Council Unanimously Votes to Impose Impasse on City’s Largest Bargaining Group

citycatThe Davis City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to impose the City’s last, best and final offer to the city’s largest bargaining unit, the Davis City Employee’s Association (DCEA).  Dozens of the members of DCEA showed up at the council meeting last night, there were accusations leveled toward the city about unfair labor practices, accusations leveled that the city was bent on imposing this.

From the city’s perspective, DCEA was simply unwilling to go to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith.  And while other bargaining groups accepted concessions, most of which the Vanguard has argued fell well short of what was needed to have occurred, our understanding of DCEA is that their last, best, and final offer to the city fell well short of even those.

The provisions of the City’s “last, best, final” contract proposal is comparable to the contracts signed by the other bargaining units.  According to the City staff report, “The provisions of the City’s “last, best, final” contract proposal would yield budgetary all-funds savings of $507,000 and General Fund savings of $203,000 in the current fiscal year. This represents a savings of 4.52% compared to the FY2009/10 cost of the existing DCEA Memorandum of Understanding, and a savings of 3.34% in comparison to the prior year cost for this contract.”

The staff report argues, “Since the beginning of these negotiations, the City communicated its need for long-term structural budget changes in compensation costs, particularly pension and medical costs. The City’s negotiation team conveyed the expected increases in CalPERS retirement contributions and in the City’s retiree medical liability. In addition, the City’s budget deficits have been communicated to DCEA at the bargaining table and through numerous public meetings, reports, and budget documents.”

The two sides remain very far apart in terms of their positions.  “The City’s and DCEA’s positions are fundamentally different. They differ over whether the City faces long-term financial problems and over their magnitude,” said the staff report.   “The City believes there are longterm systemic cost issues that a change in the economic cycle and an “uptick” in revenues will not address. DCEA disagreed with the magnitude of cost sharing solutions in regards to health and retirement benefits that the City felt were necessary. DCEA was not agreeable to the furloughs as proposed. On several occasions the DCEA bargaining team suggested that layoffs rather than concession might achieve the desired budgetary savings.”

According to the staff report, the City gave its “last, best and final offer” for a one-year agreement on December 4, 2009.  DCEA both rejected the three year contract and the last, best, and final offer which is by law a one-year contract.

The staff report continues:

“Since the mediation in February, City staff has been trying to schedule a fact-finding arbitration as per the City’s Employee/Employer Relations Ordinance 1303. Despite repeated open-ended inquiries, as well as proposal of specific dates from the City, DCEA refused until May 13, 2010 to even give the City any dates. There remains major disagreement between the two sides about what the fact-finding arbitration should entail. Given that it is not binding, the City proposed a streamlined, relatively informal process whereby direct presentations could be made to the arbitrator (rather than by hearing-style witness testimony) over the course of two days. DCEA recently insisted the process will take at least four to five days of formal arbitration proceedings, complete with expensive litigation accoutrements like a court reporter.”

The city concludes that it has made good faith efforts to comply with the final step of impasse, “The City has made three months of good faith efforts to comply with the final step of impasse resolution procedures in the Employee/Employer Relations Ordinance 1303 without success, and staff believes the prerequisites to unilateral implementation set forth in section 3505.4 have been met.”

Ken Aikens, a lawyer represents the Davis City Employees Association told the council, “The issue really revolves around whether or not the city has an obligation to follow its own resolution.”  He continued, “The rule as adopted calls for fact-finding as the final resolution to the process.  Now there is also an accusation that we have been an obstructionist to the process.”

Mr. Aikens said on December 4, they received the last, best, and final offer from the city.  Membership voted on that on December 17, and it was rejected.  Mediation began on February 2nd.

“I want to put mediation in quotes, because we walked into the room, made an offer, and we were told by the mediator, the city was through and didn’t want to meet again.  So that is what constituted mediation.”

