Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 7, 2011

People hearing without listening

Filed under: Alameda, City Council — Tags: , , , — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

I have been slowly catching up on my City meeting watching and wanted to share this little bit from one of John Russo’s first City Council meetings — maybe it was his first — let me set it up for you.  The agenda item was about ratifying the Firefighters contract which had newly negotiated terms.

As an aside, I thought that the new contract was a good start which included concessions like removing spouses from the lifetime health benefit upon retirement for new hires.    Firefighters would now contribute 11% to their retirement (an increase from 9%).  But I think that it could go farther.   The promise from the elected officials and City staff if that this is just a start to begin chipping away at the projected deficit.

While I’m struggling to not compare these concessions with the reported concessions that are being made by Oakland Firefighters, it was a good reminder from Councilmember Beverly Johnson that Oakland Firefighters can probably afford to give up a little bit more, concession-wise, since they have guaranteed minimum staffing levels assured by the passage of Measure Y.  Additionally the Oakland contract contains a no-layoff guarantee.

And while some people have made light of the Firefighters working with the City to pull the Minimum Staffing ballot measure that was scheduled for this November, it would have been a special election and the rough estimate cost for that is $300,000 as we learned from the SunCal ballot initiative.   If the minimum staffing ballot measure would have passed, it would have been a huge liability for the City.

So as I was starting out, this video clip comes after a length public comment section full of cranky Alamedans that felt as though the concessions didn’t go far enough and so the contract should not be ratified.   So instead I guess they wanted to keep the far worse terms of the expired contract — because if there is not a new ratified contract the terms of the old contract govern —  rather than taking baby steps towards terms that will be better for the City.

City Manager John Russo:

For those that don’t care to watch here’s a transcript:

John Russo: I’m puzzled by the idea of doing the budget first and then determining your costs later.  I think what you do is you do the costs firsts and then determine your budget…

(applause and cheering)

…so you’ve got…

(applause and cheering)

…and by pricing the contract you’ve locked in your costs so you know what to do with the budget.  We have to pass the budget…I’m surprised by the applause because I didn’t think you’d agree  with me…

Doug deHaan: I don’t think they understood.

John Russo:  That’s okay, they applauded, so that’s good.

It’s so much better watching it, and will only take you 30 seconds, but really is sort of the poster child for people hearing what they want to hear and not really listening to what people are saying.

The City Manager goes on to say that these are just starting steps and that they’ll be working on further negotiations with other bargaining units and the Firefighters again.


  1. additional information also per Russo and/or Mayor Gilmore –should this contract which had been agreed to by the union then rejected by the city would not only revert to the contract already in place, but also open the city up for NLRB process which might have resulted in an even more costly situation.
    also pointed out that some cities had given raises in the past year and negotiated them back, seeming to be a cut. Our unions did not receive a raise and so there was no raise to be cut. Lots of information on the complicated laws that govern municipal workers contracts.

    Comment by barbara kahn — July 7, 2011 @ 6:52 am

  2. All of the above might be what prompted him to later offer an overview in CA labor negotiating for the public.

    Comment by Li_ — July 7, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  3. You and Barbara made good points, recapping what was said (several times) from the dais that night: that this new contract was a necessary first step towards additional future concessions. (It avoids a complaint being filed with the National Labor Relations Board and it gets rid of the city’s much worse financial obligations under the previous contract.)

    I spoke with Jeff DelBono and Dom Weaver after the vote and they both expect and welcome the new rounds of negotiations that everyone whois paying attention – and listening – knows are in the cards over the next months and years.As John Russo has said many times, we did not get into our current financial mess overnight and it will take up to a decade to work our way out of it successfully.

    I agree with Russo’s assessment that it is entirely within our capabilities to solve our collective financial problems if we work together. (And perhaps listen to one another, too?)

