According to new data that the Vanguard has received from the city of Davis, a comparison of Davis to ten other regional communities plus UC Davis found that the city of Davis firefighters received, both in salary and total compensation, more than all but two other communities (Fairfield and Vacaville), while their police counterparts received less than both average and median income and total compensation. Only Sacramento and West Sacramento police received less among cities.
These data continue a trend that the Vanguard has reported on since the seminal May 2009 article that asked, “Why Do Firefighters Make Substantially More Than Police Officers in Davis?“
The survey finds that, on the fire side, the typical firefighter makes $7044 per month in salary and $9536 in total compensation. That is about $300 more than the mean and nearly $400 more than the median of the other departments. It is total compensation that really pushes the city’s firefighters over the top, by nearly $700 more than the mean and nearly $800 more than the median.
While Davis is 5.1% above mean on salary, they are 7.4% above mean on total compensation and 9% above median.
On the other hand, the comparison shows that fire within the city of Davis makes over $1000 more per month in total compensation than their police counterparts. The city of Davis is 1.2% below median on salary for police officers, but 5.7% below total compensation for police officers.
The city of Davis is third highest for firefighters’ salary and second highest for total compensation, just behind Fairfield and Vacaville. However, on the police side, Davis is near the bottom on total compensation but above the median on salary.
The police officers accepted salary concessions back in December, capping cafeteria cash outs to $500 per month.
In addition, “Sworn Police will continue to pay the full nine percent (9%) and the additional 3 percent (3%) of the employer share of retirement costs,” according to a city staff report from December.
The police officers also took concessions on retirement health care.
By contrast, the city’s firefighters are one of only two bargaining units that have not agreed to a new contract, along with DCEA (Davis City Employees Association). Most officials privately believe that both groups will end up going to impasse with the city, and the city would then impose a similar contract on them as they have the other bargaining units.
However, given the reversal of DCEA’s last contract which was imposed upon them, the city will proceed cautiously. While that process plays out, the city is losing tens of thousands each month in lost savings for having to pay employees under the previous contract.
One of the critical questions is to understand why the discrepancy between police and fire is so pronounced in Davis, and has been so for some time.
Back in 2009, the Vanguard pulled all financial disclosures since 2000 for city council candidates and what we found was that, overall, fire contributions increased over the course of the first decade of this century with the exception of 2006 when they did not make direct contributions to candidates. Instead, they had an independent expenditure mailing and a drop-piece flier that they delivered to the precincts.
In the other years, the fire department membership would make individual contributions that enabled them to circumvent city campaign finance laws by bundling contributions from membership.
In 2000, fire just made $1775 in contributions to council candidates, but by 2002 that increased to nearly $3200. In 2004, they made $11,000 in direct contributions and another $1500 in independent expenditures (IEs). In 2006, they made $4000 in IEs and by 2008, they made $12,000 in direct and another $8000 in IEs.
The two critical years were 2004, prior to their signing the new MOU that increased salary by 36% over four years, and 2008 as they attempted to hold off concessions and other reform efforts.
By 2010 and 2012, with the city in financial crisis and new councilmembers replacing the old council majority, none of the major candidates would accept contributions from the firefighters’ union, or accept their endorsements.
By contrast, the police officers only made substantial efforts to organize in 2006 and that year it was not salary, but rather a movement toward some sort of police oversight that triggered the spending. While the firefighters took a huge 36% pay increase in 2004, nearly double the next highest group, police took a more modest 19% pay increase.
One of the police officers involved in those talks told the Vanguard at one point that they felt at the time that what the firefighters were taking was not sustainable, and it would later come back to haunt them – a belief that has largely proven accurate.
With the firefighters now lacking the type of influence they had with previous councils, the firefighters have sought to mobilize the public through the creation of the astroturf front group, Friends of Davis Firefighters.
When Friends of Davis Firefighters released their clunky press release with three quotes from various Davis citizens, it was not hard to figure out where the effort was coming from. The fingerprints of the organization bear the name Bobby Weist, whether it is the domain name that is registered in his name or the P.O. Box that traces back to the union.
Incredibly, however, Bobby Weist still insisted to Davis Enterprise reporter Lauren Keene that this was a grassroots effort and the union was simply acting in a support capacity.
Bobby Weist told the Davis Enterprise – which had also done the research and reported on it – “that the union is not a part of the community group, which he said the firefighters learned of as they walked precincts in anticipation of a March council discussion of the staffing issue.”
“They’re basically running the show,” Mr. Weist told the paper. “Because we have mutual goals, we’re happy to offer them some resources to get their information out. We’re grateful that there’s a grassroots group of folks out there that supports what we support.”
The union has also put out a professionally produced YouTube video.
The spot, done by a professional narrator, said, “Last year the Davis firefighters answered more than 4500 calls. They saved lives, protected homes and property. Risked their lives every day for us.”
The announcer then says: “Tell Davis City Council you stand with our first responders. Join friends of Davis firefighters today.”
The YouTube site reads: “Davis professional firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our community — yet they continue to fall under attack by a vocal few who are bent on making major cuts to public safety, despite what it could do to our families.
“Budget cutbacks would put all of us at risk. Tell the Davis City Council you stand with the first responders who keep us safe.”
The centerpiece of the claim is, of course, the 4500 calls. That sounds impressive until you recognize that over the course of a 365-day year, that means an average of 12.3 calls per day, which means 4.1 calls per fire station.
All of this in an effort to avoid having staffing cut, at a time when the firefighters continue to cost the city tens of thousands each month as they fail to agree to the current labor agreements like the other employees, except DCEA, in the city.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the Enterprise that staff continues to support former interim Chief Scott Kenley’s recommendations.
“We have a very good report that (Kenley) put together and now we’re scheduled for the council to make a decision,” City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the Enterprise a few weeks ago. “We stand by Kenley’s recommendations and if you look in the context of our budget, you can see why.”
–David M. Greenwald reporting