With the November election and its landmark Measure H a few days away, the City of Stockton is scheduled to respond to its firefighters’ union demand for salary increases and hiring of more personnel.
Due to the City’s budget crisis, the City has imposed concessions by withholding raises and the Stockton Firefighters Union Local 456 responded by filing several actions against the City. A series of hearings are being held to present the positions of both sides. On September 21, 2010, the Fire Union presented their position, followed by an October 11, 2010, hearing where the City presented the reasons for the City’s fiscal emergency declaration and the inability to sustain current contract levels of Fire Union salaries and benefits. The next hearing is scheduled for October 27, 2010.
At the September 21 hearing, the firefighters argued that “as a budgetary matter firefighters come first.” The current average cost of a firefighter, including salary and benefits, is $188,000 per year. The Fire Union has stated that they will not make concessions without a contract extension and will not discuss any staffing alternatives. The Fire Union demands include: return of concessions made two years ago, the hiring of additional firefighters, salary increases of more than 12 percent, additional Haz/Mat premiums, sell back of vacation time and other changes, which would result in the average cost of a firefighter being over $203,000 per year and cost the City an additional $8 million annually.
At the October 11, hearing, the City detailed the reasons for having declared a fiscal emergency on May 26, 2010. Stockton has experienced declining property values, as one of the national leaders in foreclosures for multiple consecutive quarters. The nation is in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Stockton has the highest unemployment, some of the highest crime rates, one of the lowest income levels and some of the lowest taxable sales in the State of California. All of these factors and the high and escalating cost of employee salaries and benefits have created a chronic and unprecedented fiscal crisis for the City.
All City employee labor groups have offered concessions that yield immediate and long-term budget savings, with the exception of the Fire Union. Employees have taken furloughs, given up wage scheduled wage increases, and agreed to make contributions toward health care benefits. Reductions to programs and services have been made across City departments. Layoffs have occurred throughout the City, including an additional 14 non-safety positions and 25 Police Officer positions this year. This represents a reduction in the City’s staffing of over 200 positions in the last two years; nearly half of the positions eliminated were in the Police Department. Even if the City closed all of its libraries and stopped recreation programs, it would not pay for compensation increases sought by the Fire Union. On June 22, 2010, the City of Stockton adopted a budget that calls for the layoff of an additional 40 Police Officers if the City is unable to resolve its dispute with the Fire Union and is forced to increase Firefighter compensation.
Budget projections for next year indicate that, should the arbitrator rule that the City must increase Fire Union wages and benefits, the City will be forced to layoff more Police Officers and could run out of cash in June 2011. The current Fire Union contract restricts Fire management and the City from controlling Fire Department costs. Firefighters currently make no contribution to the cost of their health plan, retirement plan or retiree medical coverage. In order to avoid this outcome, the City will need to be able to control expenses and reduce financial obligations, including Fire Department vacation and overtime.
The arbitrator, Alexander Cohn from Napa, California, will make the final decision which will be binding for both the City of Stockton and the Fire Union.
- Police, Firefighters, And Their Salaries, Ctd (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)