It is perhaps fitting that the Davis firefighters will have the final 2012 contract imposed on them, for they have become a symbol of the old way of doing city business and the final vestiges of resistance to change.
In late 2009, the firefighters became the first bargaining unit to agree to the 2009 MOU which has been roundly criticized for not going far enough with needed structural reforms. The city’s agreement with the Davis Professional Firefighters Association expired on June 30, 2012.
Bargaining for a new contract began in February 2012. Since then, five other bargaining groups – representing a majority of the city’s employees – have reached agreement on contracts with the city, containing much-needed concessions on pensions, health insurance and other benefits.
On November 19, 2013, the city imposed its last, best and final offer on the Davis City Employees Association (DCEA). The Davis Professional Firefighters Association is the final labor organization without a contract or imposed terms and conditions of employment.
According to the staff report, “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 [California Public Employees’ Retirement System] retirement contributions and in the City’s retiree medical liability”
Staff notes that the city’s budget deficits have been communicated to the firefighters and they responded by expressing “concern that the structural changes were too severe economically.” The Davis firefighters also initially expressed a fundamental opposition to a two-tier retiree health benefits plan, where new employees would receive different benefits from current employees.
The city notes that, over the course of negotiations, “both sides moved and came close to agreement on several key issues. However, the parties could not bridge some significant economic issues.”
The city provides an example, noting that “while the Davis Professional Firefighters was willing to make some changes to retiree health benefits, the changes were minimal and fell far short of the savings necessary to fund the salary increases that were contingent on changes to retiree health benefits.”
On April 18, 2013, the City declared impasse, claiming “it was clear at that point that further negotiations would be futile.”
The city reports, “After completing a round of mediation on June 11, 2013, Davis Professional Firefighters submitted its request for factfinding to PERB [Public Employment Relations Board] pursuant to Government Code section 3505.4 on June 12, 2013.”
On June 20, 2013, PERB appointed Charles Askin as the factfinder for the bargaining dispute between the parties. Mr. Askin submitted the written “Factfinder’s Report and Recommendations” to the parties on November 26, 2013.
“The factfinder recommended many, if not most, of the proposals submitted by the City,” the staff writes. “Overall, the City is pleased that the factfinder agreed with the City’s proposed structural changes.”
However, they add, “The factfinder did not adopt all of the City’s proposals.”
For example, “The factfinder recommended a limited approach to health insurance cost sharing and also recommended an additional salary increase not proposed by the City.”
“Significantly, the factfinder recommended the adoption of the City’s retiree health proposal,” the city writes. “This proposal would reduce retiree health benefits for new employees, resulting in an immediate reduction of the City’s Annual Required Contribution (ARC) towards its retiree health costs.”
“Currently, the ARC is an additional 20% of the City’s payroll. Because of the immediate savings to the ARC, the City was able to offer other employee groups salary increase contingent upon the retiree health changes. The factfinder recommended similar salary increases for the Davis Professional Firefighters if it accepts the City’s retiree health proposal,” the city continues.
The city claims that the firefighters are unwilling to accept the City’s proposal on retiree health benefits. “Without acceptance of that proposal, the City cannot fund the salary increases offered to the Davis Professional Firefighters,” the city reports. “And without the salary increases, the parties remain far apart in negotiations. Notably, the City cannot impose its proposal on retiree health benefits because of concerns that such benefits may be vested.”
“However, the Davis Professional Firefighters is unwilling to accept the remainder of the City’s proposals without some salary increases; and again, those salary increases are contingent upon the retiree health proposal. Accordingly, the parties remain at impasse,” the city writes.
Given the impasse, the staff recommends that the council adopt a resolution, “implementing terms and conditions of employment on the Davis Professional Firefighters consistent with the City’s proposals at impasse.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting