Friday, September 25, 2009

New Haven, Police Union Strike Tentative Pact

by Melissa Bailey
New Haven Independent

It took lunch at Lorenzo’s — and a personal intervention from Mayor John DeStefano — to finally settle a police union contract.

The police union reached a tentative agreement with the city on a three-year contract that includes pension and wage givebacks, city and union officials announced Thursday. The last contract expired on July 1, 2008.

The tentative agreement needs majority approval by the police union’s 465 members at a vote on Wednesday, said AFSCME Local 530 President Sgt. Louis Cavaliere. He said the union made concessions under the threat of binding arbitration, which in a recession may have had a negative outcome.

“This may not be the greatest contract in the world,” he said, “but it’s enough to vote ‘yes’ and not go through the dangers of arbitration.”

If approved, the pact will bring some peace and some changes the city was seeking. It has also created a division between younger and older members of the police force.

Older members would benefit under the deal because it boosts the retirement age from 65 to 67. Younger members would lose a program that would let them retire after 15 years.

Overall, the city is pleased with a shift toward defined-contribution pensions and a cheaper health care plan that would drive down long-term costs, said DeStefano.

The pact comes after many months of talks that at some points appeared to be deadlocked.

A turning point came a couple months ago at Lorenzo’s Ristorante Italiano in West Haven, the town where Cavaliere lives. At the time, negotiations had stretched out for a year past the contract’s expiration. DeStefano decided to take action: He arranged the lunch at the Italian eatery and, for the first time, he personally sat down at the negotiating table.

DeStefano said he doesn’t make a practice of taking part in negotiations. “But when it’s necessary,” he said, “I do.”

He joined Cavaliere, city labor relations director Craig Manemeit, Assistant Police Chief Stephanie Redding and members of the police union executive board. At the meeting, the group settled on “some of the primary issues” of the contract, DeStefano said. He declined to give specifics.

DeStefano downplayed the event. Manemeit did 95 percent of the contract negotiating overall, he said.

The two sides have agreed on nearly all the issues they sought to discuss. One, the use of extra-duty “hold-downs,” where
a single cop can claim a steady extra-duty shift at a bar or business, remains unresolved. That issue alone will be settled by binding arbitration, DeStefano said.

The mayor said he’s pleased about two big moves that will drive down costs in the long run. According to the new pact, cops hired after Oct. 1, 2009, must join a hybrid pension plan. They would get a defined-benefit pension based on their salary, excluding any overtime or extra-duty work. Pension contributions for overtime and extra-duty work would go into a defined contribution plan, a 401(k).

This reflects the city’s desire to gradually shift workers to defined contribution plans, which are used the private sector. Under a defined benefit plan, when the pension fund plummets due to the stock market, the city is left on the hook for pension payouts, even though the money is no longer there.

New hires will also have to join a new health care plan that’s cheaper for the city.

The changes in health care and pension plans set the standard for other contract negotiations, the mayor said. He expects to seek similar reforms in a new round of AFSCME contract negotiations that begin this fall.

Other highlights of the police pact:

• Wages: no wage increase in the first year (FY09), a 3 percent pay hike in the current year retroactive to July; and another 3 percent hike in FY11. Extra-duty pay boosted from time and a quarter to time and a half.

• “Bad boy” clause. Cops convicted on corruption charges may have their pension benefits stripped. The city couldn’t do that before.

• The police and fire communications center, where 911 calls are received, will be staffed by civilian instead of sworn personnel.

• A 50 percent cut to cops’ longevity payments — bonuses for length of service.

• Cuts to cops’ clothing allowance. New uniforms every other year, not every year.

• Traffic unit. Motorcycle squad can work the 3-11 p.m. shift, enabling the city to double its traffic enforcement squad.

Old vs. Young

Some proposed changes are pitting younger cops against the veteran officers on the union executive board.

Older cops would gain from a bump in the retirement age from 65 to 67; that benefits one executive union member, Frank Lombardi, who’s 64 and doesn’t want to retire, Cavaliere said.

Some younger members are miffed about giving up a program that lets them retire with a pension after only 15 years. As of now, cops who have 15 years on the job can cash in 150 unused sick days for five extra years in pension calculations. That lets them retire with a 20-year pension and health care benefits after only 15 years on the force. Under the proposed contract, cops would have to work for 20 years before cashing in sick days for pension benefits.

