No One Will Notice
Whose SIX MILLION DOLLAR SCREW UP IS IT ANYWAY?
By Marc Garman
By now most of you know about the big Six Million Dollar screw up at City Hall.
Screw up? What Screw up?
You know, the one where the City failed to give the cops and firefighters notification that they wanted to open labor contracts for negotiation this year. The one where those MORON INCOMPETENTS in the HR department blew it. The big disaster that resulted in Human Resources (HR) Director Deborah Boutte getting sent to the guillotine of municipal discontent. (They don't talk about the guillotine playing a role in the disappearance of the past HR Director...but connect the dots folks. Someone's head had to roll over this..in a quiet back door way that never made big headlines.)
It is clear that the contracts with both Vallejo's fire and police employees require the City to give notice of intent (sec. 48 and 49 respectively) to proceed with negotiations six months prior to the date of expiration of the contract. However, unlike a carton of milk past it's due date, contract language also specifies that a failure on the part of the city to give formal written notification results in the agreement being automatically extended for one year. So, here we are. A City budget, predicated on expectations of savings garnered in labor negotiations pushed six or so million dollars further towards the red has to be re-jiggered.
There's one sticking point though. When VIB requested copies of formal notifications sent by the city there were none. Not until this year. In other words, negotiations between the City and safety employees have been initiated without formal written notice for years. Records indicate no formal written request to “meet and confer” with safety employees has been issued by the City for at least a dozen years. The first copy we could find of such a communication from the city came this year. In her response to our FOI request, interim Human Resources Director Mary Neilan says the following:
We have researched the city's records from 2000 to 2012 and have found one (1) written notice sent to VPOA to "amend or terminate the Agreement". That is what I attached.
At this point, the VPOA (Vallejo Police Officers Association) police union has made their position clear: They intend to play hardball. This is pretty obvious when you read the “Request to Meet and Confer” issued by the city for the 2013 contracts. READ HERE
Vallejo's police often proudly and publicly wear the Badge of Diminished Staffing. However, they have very consistently taken actions that protect their very high wages and benefits and forsaken opportunities to add more police. Cities all over California are teetering on the brink, with some, such as Stockton moving forward with bankruptcy. But it would seem that Vallejo's police union never got the memo.
The recent opportunity to add more police using measure B sales tax monies is a prime example. Vallejo could have hired five more police, but with the provision that they be hired on a second tier (lower) benefits package. The VPOA declined.
Considering the very rich wage and benefits currently given Vallejo police, (not to mention the 6.29% raise they received while the city was still in bankruptcy) even second tier hires would be far from poverty. Just a more reasonable reflection of current economic challenges facing city budgets all over California. But it boils down to politics and maneuvering. Any downward wage precedent set by the new hires could be carried forward to influence contract negotiations now set for 2013. This does not play into the seemingly monomaniacal pursuit of cash over safety that would appear to be a core principle of VPOA.
We all need to work together in order to move Vallejo forward. Nobody wants to tell cops or anybody else that they have to take a pay cut. But nobody wants to be looking at bankruptcy again. Ever.
Vallejo's fire department has been willing to step up with their 12 recent hires, brought on board with a downward modified benefits package. As to whether fire will give further considerations on their contract this year is uncertain at this point. They have; however, already given wage and benefit concessions to help the city, where police have not, so it seems unfair to ask them to do even more. (Perhaps Vallejo's very well paid managerial employees will lead the way with a voluntary pay and benefit reduction? Maybe not.)
Let's face it. Vallejo's public safety workers are still very well paid despite bankruptcy and Vallejo's economic hardships. Other employees, both safety and other municipal workers have given. Even if they don't have to, it is time for Vallejo's police to step forward.