On February 11, they took to the membership a three year offer and it was rejected.  On February 16, the city acknowledges receipt of the letter that provided them with the result and asked that DCEA waive fact-finding.  “The city, contrary to what the city attorney just told, did not diligently go about getting fact-finding established.  In fact, they sent us a letter requesting that they waive fact-finding.”

On the 18th of February however, DCEA said that they wanted to go to fact-finding.  Mr. Aikens then said he sent the city a list of five arbitrators.   The city contacted an arbitrator about establishing dates and Mr. Aikens claims that the city did so unilaterally and that they were told that this was “inappropriate.”

Mr. Aikens then argued that at a certain point the city told him that they were getting nowhere and would go to the council for implementation.  He said, “The process has not been completed.  If there is a dispute from the parties about how fact-finding should occur, that dispute should appear before the arbitrator as opposed to unilaterally withdrawing from the process and saying that we’re going to impose.”  He continued, “We have not be an obstructionist in the process, we have attempted to move the process along.”

At least five of the employees came forward to speak at length, arguing that the city was negotiating in bad faith, they argued that certain councilmembers have recommended we go to impasse and that this is an example of bad faith and they argue that the current terms are not unreasonable.

As one of the employees said, “I was really looking at city council and government pretty closely and what I saw was going on is you have fat years and you have lean years and in those fat years you add programs, you add employees, you add services, and then you have lean years and every time… in those lean years you cut back services and if it keeps going you cut back employees if you have to.  You make hard decisions.  We all know their hard decisions, but sometimes they’re necessary decisions that have to be made.”

“This year it’s a little different because I feel what’s happening is instead of just looking at that and this is out of the words of some councilmembers, that is the last step we will take is cutting services to the people of Davis,” she continued.  “I’ve never seen a city council that I felt was, not all of you, but some, are very negative towards city employees.”  She went to talk about some of the negative comments that have come out including that city employees do not deserve these benefits because most are clerical and do not do hard labor.

“There’s been articles written by Rifkin about firefighters and what they’re going to get when they retire, but a lot of these articles have been misleading to the public and inflammatory.  They’ll state that this firefighter is going to retire with this much pay when actually firefighters don’t hired necessarily when their 20 because they have to put themselves through fire academy and EMT and they might get hired in their 30s, so that throws all of those numbers off.”

She also suggested that information comparing city employees to UCD in terms of benefits, misses the fact that city employees do not get social security and UC Davis employees do.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor during his comments said, “This is not happy for anybody.  This is certainly not something that I have been interested in doing.  This is not a good thing.  I don’t like taking an action that is imposing something on the employees.”

He pointed out that there are 100 people in the room and the Council does not see these faces during their normal course of business.  “It’s sad to look into the faces of the people in the room and understand that they are facing great uncertainty, some fear, they don’t know what’s happening, they don’t like it.  We don’t like it either, this is not something that any of should try to get, but we are here.  There are differences of opinion about how we got here.  I hope that in the next year as we enter into the next round of negotiations that the many good solid ideas that the people in this room have about how to address the city’s fiscal affairs come to the table.”

He said he hopes that ideas about how to address the city’s compensation issues can come forward, but he also said that the last best and final offer “is what we have to do.  It is consistent with what we have done with other employee groups.  We’re not asking for anything in excess.”

Lamar Heystek said, “We are faced with the unique situation tonight because as Councilmember Greenwald had stated previously, we haven’t faced members of the negotiating team or members of the bargaining unit itself.”  He continued, “The information that we have received about this bargaining process has been exclusively from our negotiating team.”

He expressed frustration that information has come out that he had not heard previously from the bargaining group.  He attempted to ask some questions, but it appeared that this was not the time and place for such questions.

“I think it does point to the point that our negotiations processes are not as I believe as open and transparent as I think they should be in the future and I hope that future councils can consider more open and transparent processes with more engagement of our community.”

