Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 21, 2011

Council postpones employee contract signing

City agrees to citizens' coalition demand for public workshop on pension concerns

by Jeb Bing

With only three council members at the meeting, the City Council on Tuesday night postponed consideration of a new two-year contract with the Pleasanton City Employees Association (PCEA), a union that represents 227 members.

Mayor Jennifer Hosterman is in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Councilwoman Cindy McGovern was ill. Also ill and unable to attend Tuesday night's meeting was Finance Director Emily Wagner, who is the city's point person on contract information.

About 75 filled the City Council chamber for what was billed as a discussion of a tentative agreement between the city and the employees' union Local 955 for a new contract that would expire March 31, 2013. The city recently signed off on a new contract with the firefighters union and will be negotiating a new contract later this year with the union that represents Pleasanton police officers.

The PCEA contract has been targeted by a group of Pleasanton residents who are concerned about the city's unfunded pension liabilities. Depending on whose accounting formula is used, these liabilities range from $121 million to $290 million.

To start closing the gap, the citizens' group, represented by businessman Bart Hughes, is asking the city to start closing the gap on these unfunded liabilities by requiring employees to pick up a share of pension contributions that the city has fully paid since 2002.

The PCEA contract, negotiated by the city last summer with a tentative agreement reached last Nov. 9, addresses the issue for the first time, with the city's unionized employees to contribute 2% of their salaries toward their pension fund, which is handled by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). That would amount to $722,000 annually.

But that's not enough, Hughes and others said Tuesday night. They cited a recent contract between the city and City Manager Nelson Fialho, who voluntarily agreed to fund the full employee share of 8% of his annual compensation. They said by agreeing to these new terms, Fialho recognized the importance of raising all employee contributions, and that the 2% offered by the PCEA is not enough.

Recently, at Fialho's urging, all non-union management employees agreed to contribute 4% of their salaries toward their pensions, an amount the citizens' coalition wants the PCEA to accept.

The coalition also has been asking the council and Fialho to re-open contract negotiations with the PCEA and to hold televised public workshops to explain both the contract and the city's pension problems. Last Saturday, former City Councilwoman Kay Ayala and David Smith joined Hughes on the corner of Angela and Main streets during Farmers Market to seek signatures on petitions seeking the public meetings. They collected 230 signatures.

Vice Mayor Cheryl Cook-Kallio, who handled Tuesday's council meeting, agreed. With the support of fellow council members Matt Sullivan and Jerry Thorne, the council decided to hold a televised public workshop at its next meeting on Feb. 1 when the PCEA contract was scheduled to be approved.

Cook-Kallio said that will now have to await the outcome of the public discussions and further council considerations.

Although she didn't object to the postponement of the contract ratification, Benda Wood, the business agent for the Pleasanton City Employees Association, told the council that the union had negotiated the new contract in good faith and that she expected it to be approved. An estimated 45 city employees, who were at the meeting and are members of Local 955, applauded her statement.

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