News

Mediation fails to restart talks between Menlo district, firefighters

 

The March 25 mediation session between the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and its firefighters ended in fizzled hopes that the two parties would resolve enough differences to return to the bargaining table, according to Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the fire district.

"Unfortunately, disappointingly, mediation was not successful," Mr. Schapelhouman said. "There is no plan at this point to have another mediation session."

The firefighters have been working without a contract since July 2008. Negotiations ceased in May or June 2009, and on June 15, the firefighters' association filed a grievance with the state's Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) alleging bad faith and "regressive" bargaining on the part of the district.

Last week's mediation session was an attempt "to go back to the negotiations table," said John Wurdinger, a district fire captain who represents the firefighters. "But we don't plan on meeting with them again at this point in time."

Chief Schapelhouman said the decision not to continue with mediation was "their decision, not ours. I personally didn't feel we were through with mediation."

The district board will meet in closed session on April 20 to discuss the status of the impasse, and give staff direction on how to proceed, Mr. Schapelhouman said.

The grievance

The PERB grievance was composed of three general areas, one of which was recently dismissed by the regional attorney reviewing the complaint, and two of which were allowed to go forward to a hearing by PERB, according to Rick Bolanos, the district's attorney for labor negotiations.

He said the green-lighting of the two elements of the grievance wasn't a ruling on their merits; rather, it means that the allegations deserve a hearing by PERB to determine if they are true.

Mr. Wurdinger said firefighters wanted to try mediation rather than wait for a PERB hearing because of the length of time required for the process, which can be well over a year. "Our goal is not to win the PERB case; our goal is to get a contract," he said.

He noted that firefighters haven't had a salary increase for nearly three years, and have had no increase in medical benefits for nearly five years.

The district has said the firefighters were asking for substantial raises in each year of a multi-year contract, including an 11 percent raise in the first year. Before talks broke off last year, the district was proposing to postpone pay raises until this year.

Mr. Wurdinger said last week that the firefighters "are looking for contract language, not necessarily a dollar amount."

He pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal article on the district's strong financial position. "If the fire district was under financial hardship, they could legally (freeze salaries)," he said. "If the fire district was under financial hardship, we'd let them do that."

But the article said the district is "in good financial shape. You can't have it both ways," he said.

The district has curtailed spending since the economic downtown in late 2008, postponing capital purchases and construction. It has also guarded its $2.5 million reserve, considering it "a fund of last resort," Chief Schapelhouman told the Almanac last year.

Property tax revenue has been flat as a result of the recession and falling housing prices, and the district's employee costs are rising in proportion to the overall budget.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

You have to love the union's honesty, if not their wisdom -

"Give us an 11% increase not because we deserve it, not because we are underpaid, not because we have contributed to the financial health of the Fire District, but because the Fire District is financially healthy (even though we tried to get the District's financial officer, who has played an essential role in ensuring the Fire District's financial health, fired)"

The reason that the Fire District is in excellent financial shape is because our elected Fire Board and superb Fire Chief know how to say NO.

Until the union comes to its senses, I hope that Fire Board and the Fire chief will continue to serve our community by simply saying NO.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering Again
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I dare say the District's in a little TOO excellent shape financially, especially given the nice new digs they just moved into.

So, Peter, when are you going start REALLY giving back to the community, as in giving back more of that excess money you folks were raking in from us taxpayers during the good times. We all need it now.

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment]


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Perhaps what they are asking for is parity with other fire departments in the area. Our fire fighters do a good job and deserve to be paid as well as other fire fighters in the surrounding communities.


Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

To Menlo Voter -- I agree our fire fighters do a good job and should receive compensation. Do you realize that other fire departments are having their share of financial problems. You don't need to look that far north to see the City of San Carlos looking to outsource both fire and police services. Most cities in the days to come won't be able to sustain the retirement plans currently in place.

I do take issue if they did in fact ask for an 11% raise given today's financial climate. One question for Menlo Voter -- how much do you think is a fair salary and benefit package for a fire fighter?


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm

In my opinion, public employee total compensation packages are too generous, period.

With 12% unemployment in CA and many other people "encouraged" to take salary reductions in order to keep their private sector jobs, the scale between public and private compensation is out of balance.

To my knowledge, very few if any public employees have had their salaries actually cut - not taking a secheduled increase is not a CUT!

By large, I think most people would agree public employees have fared much better during the past few years than private employees.

If MP is going to increase employee compensation at say a 5% annual rate, the City revenue needs to grow at probably around 7% a year to stay even. That's pretty hard to do year after year.
And then of course what happens if City revenue has a down year?
Budget defecits....and the demand to raise taxes....