That being said he agreed with Mayor Pro Tem Saylor.  “Other contracts that have been approved, that I have opposed because they have not gone deep enough, mirror the last, best, final offer that is being presented to us by our negotiating team for our approval.  I believe in keeping with our desire to minimize costs in the Enterprise funded divisions as well as to those funded by the general fund that adoption of a package that mirrors the last, best, and final offer is consistent.  My hope is that we would have reached even greater savings across all groups.”

Councilmember Stephen Souza in his comments makes some headlines with an acknowledgment.  He said, “We’re in a different world, we’re in a different climate economically.  We’re in a different time as far as municipals governments are concerned when it comes to how we compensate our employees.  We have to figure out a way that you’re going to get that compensation at the end of the day and we’re going to be able to pay that compensation.”

He then stated, “Every city is struggling with that across this nation.  Every city in this state is struggling with it.  We got to find a better path because the path that we’re on now is not sustainable.  It’s just not.  That’s the fact of the matter and we have all realized that.”

—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. E Roberts Musser

    I sat through the entire discussion fascinated by the entire process. Here are some of the things I noticed:
    1) The city definitely seemed antagonistic toward having fact finding arbitration, just as the DCEA intimated. In fact Harriet Steiner, when asked about it, at first said she didn’t know what fact finding arbitration would show exactly, which brought laughter from the audience of DCEA members. Then Harriet Steiner did an about face (contradicting herself) and launched into a detailed explanation, including that an arbitrator would take a careful look at the city’s budget assumptions to determine accuracy. Is this what the city is afraid of in going forward with fact finding arbitration – that a disinterested third party will take a hard look at the city budget and assess its veracity? Lamar Heystek pointed out the big differences in savings Paul Navazio was claiming in budget negotiations versus what the human resources person had come up with. As an audience member I was left wondering just what the city was trying to hide…
    2) It seemed to me as if the earlier in the bargaining process a bargaining unit was able to bargain (and those making far more money went first I think), the better deal those first in line received. The firefighters went first, and did fairly well. But as the city went farther down the list, each group received far less consideration from the city, as the city/City Council realized it wasn’t negotiating the savings it needed to. This is my perception of the city’s labor negotiations anyway. Correct me if I am wrong in this assumption.
    3) One sticking point was furlough days. DCEA was being asked by the city to take 12 furlough days all in one month, by some date in June. Now furlough days mean no pay. How is a DCEA employee suppose to pay for rent/mortgage/bills and eat with only half their salary coming in a month? This was a completely unreasonable requirement which even the City Council decided last night was untenable and extended out to Nov 1. City Manager Bill Emlen only wanted to extend it out to Aug 1 at the most – but the City Council wisely overruled him. However, I could see where the intractability of the city on this point would really anger DCEA and make them believe the city was not bargaining in good faith.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    4) As a member of the public, I wasn’t sure what the sticking points were – where the impasse was. It was a he said/she said situation, with DCEA claiming one thing, Harriet Steiner claiming another. However, DCEA seemed to have very specific facts as to what happened when, whereas Harriet Steiner merely denied the city acted in bad faith. The greater problem, as Lamar Heystek and Sue Greenwald noted, is the bargaining process itself. Neither the City Council nor DCEA sit across from each other at the bargaining table, and talk things out. Instead they are essentially in “separate rooms”, with Bill Emlen and Harriet Steiner acting as go-betweens. The entire integrity of the process depends on the representations of Emlen and Steiner, who may have reasons to shade things a certain way. I just really don’t understand the need for go betweens – why not bargain face to face? In fact, Lamar Heystek himself did not seem clear as to what the sticking points were, and Sue Greenwald indicated she had never heard some of the concerns voiced last night by DCEA members. But Ruth Asmundson insisted the “binders” given each City Council member during labor negotiations had all the details. It seemed from last night’s discussion, however, some information was left out of the “binders”. Again, face to face negotiations would seem the better approach – even if discussions are had in private after an offer is made. At least each side has a chance to present its position directly, and not through what may be biased intermediaries.
    5) DCEA however, were insistent that they would rather have people laid off than make concessions. IMHO, this is a wrongheaded approach. When people are laid off and out of work, they can’t pay taxes. Less tax revenue to the state means more layoffs. It becomes a vicious circle. It is more important to keep people employed for all concerned, including DCEA union members, than anything else.
    6) While the City Manager insisted he wanted to keep the terms of the contracts of all bargaining units similar – he failed to recognize certain realities: a) decreasing benefits/salaries for those making salaries of $60,000 a year or more are going to hurt a lot less, than for employees making less than that. As an example, 12 furlough days in one month for a person only making $40,000 a year is just ridiculous, whereas someone making $100,000 can probably weather it better; b) the city had no problem departing from the similar bargaining unit contracts when it came to the Police Chief’s salary, for instance, who received a 2% raise but made some concessions in other areas. Couldn’t the city have reasonably made concessions on the furlough days issue, which was clearly unreasonable?