    Comment by Jon Spangler — July 7, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  4. Cranky Alamedans …….Our Auditor who has total Grasp on our City Finances is Now Cranky…LOL

    For anyone who wants to listen to the budget discussion, here’s the video w/ the relevant starting points:

    Special Meeting of the Alameda City Council (3/29/11) re: General Fund Budget

    01:43:00: Kevin Kennedy begins comments
    02:03:55: Kevin Kearney begins comments
    02:12:25: Mayor responds to Kevins’ comments
    02:15:50: Kevin Kennedy responds to Mayor re solutions
    02:19:30: General council discussion begins

    (Mayor states to Kevins: “your input is always welcome, and always valuable, no matter how difficult sometimes it may be to hear,
    but we appreciate it, I appreciate plain and up front talking…”)

    Comment by John — July 7, 2011 @ 9:06 am

  5. The ‘problem’ was not the RATIFICATION of the Contract by the CC it was in the Contract negations. In these economic times this is a ‘cherry deal’ for the FF.
    For months and months in various blogs and comments I have heard rumors of the MILLIONS and Millions of $$$ that would be saved. It just isn’t there in the short term. May save us millions over 50 years but that doesn’t help us keep our swimming pools or Libraries open. It also sets a precedent for future Municipal Employee Contracts. In one sense Russo is right. We have a fixed cost. Within a few years that fixed cost will be our ENTIRE Revenue and there will be a Public Services Parcel Tax Ballot.

    Once a contract is negotiated and ratified by the rank and file it is almost impossible to back off. The NLRB would have appointed an arbitrator and the Binding Arbitration would have been the original proposal. No more, no less.

    This is a three year Contract. The time to negotiate concessions is NOT after the contract is signed but before. A Contract is a Contract and concessions have to be ratified by rank and file. Fat chance.

    Of course the Zach incident has complicated all this further. There is no way to get a 2/3 +1 Parcel Tax passed as the citizens support of the FF is certainly not 2/3.

    Russo gets a free ride no matter what happens. He wasn’t here and had no part of the Contract.. He can still cultivate Union Backing and if the City goes down the tubes financially claim ignorance.

    Comment by frank — July 7, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  6. Frank: The point is, the new contract is a much better deal for the City than the old contract was.

    While this contract is binding for three years there is nothing that precludes the negotiations from being reopened, further concessions to be negotiated, and a new contract to be ratified.

    So the Council could have chosen to stonewall because every little thing that they wanted wasn’t in this contract, or they could do what they did which was take a contract that — while imperfect — was still better than what they had and work to negotiate a better deal. But you aren’t going to get there if the solution is just to say “screw it” and take your chances with an arbitrator and just to point out the City has lost in arbitration before when it attempted to make unilateral changes.

    Comment by Lauren Do — July 7, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  7. The old contract broke the city…Takes Courage to step up. Our Leaders like our FF are Weak in that account.

    They don’t even pay attention to the people in charge of watching out for the Citizens. It’s Pathetic.

    Comment by John — July 7, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

  8. “6.Frank: The point is, the new contract is a much better deal for the City than the old contract was
    While this contract is binding for three years there is nothing that precludes the negotiations from being reopened, further concessions to be negotiated, and a new contract to be ratified”

    Waitaminnet, Lauren. How do you parse ‘much better deal’? There is no salary concession. There is no give-back of the ‘retire after 5 years and get full free medical for you and your spouse for life’. Yes, they agreeed to contribute another 2 % to their retirement, but they now get the medical plan of their choice paid 100%. Up until this contract, the city would only pay 100% of the cheapest medical plan, and the firefighter had to make up the difference if he/she wanted a better plan. So, what’s the differential between the 2% they are contributing, and the fully paid medical plan? I wouldn’t call this a ‘much better deal for the city’. We’ll probably have to give the police officers the same benefits package when their contract comes due, which just compounds the issue.

    Now, as for ‘nothing precludes the negotiations from being reopened, further concessions to be negotiated, and a new contract to be ratified’- get real. Do you REALLY expect the ff union to reopen this contract and give up a bunch of stuff ($$) before it expires? Sure, it can happen. And, given the appropriate appendages, pigs can fly, too. What would be the union’s motivation for doing that? Why would the rank and file vote for that in the middle of a contract? My problem is not so much with the firefighters; their union reps are getting for their members all that the city is willing to give them. My beef is with our City Fathers (and Mothers) who are mismanaging the city. Typical politician’s mentality- “We have enough reserves to get through my final term on the Council, so I’ll just let the next poor slob deal with it.”

