Vanguard Analysis: Davis Firefighters Near Top in Compensation, Police Near Bottom

firefighters-friends-ofAccording 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

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. Neutral

    Yawn. Another day, another bash-the-union hit piece. At some point you’re going to have to admit to your readers you are – as are most self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ in this town – just another union-busting conservative-in-disguise.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Yeah, who used to work for unions, whose wife works for unions, whose fought for many other unions. It’s unions, it’s this union. And it’s not even this union, it’s the leadership of this union.

  3. Growth Izzue

    So if you want your city to stay solvent and one of the problems is the firefighter’s gravy train compensation then you must be “just another union-busting conservative-in-disguise”. Yawn………

  4. Frankly

    [i]Davis Firefighters Near Top in Compensation, Police Near Bottom [/i]

    Which means, when compared to the private-sector job market, police are overpaid and firefighters are grossly overpaid.

    (Not) Neutral – [I]”as are most self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ in this town – just another union-busting conservative-in-disguise.”[/I]

    Since when did being “progressive” mean that you had to support everything the public-sector unions are doing? If a person is a true Davis liberal progressive, he would be quite unhappy that some city employees are compensated like little kings, and others like paupers. He would also have a problem with the budget deficits and the impacts to other programs. Lastly, he would be concerned that the unions and their political benefactors are taking the city to bankruptcy.

    The way it looks to me is the firefighters union is running out of friends. Maybe the firefighters and their union should concede that the gravy train ride is over and we need to get back to normal and sustainable compensation.

  5. Neutral

    [i]And it’s not even this union, it’s the leadership of this union.[/i]
    [i]And damn the collateral damage.[/i]

    To the extent you fail to limit the commentaries to the leadership you damage the rest of firefighters, and by extension all unions.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    The salary figures are a direct reflection of two things: (1) past contract negotiations and (2) current contract negotiations, both of which reflect the leadership of the union.

  7. Frankly

    [i]To the extent you fail to limit the commentaries to the leadership you damage the rest of firefighters, and by extension all unions.[/i]

    I think, to the extent that the union members do not speak out in opposition to the positions and actions of their union leaders, they damage themselves.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    I’m going to disagree with you Frankly. I have it on pretty good word that there is a sizable group that do not agree with the leadership, but they have been retaliated against by the leadership and backers of the leadership. The city was negligent in how they handled the Grand Jury report and the subsequent Aaronson report precisely because they hung these guys out to dry. It was only by a dint of shear arrogance on the fire merger that Chief Conroy gave Emlen the excuse he needed to allow her to retire when she threatened to do so and then did not let her take it back when he called her on bluff.

  9. Frankly

    David, that’s fine and it certainly can be the case. But it also can be the case that this is the story and not so much the reality. If I am a firefighter being paid $180k in total comp with my healthcare paid for, and my pension at 90% at 50… I am very interested in protecting that for my own personal reasons. The epiphany should hit at some point that I am in jeopardy of losing a lot more than I might otherwise lose if I just demand that my union go to the table to negotiate something reasonable given that the past economic euphoria is over and we were over-committed in terms of what the city could afford to pay.

    I don’t blame the firefighters, I blame the union. But the firefighters are union members. If they don’t fight their leadership to negotiate something reasonable… no matter what they say they might be retaliated against… then they are at least passive future victims in what will occur once there are no more options. And if they open their mouths to opine that people opposed to their union position are attacking the firefighters in general, then they ARE connected with their union leadership and hence open for direct criticism.

  10. Frankly

    And David, I must say that this concern about the union leadership retaliating against their members flies in the face of all your past arguments with others on this blog about the benefits of unions. You have written that you support unions because otherwise there would be no advocacy and protection for the workers. What I and others have written is that the profession of human resources has all the best practices covered for protecting employees, and we have bundles and bundles of federal and state labor laws and regulations that go to copious lengths to protect employees.

    So, again, if you think we need unions, then how does that square with this situation you describe as the members not being able to speak out without facing retaliation? Really? And you still defend unions?

  11. David M. Greenwald

    It doesn’t fly in the face, it demonstrates that human institutions are human and can be corrupted. That doesn’t mean that just because some institutions can be corrupted that we get rid of those institutions, rather it means that we have to be vigilant to expose corruption wherever it lies.

    That’s why I RESENT the comment by Neutral because he simply sees a world of black and white where supposedly all unions in his/ her world are good. The reality is that his/ her view is just as dangerous as those people who view all unions and all union functions as evil. I don’t subscribe to either viewpoint.

  12. Growth Izzue

    Union leadership is elected by the union members so they are all one in the same. If the firefighters are truly tired of their current representation then they need to vote him/them out. Even if the election is a ways out they can let their union leaders know unequivocally that they’re tired of their shenanigans and to shape up. I agree with Frankly, in my opinion many if not most of them back what the union is doing or the ones that don’t like it turn their heads the other way because they want to try and hold on to the juicy deal they’re currently getting.

  13. Neutral

    [i]. . . he simply sees a world of black and white . . .[/i]

    Let’s just say in the current environment in this town, with a management team brought in to specifically break organized labor, I tend to come down on the side of the unions.

  14. Frankly

    [i]it means that we have to be vigilant to expose corruption wherever it lies[/i]

    Can you cite one example of a corrupt HR department?