Paul Bass downplayed the issue.

“There’s probably 100 people who say they’re mad because they want to leave in 15 years,” he said. But history shows only three cops take that buyout program every year. “They’re giving up nothing,” he said.

Cavaliere, who has over 40 years on the force, said he wasn’t willing to risk the contract so that people can ship off to a second career after only 15 years.

“I’m not going to go to arb[itration] because a few people a year want to leave at 15,” he said.
“The young people, I try to explain to them, you may get something from an arbitrator that may be to your detriment,” Cavaliere explained. New Haven is ranked third-to-last in the state in terms of ability to pay, which is a major factor in binding arbitration, he said. That means odds are not in the union’s favor if the contract goes that route.

Cavaliere was asked to respond to a complaint that the decisions favor the more veteran officers, and that younger cops didn’t have a say.

He said contract negotiations are decided by the union’s seven-person executive board, veteran members who are elected by the rank and file. “If they want to be on the board, they can run,” he said.

Cavaliere said in his four decades on the force, this is the first time he’s had to go to the negotiating table in a recession. He said the biggest coup was maintaining the pension plan for the current officers on the force.

“It’s not one of the contracts we bring back and start high-fiving, so to speak,” he said. But “I protected people who are here now the best I could.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ongoing union negotiations key to Miami Beach budget

Miami Herald

In what has been a challenging but otherwise docile budget season for the city of Miami Beach, one unresolved issue could fester long past Thursday's final budget hearing.

With contracts for four of the city's five unions expiring Oct. 1 -- the same day the city must have a balanced budget in place -- elected officials and city administration are banking on ``employee givebacks'' to fill part of a roughly $20 million hole created when commissioners kept the tax rate flat amid dwindling property values and escalating pension and salary costs.

The city has asked union employees to give up yearly salary increases and cost of living raises and increase their pension contributions. Those cuts represent about $3.5 million in savings in a $226 million proposed budget.

But contract negotiations are only a month old and are likely to run past Oct. 1. And by including the concessions in the budget, officials are essentially rolling the dice, hoping that money will come from its unions and not from further fee increases or cuts to city services.

``I've made it very clear to the commission that it's a leap of faith,'' City Manager Jorge Gonzalez said Wednesday. ``It's a promise that it will come. If it fails to come, we'll have to make other decisions through the year.''

The same situation has the city of Miami planning to push back its final budget vote. Mayor Manny Diaz has told union representatives they must agree to $28 million worth of concessions or face about 800 layoffs.

Gonzalez said Wednesday that he would rather hope for concessions after the budget is passed than threaten unions with pink slips.

The proposed budget has drawn mixed reviews from union officials.

``Obviously it's a tactic to try and get us to give in,'' said Sgt. Alejandro Bello, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police.

Bello said the city's police force has already absorbed its share of cuts during the last three years. During that time, the city reduced the police force from 402 sworn positions to 365, Bello said, though those positions were all vacant.

Citywide, Miami Beach has eliminated nearly 300 mostly vacant positions and cut about $50 million from its overall budget over that three-year time period.

Bello said he has proposed eliminating cost of living raises the first year of the union's three-year contract. But he said he hasn't agreed to any other concessions because police ``put their lives on the line'' everyday.

Adonis Garcia, president of the city's firefighters union, declined to discuss negotiations with the city, but said he expected the city and union to come to terms.

Gonzalez says that should negotiations break down, closing the $3.5 million gap, which accounts for 1.5 percent of the total operating budget, isn't impossible. However, he conceded the city would be facing challenging decisions.

Perman Terry, president of the local chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose contract isn't up until May, said the city would rather place the onus on its unions than look for cuts elsewhere.

``I don't feel like it's fair they can put these cuts on the unions' backs,'' he said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

South Bend police want answers on budget

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — Active and retired city police officers filled most of the council chambers Monday evening to show their solidarity as contract talks with the city have stalled. The Common Council's personnel and finance committee had called the meeting to ask the city administration, police and fire chiefs for details as they work on next year's budget.

Before and after the meeting, South Bend Fraternal Order of Police president Scott Ruszkowski told The Tribune that contract talks had reached a virtual “impasse” over the city's refusal to spend an unspecified amount of money on a “rank restructuring.”

Ruszkowski said he could not elaborate because contract negotiations officially remain open. He said police are seeking no pay raise.