    Comment by Al Wright — July 7, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

  9. The staff report details the amount of savings the new contract will save the city.

    As I mentioned before, it could have definitely gone farther, but this is a good first step. Do I believe that the Firefighters will allow negotiations to be re-opened? I certainly hope so. It is because I’m overly naive and optimistic that I believe this? Not really. I believe that Alameda public employees and most definitely the union leaders understand that the City going bankrupt is not in their best interest as it is not in the best interest of anyone involved. Bankruptcy means that all these commitments and contracts will go poof so milking the City dry is not wise for their own personal bank account either.

    As mentioned by the City Manager, these problems didn’t happen overnight. The problems didn’t materialize the minute Marie GIlmore was elected as Mayor. It’s not going to be solved by insisting that our City’s Firefighters cut their salaries and benefits by 5, 10, 15, 50% or whatever magic number people have in their heads.

    Comment by Lauren Do — July 7, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  10. #8
    There is a big difference in the negotiations when a contract has run its term and modifying an existing contract. There is no impetus whatsoever for the Union to participate. Even if they do the bargining will be on a ‘quid pro quoi’ basis. What are you going to give me. There is an existing Contract for three years and beyond till a new Contract is ratified. That could take up 2-3 years beyond the ‘expiration’ (sic) of the present one. There is no onus of ‘good faith’ negotiation, there is no arbitration or mediation till the existing Contract has run its course.

    Really the FF came into this Contract holding the cards. They were well aware that in these economic times there were bound to be ‘givebacks’. The only question to be answered was ‘how much’. I sure as far as the FF were concerned they didn’t care if the City ever signed a new Agreement. The old one was better. I’m sure there found humorous the Comments over the past several months on how their contract EXPIRED 18 months ago and they needed a new one.

    I would really like to see someone ‘run the numbers’. on the new Contract.
    Again refering to Al’s Comment

    ” My beef is with our City Fathers (and Mothers) who are mismanaging the city. Typical politician’s mentality- “We have enough reserves to get through my final term on the Council, so I’ll just let the next poor slob deal with it.”

    My ‘beef’ is this. I am a strong believer in the Democratic process and these are our elected officials I am not a ‘sore loser’.. For the first time in my many years in Alameda I see a CC made up of people who have (maybe after Crown Beach had) potential beyond Alameda. To accomplish this you must weigh each decision with one eye looking ahead. The general rule of Politics in Alameda County and for that matter most of CA is ‘don’t screw with the Unions’..if you want to to get elected.

    I would much rather have a boring CC whose sole concern was Alameda. Progressive but boring.

    Comment by frank — July 7, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  11. Al,

    Up until 2006, FF’s healthcare was covered up to the cost of the most expensive plan offered, however, if an employee chose a cheaper plan, (less benefits, or single instead of family for instance) they received a cash payment for the difference in the cost of the two plans.

    After 2006, a baseline cost was set (set at the cost of the most expensive plan). Those who took lower cost plans still got cash pay outs, but as insurance costs increased, those who chose plans that exceeded the 2006 baseline were responsible for 15% of the difference between the cost of the plan and the baseline.

    Now, firefighters get health insurance, or they don’t but there are no pay outs, and there are no contributions.

    Because some families stayed with the expensive plans, and some firefighters are single/took lower plans necessitating payouts, the current contract comes at no cost to the City.

    A second change, in the past, FF’s got ~$515 a month in compensation if they opted out of City Health Plan (say they took their spouses insurance), while other City Employees only get $230.

    Under the new contract, FF’s get the same $230 as the rest of the bargaining units.

    While small, the health insurance changes for current employees result in reduced costs to the city.

    Comment by John Knox White — July 7, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

  12. Lauren

    ” Bankruptcy means that all these commitments and contracts will go poof so milking the City dry is not wise for their own personal bank account either.”.

    This is not established case law. It has happened with Valleio and they were sucessful in Bankrupcy Court. with a Bankruptcy Judge. This will be challenged and has a long way to go.

    Comment by frank — July 7, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  13. Bottom Line with the New Contract what are the total Salary and Compensation Costs to the City by Rank in Fire Dept.?

    Comment by John — July 7, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  14. Now the “Sounds of Silence” tune is stuck in my head from the title of this post.