  3. E Roberts Musser

    7) Yes, the city budget tends to run in cycles as a DCEA union member noted. In good times the city expands services and hires more employees. Instead of in hard times contracting services and firing employees, wouldn’t it be better if the city was a little more conservative about not overly expanding services, hiring employees and being overly generous with salary/benefit increases during the good times?
    8) After the City Council mouthed its platitudes that “they really didn’t like to do what they were going to have to do, but it had to be done”, and voted 5-0 to go forward with the city’s last best offer instead of being willing to engage in fact finding arbitration, the audience began to get up to leave. Mayor Asmundson stated that she hoped that the contract negotiations with DCEA moving forward would be more productive. Mutters of “fat chance” were heard from audience members. Frankly, it sounds like the well has been poisoned bc of the city’s complete intractability. But of course I am only giving you my sense of things, as I observed them, and without really knowing what actually went on behind the scenes. DCEA seemed to make some valid points, one of which the CC even conceded to (furlough days). IMHO, there needs to be more transparency in the bargaining process from the public’s perspective; more honesty on the city staff’s part in regard to its representations of the budget; and a change in how bargaining is done (preferably with an independent negotiator) so that what may be biased intermediaries are done away with.

  4. thrashard

    The City never acted in good faith towards the DCEA. The City never negotiated at all. The City presented the option of taking furlough days before there was a contract or taking them later. The second option was to go from a one year contract to a three year contract. The DCEA made several offers on different points and were told “NO” each time. The City kept saying “NO” until they presented their “best,last,and final” offer. The City included in this offer points that were never discussed in any previous meeting. IMPASSE was the City’s goal all along and that’s what they approved last night. GOOD faith bargaining I ask?

  5. rakvet

    The city implemented there Last, Best and final offer, what a suprise! Anyone who was at last nights meeting witnessed the President of the DCEA confront councilmember Greenwald about her comments in a council meeting last June or early July about how to reach impasse and impose on the DCEA. I did not witness Council member Greenwald deny making these statements last night. This statement was made fairly early on in negotiations. The council also claimed these were very hard necessary steps that needed to be taken. Has all the fat really been trimmed before this necessary step? Or is this punitive because they did not fall in line with the other bargaining units?
    Of course none of this was meant to be punitive right? Strange how DCEA members received instructions from the city manager the very next day informing them that there first furlough would be this week. And that there would be no substitutions for the furloughs, (sick leave, vacation etc.) Which I understand was an option given to the other bargaining units.
    But as the council members said, they need to get right back to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith!

  6. rakvet

    Another point brought up by the DCEA preident was that the DCEA is still waiting for the city to fulfill the previous contract that expired, in the contract there was suppossed to be a salary survey, which the city had done, but said it was not good. The President said it showed the DCEA was approx. 2% below the current salary range.
    Another thing I would like to ask is how furloughing enterprise funded employees helps the general fund? The citizens have already paid for these services through there monthly bill, (with an increase,) and will now have service cuts. I believe this is what the city of Sacramento did, then were ordered to pay these employees back.

