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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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The firefighters wage deal is good for both sides

Uploaded: Aug 27, 2012
Both firefighters and police officers in Pleasanton must realize how good they have it.
The unions for both public safety organizations have agreed to new contracts that reinstate employees paying their full share of the pension contribution. For more than 20 years, Pleasanton had paid both the employee share and the employer share.
That wasn't that unusual (Livermore still is doing so), but as pension costs have skyrocketed prudent city management and elected officials have been taking another look and extracting concessions from union members.
Starting July 1, 2013, both police and firefighters will pay 9 percent of their salaries for pension contributions. That amounts to a 9 percent pay cut.
The city's share varies, but is projected at 33.6 percent for fire fighters and 25.2 percent for police officers.
These huge numbers coupled with the 3 percent of salary at age 50 retirement plans that government units across the state granted to public safety employees when revenue was flush, meant pension plans that were way short of contributions when the actuaries analyze them. Fold in that the state pension plan assumes the investment returns will run at 7.5 percent compounded and elected officials have been betting on a come that likely won't happen.
For the Pleasanton unions, they had an excellent ride (and still have the retirement package) starting in 2000. Their salaries, over 10 years, rose a compounded 55 percent before the reality set in with the economic crisis and three years in a row of no increases. With city revenues dropping, wise heads prevailed and stopped wage increases.
The willingness of the employee groups to work with city management for voluntary concessions perhaps demonstrates the workers know they have it pretty good here.
For a public safety employee, this is quite a safe community to pursue their career with salaries that are comparable or higher than the more dangerous larger cities nearby (think Hayward, Oakland, San Jose or San Francisco) for either cops or firefighters.
Pleasanton looks and is quite safe by comparison.
A starting firefighter makes $5,800 a month, while those at the top salary step (no. 6) make $7,405 or $88,860 annually. To make more than this, a firefighter must be promoted to engineer or captain.
To the critics who whined about this settlement, chill. The city has worked with its unions to reach reasonable accommodations and is one of the leaders in doing in the state.
Yes, the situation needed to be addressed and total employee costs as a percent of the overall budget still need to come down. But, there has been significant movement in the right direction in key groups.

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Aug 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

Tim,

I saw the thread in the Town Square forum addressing this commentary, but none of those posters chose to answer you here. Knowing how conservative you usually are, I'm surprised to see your support for Union Contracts with Police and Fire Fighters.

I'm not pro-union but I'm not anti-union either. There's always potential for abuse on either side and that's what should be controlled, not blaming unions for everything.

Police and Fire Fighters have dangerous jobs and they never know when the danger will be there, even when it appears to be safe. These people deserve special consideration because they are there to protect us. I don't live in Pleasanton, but when I am in Pleasanton to shop or dine or attend an event, I like knowing that the people responsible for public safety are the best in the region.

Our Fire Department in San Ramon is exceptional. Our Police Department is outstanding. I would not begrudge them any benefits from the city, but the State retirement plan is insane. This isn't the fault of local unions, but of our out of control legislators. I'd rather see State Assembly members' pay cut than that of public safety employees.

Roz Rogoff
San Ramon Observer


 +  Like this comment
Posted by GX, a resident of Foothill High School,
on Aug 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm

GX is a registered user.

Mr. Hunt - Biased at half-complete summary articles like yours are becoming quite tiresome. As I challenged the City Council, I also challenge you to a public debate where I will use the city's own information to demonstrate how late and inadequate this latest contract is. Please do let me know if you are up for this. In the meantime, let me help you complete your article so that Pleasanton residents can be more informed.

RAISES
-The new contract still contains STEP raises which the typical fire employee gets every 6-12 months
- Fire received COLA raises in the 2000's every single year all the way through 2009 – this means they were getting raised through the first two years of the recession
- NET, the average fire personnel cost increased dramatically over this past decade to $235K/person

POLICE CONTRIBUTION RATE
-The only reason why the police rate is lower than fire is because the city decided to pay off the $9M side fund, otherwise it would be much higher
-I'm sure the city is pleased with you publishing the 25.2% number without the context as it makes the problem with them seem less bad

RETROACTIVE PENSION INCREASE
-Fire like other agencies received huge retroactive increases to their pensions – for Fire it was 50%
-This give-away was not supposed to cost citizens any extra
-Clearly this did not happen which helps explain why our unfunded liability exploded from zero

WILLINGNESS OF EMPLOYEES
-Employees appear more willing because they are not being asked to give up much other than contribute to their own pensions
-The vast majority of concessions will be forced on future employees
-Future employees and citizens are being sacrificed to protect current employees

STARTING SALARIES
-Your quoted numbers are laughable and show that you are being fooled by whatever information source you are using
-While these may be accurate, I can guarantee you this is not what they are taking home due to how the system is gamed
- How about starting with the $235K/person number I gave you and challenge/investigate the incomplete information you are being given

WHINNING CITIZENS
-If newspapers like yours and the City Council did their jobs, there wouldn't be any need for citizens to get more involved – trust me we would prefer to being doing other things
- We are tired of the growing problem (known since 2003) not being adequately addressed and the future of Pleasanton being dimmed because of this
-Just in this past year, the Council agreed to decrease the $121M (MVA) unfunded liability by 10% over 5 years – instead it has grown by $16M to $137M
-This wipes out by far any savings in this contract – in fact it wipes out most of the savings if not all of all recent contract concessions

Again, I'd be happy to debate anyone on this topic. Maybe then we'd determine who is doing their job and who is whining.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by GX, a resident of Foothill High School,
on Aug 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm

GX is a registered user.

There are a lot more dangerous jobs than fire - in fact fire doesn't even make it to the list of top 10:

- Fishermen
- Loggers
- Pilots
- Farmers/ranchers
- Miners
- Roofers
- Garbagemen
- Drivers
- Maintenancemen
- Police

Web Link

Please don't get fooled by this tired and false argument to justify unsustainable compensation/pension.


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