    And in the naked light I saw … Ten thousand people, maybe more … People talking without speaking … People hearing without listening … People writing songs that voices never share .. And no one dared…. Disturb the sound of silence.

    Unions represent the working class, but they are getting blamed for the downturns in the economy caused by corporate greed and the media (read Fox News). We need to break the sound of silence and get as loud and (but not as obnoxious) as the extreme right and demand that corporations pay their fair share. Stop blaming the middle working class.

    GRAPH: Contrary To GOP Claims, U.S. Has Second Lowest Corporate Taxes In The Developed World

    Comment by Dennis V. — July 7, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

  15. The clip of Russo’s puzzlement on doing budget first instead of his suggested method of costs first has me puzzled. Costs first then budget imply’s that whatever the various contract costs are in addition to normal city costs, the city will budget for it. In other words there is a flexible budget ceiling that will rise to meet costs whatever they are.

    Or am I not listening?

    Comment by Jack Richard — July 7, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  16. 14

    And pigs fly with the right appendages.

    Comment by Jack Richard — July 7, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  17. John, bottom line – city pays less under new contract, with increased savings as time goes on.

    The argument is about whether it’s less enough or not and whether it’s a final offer, or a first step.

    Comment by John Knox White — July 7, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  18. 17
    A signed contract is the final step.

    Comment by Jack Richard — July 7, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

  19. 17

    There must be a total cost number by each employee. I’m sure it’s not decreasing 2% every six months like it increased 2% in the Oct 2001 Contract in the midst of a Financial Meltdown where markets were down 80% off their Highs , business were closing and we gave increases.


    Riding in the Fire Truck showed alot of class. You can tell the Contract was done deal in the Election process.

    Comment by John — July 7, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

  20. I didn’t ride in the fire truck. I drove four lovely ladies in a convertible…they didn’t dance.

    Comment by Jack Richard — July 7, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

  21. Thanks for sacrificing for the team Jack. Someone has to do the dirty work..LOL

    JKW took some great shots of the Parade. Maybe he some 8X11 Glossies for you.

    Comment by John — July 7, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

  22. 21. did you post this URL without reading it or are you just a hypocrite? LOL.

    Comment by M.I. — July 7, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

  23. Alameda Citizens Task Force held 3 meetings for the community with the Kevins and many ideas from members of our community were given in writing to the city council, Lisa Goldman and John Russo. I am hopeful they will explore the suggestions that were offered which include pay reductions for public safety staff and others. Using salary data from 2010, my best estimate of an overall percent is about 7%. The city management staff is voluntarily taking 5% to set a good example.

    The real concern is that the FF contract makes meaningful consessions that will materialize 10-30 years from now. The city needs short term solutions to avoid bankrupcy.Unless major changes occur within the next 2-3 years, we will be out of reserves and the $300K or so short term benefits the city will realize with the FF contract is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.

    So, we will have to wait to see if renegotiation of all city contracts yields any additional benefits to the city. We are being told that this is part of the plan. We are also being told that we, the citizens, will be offered the opportunity to prioritize what we are willing to give up as early as this fall. Of all suggestions that were given during the ACT meetings, when asked to prioritize them all, the highest rated were 1. reduction of overtime, vacation and sick time for public safety staff 2. raise retirement eligibility age for public safety employees from 50 to 55 and reduce the factor used to determine retirement pay from 3% to 2% which is consistant with consessions being made in other cities. When we get our opportunity this fall, I am concerned the choices will be more like discontinuation of city programs.

    A secondary concern was the lack of sunshine on the contract which should have occurred prior to negotiations. It appears that Russo has a plan he is putting into place to correct this for future contracts.

    Comment by Nancy Hird — July 7, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

  24. 22

    B 25 thats why I try and bring some humor……..You really don’t think anyone takes you serious..I have to laugh.

    Comment by John — July 7, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

  25. Chapter 9 and get over it.

    “You don’t have the easy out of increasing revenue and you have a lot more call on services because of the economy,” Street said. “There’s no such thing as entertaining bankruptcy; there’s ending denial.”