    Hasn’t the city used an outside negotiator on a recent contract.

  7. Rich Rifkin

    If the DCEA members believe they can get better pay and better benefits working for some other city, by all means they should go take those jobs.

  8. Rich Rifkin

    As I understand the new contract, it is the same as the old contract, save the changes detailed here on page 4 of 5 ([url] DCEA Impasse.pdf[/url]).

    DCEA workers are generally very well paid, skilled technicians. But like so many public employees, their benefits–despite the council’s mandated changes–are outrageously unfair to the taxpayers.

    Here is an example (which remains the same): Every DCEA employee who stays on the job more than 15 years gets 5.6 weeks* of paid vacation every year! In addition to that, they get 2.9 weeks* of paid holidays every year. So in a 52-week year, the taxpayers are paying them 52 weeks, but they are only on the job 43.5 weeks. In other words, they have 147.5 days off out of 365.

    Then, of course, they will be able to retire on a very generous pension (75% after 30 years) at age 55, which the taxpayers have funded for them, and get benefits on top of that, which the taxpayers are on the hook for, for the remainder of their lives. There may be some building maintenance workers and the like in the private sector whose annual salaries are as high as those working for the City of Davis. But I doubt there is anyone working for a free enterprise who is paid that much in total comp over a lifetime for that little work.

    It seems to me a bit much, therefore, to complain that DCEA workers are getting screwed. In reality, the taxpayers have been taking it up the ### by our city councils which gave out these unsustainable contracts over the last 15-20 years.

    *5.6 weeks = 28 days; 2.9 weeks = 14.5 days.

  9. thrashard

    The DCEA wasn’t asking the City for anything in this contract. The DCEA members that have been here ten years or more didn’t want to see all they have negotiated for lost in one contract. The new employees of three years or less are the ones being raped. Some of them left better paying jobs for what they thought was a more secure future with the city. OOPS

  10. Luke Watkins

    Interesting discussion about how the city manager and city attorney have chosen to deal with the city employees group.

    1. Steiner and Emlen do not want a third party carrying out an independent fact finding process.

    2. City Council members seem to be in the dark about facts provided by the city employees group, because they have relied on Steiner/Emlen to negotiate on their behalf.

    3. Steiner/Emlen offer ridiculous conditions that city employees could never agree to, like 12 furlough days to be taken all in June 2010. What! Was this really part of Emlen’s offer? How could a clerical employee be expected to give up half of their income for the month?

    Sadly this is all too familiar.

  11. Avatar

    Rich Rifkin ,

    Take your axe and go somewhere else , your attacks and gossip,
    and untruths about hard working city employees is very old and frankly stale !

    These employees are coming to work to do there job , take care of there families , and be responsible citizens and taxpayers .

    Vacations and holidays are what refresh workers , time off keeps them working hard all year long .

    Maybe your view of the working world is skewed because you work ” 2 ” days a month , and you aren’t in a reality world anymore , I believe you compare yourself to a chimpanzee . That speaks volumes about you !

  12. David M. Greenwald

    Avatar: Frankly, if you are going to level those kinds of claims, I would prefer you stick around and debate the points. More often I have noticed you do what is known as a “drive-by” post where you post something incendiary and then never respond. Frankly your post should be deleted, but I think you raise some points that need to be addressed. Perhaps Don has time to edit some of the more inappropriate aspects of your post, I don’t. I can’t speak for Rich, but I work 18 to 20 hour days with an infant for very little money.

    I have all the respect in the world for hard working city employees and frankly for the most part none of this is their fault. But at this point we have two choices. Even Stephen Souza is now ackowledging that our fiscal practices and compensation system are unsustainable, the writing is on the wall. Choice one is that we go down this path and most of these people will be out of jobs in five years as the city has to either cut most of its workforce or worse. Choice two is that we work together and attempt to find an agreeable solution.

