Tag Archives: International Association of Firefighters

Good read: Pensions for local public safety workers skyrocketing

12 May

Pensions for local public safety employees are skyrocketing

In Chico, over half the budget goes to police and fire, which also account for over half the Unfunded Actuarial Liability, a.k.a. Pension Deficit. And it’s what my dad called “Rabbit Math”. The more rabbits you have, the more rabbits you get. The bigger the debt base, the more interest it builds. That means, the public safety portion of the UAL is growing faster than the “Miscellaneous” portion, meaning, all the other city department payrolls. According to Chico Administrative Services Director Scott Dowell, the public safety pension deficit has grown from $42.9 million to $79.1 million in just the last 5 years. All the while, Dowell has been making bigger and bigger “extra” payments to CalPERS – $11.5 million last July – and they just disappear like spit on a griddle. Why?

According to the above article from Capitol Weekly, “In 2018, Transparent California found that the average pension for city or county public safety employees was $108,000 a year.

How is that sustainable, especially considering this little bombshell? “To add to the enormity of this problem, consider that there are more retired firefighters than active firefighters in this state.

These people can retire at age 50 with 90% of their highest year’s salary. In Chico, they get automatic step increases – in other words, just show up, and we keep raising your salary. While they are not allowed to use overtime to “spike”, or raise, their pensionable salary, they are allowed to accrue unused sick pay and vacation and “cash out” in their last year of employment, therefore “spiking” their pensionable salary.

Chico has become “Spike City,” promoting employees in the last year or so before retirement to raise their pensionable salary. They just spiked city clerk Debbie Presson’s salary at a recent council meeting, but this is especially true of the police and fire chief’s positions – look it up yourself, they don’t last five years, and then they’re off with 90% of that elevated salary. New Chief Madden got a $30,000 raise over the departing chief.

As you’d expect, public safety unions always put their money behind tax measures. Chico Area Recreation District Measure A was bankrolled by the Chico Police Officers Association and their president Jim Parrott ran the campaign.

But as you’ll remember, CARD and Parrott had their ass handed to them on a plate, that measure going down to a very decisive defeat. So did two measures in Tehama and Shasta County, both of them promoted as benefitting “public safety”. Whatever that means.

That won’t stop them. In Chico, and over at the Butte County Supervisors Chambers, they’ve signed onto Pension Obligation Bonds – a scheme by which they borrow money to roll on the stock market, hoping to make enough money to pay both the service on the borrowed money and make “extra” payments on the UAL. Sheesh, every time I say that, it sounds stupider and stupider. But I expect we’ll see all kinds of crazy schemes to make the rest of us pay for the UAL.

“In the face of this opposition, union leaders are finding other ways to drum up a steady cashflow, whether it’s through a first responder fee or taking over ambulance services from private industry veterans.

Hey, remember Emergency!, that great old Jack Webb propaganda piece about county emergency services, with real Emergency Medical Technicians? You really believe anything Jack Webb told you? It sounds great – “free” ambulance service! – but they don’t talk about the salaries or the pensions. Capitol Weekly reminds us, “ fire departments may reap a short-term windfall from collecting ambulance fees, they are only adding to their long-term pension obligation.

The unions have a lot of power in Sacramento. “A proposed state law – Assembly Bill 389 – would codify the Alliance model and make all of its anti-competitive antics legal.”

Every scheme the unions put before us leads to a bigger pension deficit. Instead of allowing them to turn our emergency services upside-down “to clean up their own mess“, we need to press for employees to pay more, drastically more, or surrender their ridiculous pensions and benefits. That is an uphill battle, given the money the unions pour into every election. To that end, we have to press our elected lawmakers to restrict PAC spending in elections.

You might feel overwhelmed by the opposition at the state level, but don’t forget – here, we beat the police union on a tax measure. It’s DOABLE.

More questions for Ken Campbell – every answer is just another can of worms!

16 Dec

As I was saying in a previous blog, I recently been struggling through the city firefighters’ contracts, and I don’t mind saying, it’s all Greek to me. “Legalese,” I think it’s called. The worst thing is, they treat you like a moranus because you don’t understand the gobble-ty-gook they spin up just to make sure you don’t understand.