    Marc Levinson, a lawyer with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP who is representing Vallejo in its bankruptcy proceeding, agrees that California’s hard times and lean local budgets are forcing local leaders to weigh bankruptcy.

    Comment by Jack Richard — July 8, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  26. 8: Al Wright asked: “Do you REALLY expect the ff union to reopen this contract and give up a bunch of stuff ($$) before it expires? Sure, it can happen. And, given the appropriate appendages, pigs can fly, too. What would be the union’s motivation for doing that? Why would the rank and file vote for that in the middle of a contract?”

    In a word, yes, Al, I do. As has ben pointed out before, the firefighters gain nothing if the city gets in deeper financial trouble or declares bankruptcy. As I have posted previously, the IAFF leadership has said for weeks that they fully expect to reopen negotiations with the city soon to explore further cost reductions. (If you doubt me, ask them yourself. That’s how I found out.)

    But neither party could legally do that without first having adopted a new and valid contract, which is what this “first step” was all about. The firefighters’ motivations are quite simple:

    1) Our firefighters care deeply about the community in which they work, and in which many of them live. (Caring deeply about places and people is a core value of almost every firefighter who enters the profession and part of their emotional constitution.)

    2) It is clearly in the firefighters’ best interests for their employer, the City of Alameda, to be financially healthy and able to continue to pay their salaries, maintain the firehouses and equipment, etc. And firefighters are very practical, level-headed, and logical folks. (This point is obviously true for any employe-employer relationship and I am puzzled as to why it is not crystal-clear to everyone.)

    Alameda’s firefighters are not evil exploiters of public funds, nor are they lacking awareness of or commitment to the community in which they live and work. They are hard-working, dedicated, and capable people who are doing their best to serve and protect everyone in the City of Alameda. They – and IAFF #689 in particular – were disrespected by their own fire chief under David Kapler’s administration, the same “leadership” that shut down the pre-existing water rescue program and had the then-chief filling his private vehicle with City gas under questionable circumstances. (The use of city gas pales in comparison to the destruction of the water rescue program, of course, as Kapler’s water rescue decision cost Raymond Zack his life. )

    Adopting a new,cost-saving contract with our firefighters WAS a necessary first step, albeit a small one, in the right direction. You will soon see that the firefighters WILL engage constructively with the city to responsibly and fairly reduce the city’s personnel costs. But adopting a new contract based on the negotiation process begun over a year ago had to come first in order to take the next steps. Let’s start taking them instead of re-plowing old ground.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — July 8, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  27. Jon, psychological transference is a treatable condition. The symptoms demonstrated in your #26 1) and (2 could probably be cured with proper analysis.

    The FF’s have demonstrated lack of fealty towards their employer’s financial condition by seeking to abrogate the basic understanding of the employer/employee relationship. They have done this by attempting to go over the head of the City and cushion themselves against layoffs or transference by attempting a voter approved sidestep. This, in itself is in my view, an obvious violation of the agreement that binds their relationship with the city and puts to bed any notion of their interest in anybody but themselves.

    This attempt is no stranger to organized labor, nor do I think it is unwarranted by a Union. The mistake citizenry can make is to not understand which side of the table they are on.

    Comment by Jack Richard — July 8, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  28. #26: Here’s an excerpt from the Fire Dept’s 7/5/11 report to the City Council, which makes a distinction between elimination of FD boats and training for rescue swimmers, which “lagged” due to a division chief’s failure to follow through. I can only make assumptions about what this means, but it doesn’t like fire chief is being blamed here.

    7.A. Operational Update on the Fire Department’s Water Rescue, Commercial Inspection, and Senior Safety Programs

    “In FY08- , the Fire Chief made a recommendation to eliminate this program due to lack of adequate funding for necessary boat repairs and overtime expenses.Subsequently, both the fire boat and rescue boat were placed out of service, and

    **the training for the rescue swimmers lagged behind the necessary certification requirement.

    **The Division Chief assigned to oversee the rescue swimmer program did not follow through to ensure that the funding and training were coordinated. Eventually the program was deactivated.”


    I recall seeing a statement somewhere that the rescue swimming program had been put on hold for “30 to 45 days” but was supposed to be reinstated. I think we need accuracy on this issue.

    Comment by dlm — July 8, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

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