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Apples and Oranges

And How the IAFF is Fixing the Market

"You never compare apples and oranges." This is an old grade school adage that is as true now as it was then.

If grade school is a faint memory for you...here's a little refresher:

In math class we all learned that when you add, subtract multiply etc. you have to use numbers that are all in the same form.  In other words, for example, you cannot add decimals and fractions.  You have to convert them both to either decimals or fractions:

               A) 1/5+.25=?     B)1/5=.20     C).20+.25=.45!!!

The real trick here is understanding how IAFF  (International Association of Firefighters) has used this idea, on a bigger more complex scale to control firefighter salaries throughout the Bay Area and create an artificial market.  To understand this you must realize that firefighter salaries in Vallejo are tied to 14 other cities and districts in the Bay Area by contract.

Here's another simple example to help you understand the concept:

                 Johnnie rakes leaves for Mr. Jones after school for extra money.  He is paid $2.00 a day

                Eddie rakes leaves in Mrs. Primbutton's yard for extra money as well, but he is only paid $1.25 a day.

                Geez!! Eddie would really like to get that bigger salary!!  But he knows Mrs. Primbutton won't go for another

                75 cents all at once. So... how can he ease her into it?


First, Eddie writes two contracts on the back of some old gum wrappers he found in the clubhouse.  One for himself and one for Johnnie.

He gets Mr. Jones to sign one contract and Mrs. Primbutton to sign the other by spouting a lot of rhetoric about fair labor practices, cost of living adjustments and inflation. They agree to sign because they think Eddie is a cute precocious kid.

The only thing they don't realize is that Johnnie and Eddie have been planning this all along with a little help from an economics textbook and another one on contracts. Johnnie's contract is written to allow for raises based on percent (like Vallejo's) while Eddie's has been written to give raises in dollar amounts. ( like some other cities used for comparison).

Here's how it works:

                Johnnie gets a 10% raise>> $2.00+.20=$2.20

                Eddie, citing Johnnie's raise gets .20 more as well>> $1.25+.20=$1.45

For a while everyone is happy and nothing happens...until the next round of scheduled raises, when the negotiations begin.

Right off, Johnnie starts complaining that Eddie got a 16% raise last time.  ( This is true because while .20 is 10% of $2.00>> .20 is 16% of $1.25)

Johnnie insists he has to get a 16% raise this time because it's only fair.

Mr. Jones and Mrs. Primbutton try to argue, but Johnnie tells them they had better comply or he'll invoke the arbitration clause written into the contracts.

Out of fear of litigation, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Primbutton finally reach an agreement with Johnnie for a 14% raise with a 2 year contract extension.

And everyone is happy again until the next round of negotiations, when the same arguments and threats will be used again and again and again.


So, now you have the concept.  Of course the above example is overly simplified. However, it illustrates the kind of tactics used by IAFF all over the Bay Area to control firefighter salaries and drive them to astronomical levels--unbearable levels.

Vallejo is not the only city withering under the weight of these inflated costs.  San Jose, (IAFF 230) a city with a much better revenue base is finding itself in difficulty.  ( SEE ARTICLES from San Jose Mercury News.)

The fact is that Vallejo is very important to IAFF because it, along with the 14 other comparison cities and districts, is used in a shell game of salary fixing.  Bear in mind that Vallejo contracts were written with the structure of the other "comparison" cities' contracts in mind. Written to exploit structural differences and written very cleverly to insure that this system of fixing could be put in place and maintained. Just like in our simple example.

We must stop this game of unchecked round robin salary escalation, in which binding arbitration is used as a weapon of coercion, not a tool for discourse.

This upcoming election on November 6 is the first opportunity the voters will have to say NO to this greedy and unfair game the IAFF is playing.

We at Vallejo Is Burning urge you to withhold your votes from candidates endorsed by the public safety unions: Pamela Pitts, Michael Wilson and Erin Hannigan.

And stay tuned as our team of volunteer financial experts delve into these budget and contract issues in real depth and detail.  Consider this article just an introduction. Think about it.

Art Vandelay

Editor in Chief