Here’s how they explain the pay rate in the current IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters, the union) contract:

Regular Hourly Rate

 1.2.5. Regular Hourly Rate. Regular Hourly Rate shall mean an hourly rate calculated by summing all non-overtime and non-out of class pay for the bi-weekly pay period, with the specific exception of Holiday Pay as defined in Section 2, Subsection 5.3.1, and dividing the total by 112 for Employees assigned to a fifty-six (56) hour work week, and by 80 for those employees assigned to a forty (40) hour work week.

As my friend Stephanie Taber said recently about the firefighters’ contract, “confused???? so am I!”   Stephanie is way more patient than I am, when she doesn’t understand these documents, she e-mails the appropriate department and asks the questions, then sticks around long enough to get an answer. 

In the letter I wrote to the editor, I asked about the 56 hour week – did that mean 16 hours of guaranteed overtime? Is that how some of these employees almost DOUBLE their salaries?   One person I saw on the salary charts had added $80,000 in OT to his $90,000 salary – and he’s not the only one who does that.  As I pointed out in my letter, the fire department alone bills for over a million dollars a year in overtime. I wonder, how do they do that? 

When Stephanie asked the human resources department about overtime, here was the response: “Under the terms of the IAFF MOU City firefighters get paid overtime for any hours they work in excess of 56 in a seven day period.”

Okay, now I’m confused. You can schedule people for 56 hours without paying them overtime? News to me. And, I still don’t understand, how do they rack up the overtime pay when they have to work over 56 hours a week to get  it? I mean, there’s not a house burning down or an accident every freaking minute. In fact, hours and hours go by, every day, when nothing justifying the use of gasoline even happens around here. 

I got a new question. Are we paying people to sleep? To watch tv? To take the hook and ladder to the grocery store? 

Human Resources offered more explanation: “In addition, under the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act, they get paid overtime for any hours they work in excess of 182 in a 24 day period.  For the City of Chico this equates to an additional 5 hours of pay for each person every 24 day period.”

I keep seeing that word, “work”, and I keep wondering, “what do they mean by ‘work‘?” 

So I will keep asking my questions.

I got a few questions for Ken Campbell

8 Dec

NOTE: a person recently tried to contact me through the ER editor – if you want to discuss this post look for the “comment” button at the bottom of the page. If you want to be anonymous let me know or use an acronym.

A week or so ago, firefighter and fire department political action committee chairman Ken Campbell wrote a pretty condescending letter to the Enterprise Record, insinuating that anybody who criticized the fire department would change their mind if they just came down for a tour of a fire station.

He says, “In the last month there have been a few letters to the editor criticizing the response of the emergency services within the city of Chico, particularly the Fire Department.” But I looked, I never found any letters to that effect. What I did find were comments regarding the fire department budget, the contracts and the excessive amounts the city is paying for the “employee’s share” of the benefits.

Stephanie Taber brought up these points in her response to Campbell.

Reference Ken Campbell’s (Chico Fire Dept.) letter of December 1 which invites the public to visit a Fire Station and talk with any department member so we the public can better understand their mission.

I think the public knows fairly well what the department’s mission is; what we don’t understand is why it costs us so much.  Of the $13 million dollar Fire Department budget $11.5 million is spent on salaries, holiday pay, overtime, gym fees, wellness physicals, and “other” benefits.  That “other” category includes Fire personnel’s share of their pension retirement benefits.  Why are we paying that 7% when we already pay the employer (taxpayer) share?  Why are we paying the employer AND employee share of FICA from the date of hire till retirement?  Why are we paying $350 each month, tax free, for every Fire Department employee toward their retirement medical from the time of hire till retirement at 50?  Do you know how many more firemen we could hire if just that one part of the department’s benefit package were eliminated?  Then add to that the Fire Department employee’s 7% share of their pension benefit and I’ll bet we’re talking about being able to fully staff the Fire Department and the elimination of all that overtime.