At the meeting, Ruszkowski took the podium and implied that the administration had not been honest with the FOP about money available to pay officer salaries and benefits.

In late June, the University of Notre Dame announced it was giving the city $275,000 because it and other area local governments are struggling so much with state-enacted property tax cuts and the recession.

In August, the administration told the union that it had about $438,000 in the 2010 budget for police wages, benefits and equipment, but Ruszkowski said the budget contained no mention of the Notre Dame money.

But at the meeting Monday, Mayor Stephen Luecke told the council that the $275,000 in Notre Dame money — $150,000 for police and $125,000 for the fire department — was included in the $438,000 available for police wages and benefits.

After the meeting, Ruszkowski said he wanted the officers to turn out in a “show of support” at the meeting.

“I wanted these guys to hear what we've been hearing for so many years from the city,” Ruszkowski said afterward.

“The shell game is still being played. We have all this money coming in from the taxpayers, Notre Dame, and it's almost laughable that the council is asking the same questions from the city that we have been.”

Luecke went into an executive session with the council after the committee hearing and was unavailable for comment.Using a new $800,000 federal grant along with new revenue generated by the local option income tax hike, the city plans to hire 10 to 12 new officers next year, bringing its force up to full strength at 260 officers.Luecke told the council that after the federal grant expires in three years, some of that $438,000 will be needed to keep paying the new officers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Baltimore Chief Details Potential Police Budget Cuts

By Katie Lange,
September 16, 2009

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore's police commissioner laid out budget cut ideas Tuesday he's making to save millions of dollars without layoffs or furloughs of police officers.

While City Hall is looking to furloughs and layoffs to close a $60 million budget deficit, Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld said he's looking elsewhere and that the most important thing is resolving cases.

"We will not compromise investigations, and so whatever that means in terms of what detectives need to do to further a case, they're not going to be denied overtime to do that. The second thing is I won't compromise their safety. If officers need to hold back additional resources to fill radio cars, if we need to have a helicopter up to protect officers, we're going to have that," he said.

"We will not compromise investigations, and so whatever that means in terms of what detectives need to do to further a case, they're not going to be denied overtime to do that."
- Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld

Bealefeld said he's cutting overtime elsewhere in the department, including in building security, at police headquarters, at City Hall and in specialized units.

Overtime for investigations will be allowed but abuse won't be tolerated.

"Anything we're doing that doesn't involve protection of people or investigation of crime, we want to reduce those costs," Bealefeld said. "The pawn shop unit, check and fraud unit -- we'll zero out some of their overtime."

Bealefeld also ordered that sergeants and lieutenants no longer be permitted to take home police cars. He said they're still discussing whether there will be reductions in staff.

"There are reductions we can make and there are reductions we're going to have to make in terms of contractual employees that are doing some jobs here. I've certainly heard discussions about furloughs and how that might affect either the command or civilian staff. It remains to be scene how it may play out," he said.

The police union has a no furloughs clause in its contract, but it's operating under an extension of a contract. Negotiations for a new contract start next week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Long Beach police union OKs new contract

By Tracy Manzer, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - Police union members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new contract this week that would save the city about $8 million by staggering a roughly 10 percent pay hike over several years, sources told the Press-Telegram Thursday.

Long Beach Police Officers Association Steve James declined to discuss the specifics of the potential contract, explaining that it hasn't yet gone to the city council for approval and that the contract was negotiated in closed-door sessions.

James, however, did confirm the potential contract change could have a significant impact on the city's $38 million deficit and that the benefits would be felt almost immediately if approved by the council.

"We have essentially lowered the city's deficit by $8 million off one year," James said Thursday afternoon.

James referred questions about exactly how much officers would receive in the proposed contract to Suzanne Mason, the city's Director of Human Resources.

Mason was in contract negotiations off-site all day, according to her staff, and could not be reached for comment.

City Manager Pat West said Thursday that the issue will be included in the agenda for the Sept. 15 council meeting, which is due to be released Friday. West said he could not talk about the numbers until the information is released publicly.

A number of officers in the rank and file, however, said the vote resulted in a roughly 10 percent raise spread over the next five years, rather than the original 9.3 percent hike they were to receive on Sept. 30.

The new contract includes incentives for officers who retire this year, such as a larger raise based on the individual's rank and number of years on the job.

