I got a phone call yesterday with a recorded message from an Alameda firefighter. The message was so fast that I did not catch the name of the firefighter who was speaking, though I think it was Mike or Mark. The core of the message was that cuts to the fire department (on January 26 the department has been mandated to reduce overtime) will impact response time for some Alameda neighborhoods. The message mentioned the Gold Coast, Bay Farm and Alameda’s West End and then urged the listener to lobby City Hall to prevent cuts. How much does it cost to auto-dial every Alameda household? Who funds these efforts?
I can’t help but think of the line from Obama’s speech Tuesday, in which he honored the hard work and sacrifices Americans are making to make things better for all of us. He referenced employees who allow their own hours to be cut so others may keep their jobs. That is bravery, no? To say, I will make do with a little less so others don’t lose everything entirely.
In a time when so many are losing jobs, losing retirement security, having their pay cut and otherwise struggling economically, I can not find legitimacy in the stance being taken by Alameda firefighters. There is not an infinite pot of money. Times are bad. Everyone should be impacted as budgets shrink…not everyone with the exception of some. Of course I wish it weren’t so…of course everyone wishes it weren’t so. But it is. So, it’s time to move away from the adversarial stance, an I-me-my orientation, and it’s time for the firefighters to work with the city to maintain emergency services as well as all the other services that make for a vital community.
As I have mentioned previously, Alameda firefighters make over $100,000 a year, with many earning 10 and 20 and 40 thousand additional dollars a year in over time. Alameda firefighters receive full, life-time medical benefits for themselves and a spouse after just five years of service. They are eligible to retire at 50, with 3 percent of their highest salary in pension for each year of service. Meanwhile, Alameda’s non-public safety employees receive only a tiny stipend (something around $100 a month) toward health care in retirement, and they are eligible to retire at 55, with 2 percent of their highest salary per year of service in pension. I am not, of course, saying that I don’t think firefighters should be well-compensated and have security in retirement…I just think that taking a hard bargain stance when the current system is so out of balance (so many employees now have no pensions, no health care on retirement…heck, no health care even while they are working) and when the economy is such a disaster is really perplexing.