The City Manager should invite Chief Berry to discuss Fire personnel’s job responsibilities.  And I’d like to invite the IAFF to explain why the 47% (low income earners) should continue to pay the top 1% (Fire Dept. personnel) incredibly generous benefit package.”

To which local liberal shoofly Ron Sherman responded, “I guess you have a rather selective memory. The current contracts are successors to those approved by the conservative Chico City Councils dominated by Rick Keene and Larry Wahl, so that they could secure the endorsement of the fire department.”  Sorry, Ron, again you are confused – Larry was the only one who voted NO on that contract. It’s up for renewal right now, and our “liberal-dominated” council is about to give it the old rubber stamp, three of them having already approved the same contract, two others sure to follow their mentors on to Perdition. That’s five to two – SWOOSH! And, I’m betting Morgan will also sign the contract, he’s already made it clear he’s up there to represent “the public safety ‘workers'”.

I couldn’t find the contract now up for consideration – I think it’s buried somewhere on the city website – if anybody can send me a link, I’d appreciate it. But, here’s the current contract:

http://ebookbrowse.com/iaff-mou-pdf-d33663777

You might have to cut-and-paste that link, but it’s worth it.  It’s a confusing yet interesting read, just stick with it. For example, I have finally  figured out how they manage to rack up so much overtime – some of them as much as double their agreed-upon salary with overtime. For one thing, they are guaranteed a 56 hour week. That’s 16 hours of overtime, given for starters. And get aload of this – every week the captain is supposed to determine whether or not he’s going to need a firefighter to work his overtime. Or, get ” Compensated Time Off in Lieu of Overtime“. That means, instead of working and getting paid for an hour of overtime, the firefighter can take time off, at a rate of an hour and a half off for each hour of overtime.  And, at the end of the year, the firefighter can exchange his unused CTO for pay, again, at a rate of one and a half hours pay for every hour of CTO accrued.

Yeah, you better read that again. I’m not sure, but it almost looks like they’re  getting an hour and a half for an hour, and then getting an hour and a half for every hour of that.  For example, 4 hours of overtime becomes six hours of CTO, and then each hour of that CTO is worth an hour and a half of pay? What? 

What I understand loud and clear is, they get paid for overtime they don’t even work, overtime that is scheduled in UNNECESSARILY. Simply to guarantee a fat salary.

In his insulting little letter to the ER, Campbell suggests “The department would welcome the opportunity to answer all questions and explain what citizens receive for .41 cents a day. If you are unsatisfied with the answers you receive, then write a letter to the editor and state your opinions with credibility because you actually did some homework and tried to gain complete understanding.” 

Well, I did my homework, Ken, and now you got some explaining to do alright.

UPDATE:

Well, just when I got around to complaining about that section of the fire contracts, it has already been changed.

(I can’t post the link, for some bizarre reason, you have to go to the city website, hit the bar at the top of the home page that says, “How do I…” and then choose “Get city salary/benefits information”, then choose “Labor Agreements” from the menu at the left. And you thought you’d never find a needle in a haystack!)

The section I”m referring to above is almost cut out of the new contracts – they’ve completely eliminated the section that says “exchange his unused CTO for pay at a rate of one and a half hours pay for every hour of CTO accrued.”  They don’t call it “compensated time off” anymore, they call it “compensating time off,” which means, they get the time off but don’t get paid? I’m still wondering there.

But, they still get 16 hours of scheduled overtime, and can exchange it, for whatever reason, for an hour and a half of (paid?) time off for every hour of overtime they actually work.  They are certainly getting paid for time they aren’t even at the station (grocery shopping with the hook and ladder?!), much less “working”.  And then, if there’s a need while they’re on CTO, another firefighter is called in, probably on overtime him/herself.

This is left to the discretion of the chief. Yeah, Chief Beery, the guy who closed Station 5 because he was pissed at the city for cutting his budget $90,000.

This is the scam through which some of these people as much as DOUBLE their agreed upon salary with overtime, still crying for more hires.  I’m still asking  Ken Campbell – why does the fire department get guaranteed overtime, even when it’s not needed? Why can’t  the fire department be staffed just like any other 24 hour business?