The vote - tallied at 664 in favor of the contract versus 111 against - was taken last Friday and Monday. The results were posted for POA members late Monday, said multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While many officers said they were not thrilled with the contract and having to give up the majority of the raise they were due to receive this year, they believed it was the best they could hope for with the current economic climate. Some said they also hope the city will see the proposal as proof they are willing to share the burden of the deficit.

"My members are more than willing to do their fair share to help the city," James said.
The POA president said he did not expect much opposition to the proposed changes, which were negotiated between city management and the POA board before put to POA members for their vote. James also said he expects the council will want to vote on the matter as soon as possible with the budget signing scheduled for Sept. 15.

James, however, added that the agreement is not yet final.

"(The POA vote) doesn't mean anything until it goes to the council for approval," James said.
4th District Councilman Patrick O'Donnell said he was confident the POA and the city were close to a resolution on the matter.

"I applaud the POA for recognizing the need to alleviate the expenses of the (existing contract," O'Donnell said.

"The new proposal will benefit the tax payers and keep cops on the street," he added, saying he believed the proposed changes will be supported by all the council members.

7th District Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga said she would have liked the matter to have been settled earlier, but added that she realized the city managers and POA leaders were cautious due to the "ever changing budget climate in Sacramento and the POA wanting to ensure its members received the best possible outcome under the circumstances."

Uranga noted that getting the matter settled before the budget deadline is crucial.

"If we had to go to mediation after Oct. 1 it would have been very expensive," the councilwoman said.

"My concern now is with the rest of the employee union contracts that have to re-negotiated and their concerns that they will all be treated fairly," Uranga said.

Vallejo, CA - Once more unto the breach--IBEW Votes to File Appeal--9/10/09

Vallejo Independent Bulletin - Once more unto the breach--IBEW Votes to File Appeal--9/10/09: "9/10/09

By Marc Garman
Vallejo Independent Bulletin

Vallejo's IBEW(International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) union has voted to move forward with an appeal of the recent bankruptcy court ruling that allowed their contracts to be voided.

“We took our vote last night. It was a very large turn out.” said Ken Shoemaker, IBEW Vice President. “We had a debate for about half an hour or so. The majority of the membership voted to appeal.”

In a conversation this morning, he described the decision as, “not the road we want to take” and added that “we don't really want to continue this legal battle, but we really have no other option.”"

Vallejo, CA - IBEW to appeal loss of contract


"Vallejo city workers who had a remaining year on the contract thrown out by a federal bankruptcy judge last week voted Wednesday night to legally appeal the decision.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186 Vice President Ken Shoemaker said turnout for the vote was one of the largest the union has drawn for a meeting.

'Pretty much, it was almost unanimous that everyone voted for the appeal,' Shoemaker said in a voice-mail message left shortly after 7 p.m. 'Also, during the meeting, it was pretty apparent that everybody's tired of this going on and we want to resolve this whole thing and bring this whole thing to a conclusion with the city.'"

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Vallejo, CA - Digging Out Of The Ashes


The City of Vallejo's misconceived and poorly challenged trip through the bankruptcy court has just about played out. The damage done to collective bargaining for public safety is very severe. It will have an impact on contract negotiations all across this country for many years, perhaps forever. I will talk about that at a later date.

Today, we look at what the people in Vallejo need to do to restore their city to some degree of sanity. It is a basket case today. Everything has been and continues to be focused on wages and benefits paid to employees - primarily police and fire. First, some one needs to go to WalMart and buy a map of Northern California and a pencil compass. Set the compass to 25 miles, spike Vallejo and draw a circle around it. List every city within that circle (50 miles wide) with 50,000 or more population. With that list prepare a real wage and benefits survey for key positions (not all). Make it an honest survey, not some propaganda document. Do not hire one those overpaid management consulting firms who deliver worthless garbage that takes six months and costs a small fortune. Make the management people in City Hall do the work. Considering what they are currently being paid they should be working six days a week. It was not just police and fire getting fat.

Focus only on the total compensation per hour worked. Do not waste any time with the individual pieces of the pay. Determine what rates of pay the city would need to pay to be competitive. Forget about your personal gut feelings about what the pay should be. Decide how many police officers, fire fighters, street workers, etc are needed to provide a reasonable and adequate level of service. Cost out those rates of pay and then prepare a "broad brush" estimate for expenses other than payroll. Total it up and compare it with current revenues (not some propaganda amount). Determine how expenditures compare with revenue.

