a lack of supply of good labor; and that really is not the case for most positions in city government.

  27. Frankly

    This is about what we can afford.

    I think we need to be careful using that logic. A poorly managed budget does not justify lower than market compensation. Davis residents prevent many commercial projects that would otherwise increase sales and property tax revenues; and it is not fair or useful to put too much of this on the backs of city employees. It is more about what is reasonable and fair from a market perspective. Unfortunately the unions were able to negotiate a gravy train that is out of sync with the rest of the world. It is not just Davis… many cities across the state are struggling similarly.

    I think ymous’s post is illustrative of my prior point. He/she is obviously connected to the firefighter profession. For me it is proof for how far someone will go convincing themselves that their situation is justified. Listen to all the TARP-rescued bankers complain about the unfairness of government-mandated limits to their multi-million compensation. People reset their expectations upward much easier than they can accept any downward progress. The “human” argument is irrelevant because they are not objective outside of their self-serving bubble. That is why we need leaders with enough nuts to tackle the problems and expect people to be angry victims being forced to move back to what is reasonable.

    It comes down to this simple market rule: the correct level of compensation and benefits are the level at which an organization can find and retain qualified employees. Despite what ymous writes, he/she must know that there is a large supply of qualified people out there that would do the job for much less. The unions invalidate the rule and corrupt the entire compensation model.

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