    We would be much better off eliminating unions because they serve no useful purpose given the availability of much better working alternatives for labor advocacy and support.

    I think those on the left of politics that continue to support unions do so either because it serves their self-interest… either they are union employees, or else they value the campaign money that flows from unions to the Democrat Party… or both.

    Here is my thinking on both.

    Union employee – the unions are primarily using a scare-the-public approach similar to how the Obama Administration is using fear of the loss of valued services, and chaos, to motivate the public to support their high-spending agenda. The problem with both approaches is that the spending is simply unsustainable. For the cites, it will lead to the firefighters losing leverage and facing bigger concessions. San Jose is an example of how early negotiations can prevent what has happened to Stockton.

    Democrat Party campaign dollars – On the surface, this one used to concern me too. The unions provide some counter to the influence of corporate dollars. Even though corporations are taxed entities and unions are not… and so corporations have a stronger case for justification of political advocacy… I am always worried about over-reach influence when there is money to be made.

    However, with technology, it is clear that politics can go direct to the voters… most that are labor… to solicit campaign dollars. The advent of the Internet and mass grass-roots campaigning and fund-raising has tipped the campaign money ATM to the Democrat’s favor. Consequently unions are not needed to counter corporate influence, and hence they are only a corrupting influence in politics.

    Unions do not serve any useful purpose in this day and age. We have advanced so far in employment law and regulation, that unions actually REDUCE the utility that would otherwise be provided their members.

  15. David M. Greenwald

    “Can you cite one example of a corrupt HR department?”

    How about the city of Davis’ HR department where Melissa Chaney on the last round of MOUs sat on both sides of the bargaining table?

  16. David M. Greenwald

    “Meaning when you dump the metaphorical tar bucket on Weist, you usually splatter the “firefighters”, without distinction .”

    For instance?

  17. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”I have it on pretty good word that there is a sizable group that do not agree with the leadership, but they have been retaliated against by the leadership and backers of the leadership.”[/i]

    My sources, which admittedly are a bit removed by now from their former jobs as Davis firefighters, have told me that there was (in their time at the DFD) a minority of firefighters who personally hated Bobby Weist and hated the fact that he is a bully and hate his take-no-prisoners attitude. However, all of them said that even the people who don’t like Weist as a person have huge respect for his accomplishments as the president of Local 3494 and also have great gratitude for the successes he has had for them.

    Neuter: [i]”Yawn. Another day, another bash-the-union hit piece.”[/i]

    In a sense, this is just the opposite of a bash-the-union hit piece. It more of a that firefighter union is highly successful in doing its job of ripping off the taxpayers. And in another sense it is a piece which says the DPOA is one of the labor groups which has paid the price for the great success of Local 3494.

    It is the job of a public employees’ union to try to rip off the taxpayers, to get much higher salaries and benefits for their cartel than the members of the cartel deserve. That is why these cartels exist.

    The real problems in Davis and in our state in general are 1) that the management personnel, whose job is to defend the public interest, have kowtowed to the unions and given them, or at least the strongest of them, far more than was reasonable and 2) that our elected officials, at least the Democrats, have taken money from these cartels and then violated the public trust by passing laws and approving contracts which harmed the general interest in order to benefit their financial backers. That is corruption. And that is why almost all levels of government in our state are on the road to bankruptcy.

    There could be no better example of this than the bizarre reality that it is illegal in our state for contractors who build public works projects, such as new schools or water facilities, to competitively bid. Instead, they must triple the cost of their labor in order to meet the requirements of the laws which were written by the union cartels. That level of corruption makes third world dictators blush.

  18. Frankly

    Well, that is a reach of an example given the context of my question.

    You are basically helping to make a case to get rid of the unions with this example, because if we did not need have collective bargaining, and every employee just got paid the market-rate based on their job and skills, we would not have this happen.

    Then Melissa would be able to do her HR job advocating for each employee, instead of having to do it through a dysfunctional union relationship.

  19. David M. Greenwald

    No I’m making the case that the HR director much act ethically and the city manager needs to DEMAND that the HR director do so. Interestingly enough, under Pinkerton’s leadership, I have heard only good things about Ms. Chaney.

  20. SouthofDavis

    David has “monthly base salary” info, is total pay info including overtime available? Going from working 10 days a month to 12 days a month will give a Davis firefighter more than $25K a year in overtime pay. Most of my firefighter friends make an extra $25K-$75K a year in overtime (and the Matier & Ross Blog on SF Gate just wrote about a SF firefighter that earned $221K in overtime today).

    When “Neutral” writes “Yawn. Another day, another bash-the-union hit piece” I can only think he is way off base since the “bashing” is held back “because” the firefighters are in a union. Just think about the “bashing” a private non union firm would be getting if the city was paying their non union employees over $100K a year for working 10 days a month…

  21. SouthofDavis

    David wrote (on April 20th):

    > First, it should be noted that, while the fire
    > fighters are claiming 4500 calls for service,
    > the actual number is closer to about 4150 for the
    > three-year average. That comes to 11.4 calls per
    > day, or 3.79 per station.

    Then David wrote today:

    > 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.

    I don’t want to “bash the union” but if the numbers David posted on Saturday are correct we should call the union out for lying (and if the union is not lying David should post a correction about making a mistake on his April 20th post).

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