If there is a shortage of revenue, which I am certain there will be, then figure out how to make them match. Do not summarily rule out raising taxes. And for God's sake do not put out that dumb directive for everyone to cut their budget 10%. Make a list of priorities. All services are not equal. Also, keep in mind the difference between a service the city provides and support people. The police and fire departments are real services. Human resources does not provide a service. It is just a support detail for the departments that actually provide services. No one ever clamored for an H.R. department. We need H.R. but that is not why the city exists.

How do you determine priorities? Just use your brain. Can you live without a police department? Forget what the idiots are saying. You can't unless you want Vallejo to be another Gaza Strip. Can you live without a parks and recreation department? Hey pal, I didn't say it was going to be easy. How about the library? The arts? Think about it.

What are some of the services that you cannot live without? Police, fire, streets? What could you live without? Let me help. You do not need a city water department, a city garbage department, or a city sewer department. Every city in this country should sell their utilities, every single one. Most cities are incompetent in these areas. If a regulated utility can provide electricity, natural gas, cable, and telephone, they can provide these other service too and they do many places. Sell your utilities and pay off your long-term debt. Dump them and never look back.

Scrutinize your management and support services. Most governments, at all levels, have way too many office jockeys and paper pushers. Now, they will argue that they cannot do what they do with any less people. They are correct. They need to change what they do. All governments are over regulated and over managed. Why is it that only 30 years ago the same functions were being done with less people using Big Chief tablets and No. 2 pencils?

The process is simple in theory - determine what you want, determine what it costs, figure out how much you are willing to pay for city government, and what you want the most and the least. You do not have to chose between a police department and a parks and recreation department. You just have to decide how much you want of each. The City of Vallejo can do anything it wants, but it cannot do everything it wants.

The reconciliation of wants and resources is not easy. However, it cannot be done with the pipe dream of paying below market, but getting the market product. Try going to a restaurant and refuse to pay the prices on the menu. Whip out your tax return and show them how small your income is and why they should charge you less. When you leave there, try the same thing at the gas station across the street. Finally, go down to city hall to pay a traffic ticket you got. Get that tax return out. I am sure they will immediately cut the fine. While you are there tell the city employees that they should accept pay that is below market. They won't mind. During the depression there was a trite saying "What this country needs is a good 5 cent cigar." Will Rogers responded by saying "This country already has a good 5 cent cigar, but it costs a dime."

I will concede that everyone on the payroll of the City of Vallejo was/is being paid more than what the market would dictate - some more than others. Do not concentrate just on the police and fire; and certainly do not make the IBEW workers pay for the sins of every one else. They may be due the "Dummy of the Year" award, but not some kind of draconian punishment. If you feel the need to go after anyone, go after the management. They were suppose to be the brightest and most educated, but they were right there rooting with every one.

Whew, I hope there is never another Vallejo fiasco. If I had not witnessed it, I would swear the Vallejo story was fiction. No city and its employees could make that many mistakes without a script. It is as though Charlie Chaplin met Laurel and Hardy. The only difference is that I cannot bring myself to laugh.

If your city is going down this path - stop. Talk to each other. Treat each other with dignity and respect. Get rid of those goals that are based on getting the most or paying the least. Victory is not the defeat of your opponent that leads to a constant state of hostilities. Call up the other side and invite them over for a talk. Do it now. It all starts with talking. Pick up that phone.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cocoa Florida police, city reach pay deal

September 1, 2009

Police and city officials tentatively agreed to a three-year contract that would give employees annual raises but no cost-of-living-adjustments.

Cocoa offered police annual increases of $800 for dispatchers, $1,100 for officers and $1,200 for sergeants each of the three years.

The current police contract expires at the end of September.

"This is an extremely good contract given everything that's happened with the economy," Administrative Services Director Wendy Widmann said.

Two final points of negotiations were:

Uniform allowances, which will be eliminated for detectives. The police department will issue uniforms to detectives, as it does other officers.

Incentive pay, which won't be eliminated for canine officers. Those officers receive an extra 15 cents per hour.

"It is a good contract," said Mike Scudiero, communications director for Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, which represents the Cocoa officers.

"Everyone's going to go home with a little more in their pockets, which in this day and age, is a relief."