The September fire report, released nearly a month ago, shows an amazing level of success in dealing with one of the more critical problems facing the community – a change in deployment strategy that includes the boundary drop and the new move and cover strategy.
The data are stark when comparing what they call move and cover assignments from September 2012 to August 2013 versus under the new model starting in September 2013.
Under the old model you had between 25 and 40 times per month where either Engine 32 or Engine 33 would be moved from their stations in the west and east to the central fire station to cover, when Engine 31 was not available. Those numbers fell precipitously to less than ten times a month under the new system.
As Chief Nathan Trauernicht wrote, “You can clearly see the impact of Engine 34’s role now that the boundary has been dropped, and the impact of the new move and cover strategy, in the amount of times that 32 and 33 now stay in their districts ready to provide service to those portions of the community.”
And yet, as we have noted – there are forces at work trying to end this system. Firefighters’ union president Bobby Weist, the Vanguard discovered, met with UC Davis officials trying to end this arrangement. But he was rebuked.
However, this agreement has been under fire from day one. Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza and former Supervisor Helen Thomson wrote a letter to the Davis City Council opposing the agreement.
The letter argued, “We believe that governance of public safety is and must remain a core function of the elected City Council of Davis. Community oversight and accountability is an important element of municipal services.”
They wrote, “We urge the Davis City Council to take another look at the serious long-range consequences of this proposal before contracting out any of these core municipal functions. There is a key difference between sharing or coordinating services and merging governance with the constitutionally separate and unelected Regents and Chancellor.”
But these concerns have been proven wrong and the data show that, if anything, public safety has been enhanced as reduced amounts of equipment and personnel are out of place at critical moments.
Nevertheless, now is a critical time – the city of Davis has undergone leadership changes and has a new city manager. Now would be a good time for the city of Davis to renew its commitment and send a strong message to UC Davis that the sharing of critical services is in the best interest of both organizations, both from a fiscal standpoint as well as a public safety standpoint.
At the same time, we have heard many concerns about increasingly low morale among the firefighters. The rank and file firefighters have often been portrayed as being caught in the middle between their own union leadership and city management or the new fire chief.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. For much of the last two years, the rank and file firefighters have been part and parcel to the political conflagration around them.
While five of the seven city bargaining units came to collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) by December 2012 – the firefighters held out for another year. That meant they benefited from operating under the old CBA for a year after most city employees. It also meant that they were in effective conflict with the city for that time.
To portray them as being victims of the process is inaccurate. That was their decision. They elected union leadership. They could have ended it by compelling their leadership to make a deal. They could have elected new leadership. Instead, they went along with their leadership and a unanimous council voted to impose the last, best and final offer.
That means even councilmembers seen as more friendly to labor and the firefighters – Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs, who voted against other reforms – voted to impose the contract.
In December of 2012, interim chief Scott Kenley presented the fire audit, There were four key planks to it: increasing response time goals to coincide with current response times and industry standards; boundary drop to allow UC Davis to be first responders when they are the closest available unit; fire staffing cuts; and shared management.
The first two changes were fairly non-controversial, but the last two were dog fights. The union – not just the union leadership, but also the rank and file, fought these two reforms for nearly a year. They went to fairly extreme measures, including protests in front of city hall, community meetings, precinct walking, letters, and a no-confidence vote. These were not activities done just by a handful of firefighters – it was done by the whole department.
They fought these reforms every step of the way – bitterly, at times.
Here’s the thing – the city council and city manager attempted to reorganize much of city hall over the last three years to make it more efficient and to cover for personnel cuts that were necessary due to the ongoing budget crisis. The firefighters were the department that fought city hall.
In fact, they fought city hall for so long that for six months the city put the fire department under the leadership of Police Chief Landy Black because it did not make sense for the city to hire a new fire chief when they were trying to create a shared management agreement with the university.
Part of that was necessitated by the union fighting in December of 2012 and January 2013 against those changes. That dragged out the process.
Was it ideal? No. But the firefighters, instead of working with the city to help facilitate changes, fought the city every step of the way – to the point where they engaged in work slowdowns and protests and attempted to go over the city manager’s head and put political pressure on the council.
The bottom line here is that they fought hard but ultimately lost the two contentious issues, on 3-2 votes.
If you want to argue that they had every right to do so – fine. They did. That’s not the point. The point is that of course morale is going to be down because, from 1999 to 2010, they really ran the city of Davis and got everything they wanted. They were rarely even challenged.
I understand that there are concerns about a group of employees with low morale. These are still the best paid group of employees in the city and they were far from innocent bystanders.
So, I would propose the following if the employees wish to improve morale. First, stop backing a union president who is trying to undermine the current arrangement. By going to the university and picking petty fights with the UC Davis fire chief and firefighters, they are adding fuel to the fire.
It would be in everyone’s best interest if Mr. Weist would simply retire and let new and younger leadership take over.
Second, work with the city and UC Davis to make the best of the current arrangement. The city council still backs shared management. The data show it is working and working well.
Third, the city of Davis firefighters need to be the ones to help improve their situation and they are the ones with the power to do so. I understand the city is concerned with employee morale, but it’s a two-way street.
Right now it appears to me that you have a group of people who have fought a series of reforms but lost, and are now complaining that they are down in the dumps – well, that’s a huge surprise.
The union has poisoned the waters here and now they have to take the first step to rectify it. It is their move.
—David M. Greenwald reporting