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Contra Costa firefighters agree to defer pay raises

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 at 6:26 pm in Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Labor politics.

Contra Costa firefighters have agreed to delay wage increases for two years in recognition of “current, unprecedented economic circumstances,” according to the office of Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla of Concord.

The members of United Professional Fire Fighters Local 1230 agreed to defer  to 2011 of a 2.5 percent raise scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2009, and to 2012 a second raise of 2.5 percent scheduled for Jan. 1, 2010.

In return, the county extended all other terms of the firefighters’ contract for two years.

“As firefighters, we experience on a daily basis the hardship many families in our community are facing,” said Local 1230 President Vincent Wells. “We wanted to work with the county in maintaining the level of public safety we have always provided … We are willing to defer our raises out a few years with the hopes that the economy will turn around.”

While the pay deferral was undoubtedly welcomed, the firefighters’ concession does not represent a permanent structural change in wages or benefits.

The county and its numerous labor unions have been in negotiations for months as the county struggles to reverse an unsustainable trajectory of rising wages and benefits. Most county employee compensation levels are prescribed in labor contracts, which cannot be changed other than through negotiation and agreement on both sides.

Unions are usually loath to agree to any concessions because it sets the stage for future talks as well as other unions’ negotiations, so it will be interesting to see if other public employee unions follow the firefighters’ example.

Click through to read the full press release.

FIRE FIGHTERS AGREE TO WAGE POSTPONEMENT TO HELP
SOLVE CONTRA COSTA COUNTY BUDGET PROBLEMS

Martinez, CA- Contra Costa County and the United Professional Fire Fighters IAFF, Local 1230 have reached a tentative agreement to delay wage increases for two years.  The agreement is an extension of a Memorandum of Understanding, a joint effort of the County and the fire fighters of Local 1230 to overcome current, unprecedented economic circumstances.  The tentative agreement has been ratified by IAFF Local 1230 and will be placed before the Board of Supervisors for their consideration.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the County and IAFF, Local 1230 provides that the wage increases in the amount 2.5% scheduled to be implemented on July 1, 2009, have been postponed for two years until July 1, 2011.  A second wage increase of 2.5% scheduled to be implemented on January 1, 2010, has also been delayed until January 1, 2012.  The Memorandum of Understanding which was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2010 will be extended through June 30, 2012.  All other provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding have been extended.

“As firefighters, we experience on a daily basis the hardship many families in our community are facing. We wanted to work with the County to assist in maintaining the level of public safety we have always provided. With the decrease of revenues in the Fire District, we are willing to defer our raises out a few years with the hopes that the economy will turn around. This economic crisis is worldwide. We will all have to chip in to get through it in order to maintain an adequate level of public safety and services,” stated Vincent Wells, President of IAFF, Local 1230.

Supervisor Susan A. Bonilla, Chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors stated, “I commend the leadership of our County’s fire fighters and honor their commitment to public service. Their sacrifice and willingness to work with the County during these difficult economic times is a great example of an effective partnership that can work together to solve problems and maintain public safety.  I will continue to seek other partnerships in an effort to address our current and future budget crisis.”



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  • John W

    Right, not even close to the structural fix that’s needed, but welcome nonetheless. I used to think that public employees and the unions would start to come around once confronted with the reality that 25% of their jobs would eventually disappear if the problem is not sufficiently addressed. However, I now sense that the only employees who feel that way are the 25% most exposed to job elimination.

  • Pingback: Understanding employee compensation | A Better Oakland

  • http://www.cocotax.org Kris Hunt

    For 2008, 20 Fire District employees earned over $100,000 in overtime. 167 employees earned between $50,000 and $99,999 in overtime. Another 150 employees earned between $25,000 and $49,999 in overtime. The deferred (not forgone) raises, combined with extending the health care and retirement benefits and the generous overtime earnings should be viewed as a total compensation package. OT totaled $20.9 million in 2008 while regular District salaries were $46.5 million.

    A note of caution 1) Overtime, when used correctly is a valuable management tool and 2) not all employees benefit from overtime to the same degree.

    Kris Hunt
    Executive Director
    Contra Costa Taxpayers Association

  • http://www.cocotax.org Kris Hunt

    Correction to prior post (I apologize for duplicate data that overstated totals) For 2008, 15 Fire District employees earned over $100,000 in overtime. 123 employees earned between $50,000 and $99,999 in overtime. Another 120 employees earned between $25,000 and $49,999 in overtime. Overtime totaled $15 million in 2008 while regular District salaries were $33.5 million.

    A note of caution 1) Overtime, when used correctly is a valuable management tool and 2) not all employees benefit from overtime to the same degree.

    Kris Hunt
    Executive Director
    Contra Costa Taxpayers Association

  • ted ford

    Overtime is also used to game the retirement system. Retirement pay is based on the last year’s pay including overtime and unused sick leave. Often, the highest overtime is to firefighters and police during their last year of service. A not atypical example would see overtime boost a soon-to-retire police or firefighter’s last years’s earnings to $140k (or more) providing a retirement income of $125k plus cost of living adjustments and lifetime healthcare to someone as young as 51. Who in the private sector gets such a deal? It is the pension and healthcare deals that are killing the finances of the counties and municipalities. Unfortunately there are few politicians willing to stand up to the public sector unions….and that would include DeSaulnier, Garamendi, and Buchanan. As soon as you see “endorsed by public sector union”, start to worry.

  • Vincent Wells

    I would like to clarify a couple of the comments related to overtime for fire fighters.
    First of all our overtime is based on the fact that we have thirty engines that are staffed 24 hours aday 7 days a week. 95% or our ovetime is to maintain that coverage. It is cheaper to pay overtime then to hire extra fire fighters. Secondly, our overtime is not used in our last year of service and cannot be applied to our retirement compensation.

  • http://contracostatimes Doug Murphy

    Vince, bottom line is that you guys are over compensated. I am not sure how you were able to persuade the citizens of Contra Costa County to support your lucrative deals. I understand fire fighting can be a dangerous job. Isnt working in construction or manufacturing also a dangerous job?

    I would also like to point out that your fire district is going to change work schedules to a 48 hour shift. This again seems like a boon for the firefighters and a loss to the citizens.

    I would be in favor of reducing the number of stations in the district. This would in turn directly cut overtime available to the firefighters.

    How can you justify a firefighter (min. qualifications are a 2 year degree) making as much (if not more) than a doctor who spent 10+ years earning his MD (residency time included)?

    The fact of the matter is that you have “Conned” (pun intended) the citizens of our county. I believe there are a 1000 qualified applicants for every job opening in the fire district. With that kind of ratio, the county should be paying you guys less. Basically, it is a simple model of supply/demand economics. The supply of qualified workers greatly outnumbers the demand. Therefore your salaries should be adjusted accordingly.

    Doug