    Now, I have serious concerns about the transparency of this process and I worry that council may not even know what really happened. However, council is basically imposing the same deal that other groups got, which frankly does not go nearly far enough to avert problems down the line. So I might question the means, but the process is ending up about where you would expect given the other contracts.

  13. Avatar

    David ,

    “””but I work 18 to 20 hour days with an infant in my care as well for very little money.””””

    Welcome to the real world , now put yourself in these people shoes , and then read what Rifkin is typing about you ,does that make you feel good about yourself ?

    Do you feel valued , taken care of , happy to wake up and go to work , I think not !

  14. David M. Greenwald

    I understand your point, I think Rich has always gone to great lengths to say that he blames the government rather than the employees for the current problems. The question I have is whether you see our concern about where local government will be in five years?

  15. Rich Rifkin

    Avatar, I’m happy to reply to every intelligent point you make: [quote] Rich Rifkin, [s]Take your axe and go somewhere else; your attacks and gossip and untruths about hard working city employees is very old and frankly stale! [/s] These employees are coming to work to do their jobs, take care of their families, and be responsible citizens and taxpayers. Vacations and holidays are what refresh workers, time off keeps them working hard all year long. [s]Maybe your view of the working world is skewed, because you work ” 2 ” days a month, and you aren’t in a reality world anymore. I believe you compare yourself to a chimpanzee. That speaks volumes about you! [/s] [/quote] I have no complaint with the hard work that DCEA members do. I don’t begrudge anyone to accept what has been offered him in terms of pay or benefits. However, I have always worked in the private sector and still do–I usually work 60 or more hours every week, but that is entirely irrelevant–and I know that the time off which has been agreed to by our elected reps on the council is a bad deal for taxpayers. It’s not just the 8.5 weeks of paid vacations + paid holidays. It’s also the 40 years of paid retirement + lifetime benefits. That is one hell of a deal for people making good salaries already. Knowing all that, I don’t think it is reasonable for the citizens of Davis to think that the DCEA’s complaints are entirely valid. It certainly is not the case that the imposed contract is putting any members of the DCEA in the poorhouse. And to repeat myself, I fully respect the DCEA for trying to get everything it can for its members. The union is much like a defense attorney getting the best deal for his client. My objection is that our “prosecutors” have failed to fight as hard as they should have over the last 20 years on behalf of the taxpayers. You can interpret that as “anti-worker” if you like. However, that is an entirely wrong interpretation.

  16. thrashard

    Today is the first furlough for DCEA. Management and PASEA are also furloughed. Hopefully all goes well for the citizens of Davis today. If you need to use the services you’ve already paid for, just hang in there and somebody may make it out tomorrow.

  17. David M. Greenwald

    I think it would be educational for the community if some of the DCEA members can tell us what their offer was and how they believe we should solve the city’s fiscal problems. A good dialogue here would go a long way in my view.

  18. thrashard

    As I read over my last post, I realize it wasn’t quite what I was going for. It wasn’t directed at the citizens of Davis. It was directed at a certain unanimous five. I apologize if any of the other citizens were offended. I am still angry about the way friends and family were slapped at the Tuesday night meeting.

  19. Samuel

    The City needs an independent fact finding panel. The DCEA members are confident in what they do for a living and are not affraid to be scrutinized, in fact, many welcome it. Members are not against helping the City when it’s in financial need, but proof is required before sacrifice. I believe most members were willing furlough months ago, but other things were added to the agreement that caused it to be rejected. To answer your question, if you want to save the City money, you have to trim some fat. Find out who does what and hold people accountable.

    Thrashard makes a good point. In the same meeting that this was implemented, water and sewer rates were increased. Citizens have already paid for water and sewer service, and today, they recieve nothing for it. The council argued that they had to furlough everybody to keep from increasing rates after they increased rates.

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