Analysis: Impasse Savings Outstripped by Other Fire Reforms

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firefighters-friends-of-2The Vanguard has been arguing for the past few weeks that impasse does not go far enough.  As we argued last week, it was a good start, but it was not the fight for which the firefighters’ union drew a line in the sand.

Intrepid Vanguard commenter Mr. Toad noted last week, “I want them all praised for doing the right thing on the biggest vote of them all and I want all you bashers to admit you were wrong about Lucas and Dan.”

In response to our column that noted this, he added, “At the end of the day you discount the importance of the hardest vote of them all, the vote to take money out of peoples pockets, instead suggesting that other votes that you favored were the most important. Yet when you compare the savings from the three votes the one that saves the most money is the vote to impose.”

Interesting point, but I wonder if it is really an accurate statement that the vote that saved the most money was the vote to impose.  Indeed, no one argued otherwise, but it’s far from clear that this is an accurate statement.

The city’s fiscal analysis on the vote to impose: “Imposing the recommended terms and conditions of employment will bring the costs of the Davis Professional Firefighters union in line with the approved amount budgeted for fiscal year 2013/14. It costs the City approximately $28,000 per month each month an agreement is not reached with the Davis Professional Firefighters Local 3494.”

Granted, that number had been flip-flopping around for most of the year, but the latest figure gives us about a $336,000 savings annually.

So let us compare that to other potential savings.  For example, the initial savings for shared management is $88,202 but the potential savings is $231,544.  The city realizes additional savings when the Davis division chief position is transitioned into UC Fire salary and benefit packages.

Ultimately, the city could save a lot more if they can bring fire salaries into line with UC fire salaries and therefore have a full merger.

But, as Vice Chancellor John Meyer explained, we are not ready for a merger.

He noted, “The culture of the rank and file firefighters is not rife for a full merger at this time. I don’t think you could get both labor groups to agree.”

“It would be a huge financial burden on the university to do a full merger at this point,” he said.

John Meyer added, “I don’t disagree by any means that that would be a best outcome. But I don’t think it can happen in one step. Without some of these interim steps, I don’t think the trust is built.”

In January of 2012, John Meyer “paused” the fire merger process, citing what he called a “significant compensation disparity” as a culprit.

“I am deeply concerned about the significant compensation disparity highlighted in the Citygate report,” he writes.  “The report suggests that UC Davis will increase its compensation in support of consolidation efforts. I believe such action would not be sustainable by UC Davis and should not be assumed in future planning.”

But the biggest cost savings was the reduction from 12 firefighters to 11 firefighters.  The city budget this year assumed a staffing level of 11 firefighters per shift; the cost of going to 12 firefighters would result in a $443,663 cost.

We actually see two figures for the savings – the $443,663 comes from the preliminary budget.

As the city manager wrote in late April on the question of fire staffing itself, “Daily Minimum Staffing (DMS) of twelve (status quo). Four person staffing at Stations 31, 32 and 33. This model maintains the status quo and, since the Preliminary FY 2013/14 budget was not built on this assumption, the Fire department budget would need to be increased by $437,701.”

The bottom line here is as follows: impasse itself saved the city about $336,000 savings annually.

However, to argue that this was the biggest savings ignores the math.  The single biggest line of savings came from fire staffing cuts, and we’ll use the lower figure of $437,701 in savings.

The combined two of the staffing cuts and shared management varies from a low end of $525,903 to an upper end of $669,245.

All told, the actions this year by council might have saved the city just over $1 million.  Given how the budget looks in the future, that $1 million is far from insignificant and it has a chance to be much greater if the city can eventually merge the two departments.

But, contrary to the claims of Mr. Toad and others, two-thirds of that savings came not on a 5-0 vote, but rather on two separate 3-2 votes.

 The math demonstrates that the vote on impasse for fire was not the biggest savings and ultimately not the most crucial vote taken by council on this issue this year.

 —David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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16 thoughts on “Analysis: Impasse Savings Outstripped by Other Fire Reforms”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Interesting you say that figure had been flip flopping but fail to provide the range like you do on the other changes. Somehow I remember you writing that impasse was costing much more perhaps in the range of $100,00 a month. At any rate the merger vote is much less only $88,000 so I’m right on that one. As for going from 12 to 11 I think this change was done by attrition reducing overtime. With full staffing would you get such a big number? Anyway these other cuts don’t reduce people’s paychecks clearly making the vote to impose the toughest vote. Not only that imposing a contract is always the toughest vote short of lay offs. Labor contracts are the essence of a just and humane system of servitude. Making people submit to work without an agreement is a nasty business and voting for such a propositions something no elected official should relish.

  2. David Greenwald Post author

    Should have used the term, fluctuate rather than flip-flop. In any case, the $100,000 figure included DCEA, and while they make less than fire, they have far larger numbers.

    1. Mr.Toad

      Glad you acknowledge you used the $100,000 per month figure. I was going from memory of what you wrote. Interesting the way you so freely change the numbers and perameters to suit your arguments, its so hard for a social critic to keep their eye on the money ball. At any rate if the two votes on 12 to 11 and shared services can be combined why not the two on impasse. By that measure the votes on impasse saved the most money.

  3. Mr.Toad

    “The city, struggling to close what is expected to be a structural deficit of nearly $6 million within five years, estimated a few months ago a heavy cost of more than $50,000 per month in additional benefits to the employees of the two bargaining units.”

    You wrote that in June. The total for impasse was $600,000 a year. You don’t break it out but the two votes on impasses save the most money.

  4. B. Nice

    I know this piece is about the money, and it’s interesting to see the numbers, but I think there is bigger issue at play here that I had not considered until someone brought it up in a conversation yesterday. I was arguing the case that it didn’t really matter in a finical sense wether an incoming council member was sympathetic, or influenced by, the fire fighter union, because the union had lost it ability to influence big finical decision, even if they could reverse the decisions made on staffing and the joint service agreement. While I still think this is partly true, what I realized through my conversation is that I would prefer to have council members that base their decisions on what’s best for the community, and not on how the firefighter union will feel about it or respond to it. If someone is willing to vote in order to stay in the good favor of one group, they would be willing to do this for other groups as well, and thats not how I want decisions to be made.

    1. B. Nice

      I want to add that I’m not presuming to know why Lucas or Dan voted the way they did, i.e. I’m not suggesting that I possess any knowledge, or assume that they were not looking out for the best interest of the community when they cast their votes the way they did.

        1. B. Nice

          It has been suggested that what a council member says publicly is not always reflective of their motives. My point is that I have no knowledge that what they said publicly does not reflect their true motives. That being said I’m not privy to information that would suggest otherwise. (does this make any sense, 5 kids are currently playing very loudly in my near vicinity)

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