The current system just doesn't work...and it's not just Menlo Park or San Carlos, it is most cities in CA, most school districts in CA,
most states and the federal government......

something has to change, as a matter of fairness and equity; the majority has a right NOT to pay more taxes to maintain and/or increase public employee compensation..the majority has a right NOT to bankrupt their communities or state.....it is not fair to have private employees experience the negative consequences of recent economic realities while to a large degree public employees have been exempt from these same realities...

none of this is a criticism of the work performance of any public employees, rather it is just saying the current compensation levels are too high given the revenue, and in truth revenue growth has been pretty strong the past 10 and 15 years....it makes no sense to budget and negotiate contracts that require continued revenue growth or higher taxes..


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 12:46 am

Menlo Voter states:"Perhaps what they are asking for is parity with other fire departments in the area. Our fire fighters do a good job and deserve to be paid as well as other fire fighters in the surrounding communities."

In fact, they want to be the third highest paid of the 13 already very highly paid fire agencies in one of the highest paid markets in the nation - which calls first for an 8% increase - and then another 3% on top of that as an 'annual increase', for a total of 11%.

And then the other 12 comparison agency firefighters scream that they need a big raise to keep up with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. Tying raises to above the average for other overpaid individuals is a vicious circle that leads to having everyone in this closed comparison group move ahead of the population which they serve.

What needs to happen is to bring ALL local government salary and benefit packages into line with the local market, which must include prevailing salaries and benefits in the private sector.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:33 am

Correction - reviewing my files I find that the comparison group was 9 rather than 13 fire agencies.

And that after the initial year's 11% placing them at the third highest of these nine agencies, they wanted annual increases (of whatever amount was necessary) to keep them in third place. Since all the other agencies were pegging their increases to each other and wanting to be above the average as well (like 3rd out of 9) the rate of increase could have be very substantial. Fortunately the Fire Board said NO.

Normally these negotiation details are not public information but I was able to get them (separate from by former role as a Fire Board member) from the union's so called "unfair labor practices" filing in which they claimed that the Fire District had engaged in an unfair labor practice by saying NO to their outrageous demands.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:06 am

Curious:

I could argue that anything we pay our fire fighters is not enough. Would you put yourself in harms way? Would you run INTO a burning building when everyone is running out? Last year we nearly lost some of our fire fighters in a fire in Sharron Heights when it blew up on them. One of them recieved some bad burns and they were lucky it wasn't worse. So part of me says anything we pay them is well deserved.

I can also see the other side and acknowledge that tying their salaries to what other departments are paid is just a vicious circle. In reallity, the biggest problem is the retirement. The pensions need to be reduced going forward and the retirement age increased.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:14 am

Curious asks:"I could argue that anything we pay our fire fighters is not enough. Would you put yourself in harms way? Would you run INTO a burning building when everyone is running out?"

I have been there and done that for a whole lot less, even inflation adjusted, for what our firefighters are being paid. And retirement is an integral part of their pay. There are firefighters all over this country being paid substantially less than our firefighters. And every time there is a vacancy in our Fire District there are hundreds of applicants for each position - an economist would say that is a very good indicator that we are overpaying for these positions.

Let me be clear, every MPFPD firefighter whom I have had the privilege of knowing is well trained, well qualified and a tribute to the citizens whom they serve - that does not mean that they should be paid twice the average income (benefits included) of the people whom they serve.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering Again
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Peter,

Still waiting for an answer...

Continued non-response means you support ripping off taxpayers.

So much for being concerned about our community.


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Leugers
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I agree with Peter; the firefighters pay, benefits and work rules need to change. If you have not noticed, every industry in the US has seen more productivity per worker and less pay except our public sector. Cities acted like the auto industry, raising wages and passing the costs on to the taxpayer. The taxpayer can no longer afford it. I have a friend who is a paramedic in Salinas County; he works for a contractor that provides the service for the county. Maybe we should consider that option.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Yes Peter there are fire fighters working for a lot less than we pay ours. I'd be willing to bet that the cost of living where those fire fighters work is substantially less than it is here.

I too have put myself in harms way in law enforcement, but I went into law enforcement when there were many more qualified applicants than jobs. Such is not the case now and I would bet it won't stay that way for fire fighters forever either. My contacts in law enforcement tell me they are having a hell of a time attracting qualifed candidates than can pass a background check and police pay in this area is very good, as are the retirement benefits. So don't count on the current situation remaining static. It won't.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Just Wondering Again asks:"Still waiting for an answer.."

Your question is unrelated to this topic - feel free to start a new topic on your question.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Menlo Voter states:"I'd be willing to bet that the cost of living where those fire fighters work is substantially less than it is here."

Wrong - most of our firefighters don't even live in the Bay area - most live in the central valley and some even live out of state.


Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 8:12 pm

To Menlo Voter -- I did work in public safety and fire service in another state and retired here near my family. There were times when I was in sticky situations "harms way" as you call it. I chose this line of work to be a public servant knowing the risks, not to make lots of money or get huge benefits.

In a much different world those who care for our protection and eduaction would make good salaries and those in entertainment wouldn't make seven figure salaries. It just goes to show you what our society values. Either way elected officials SHOULD be good stewards of our money.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 9, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Curious:

you did your service during different times. We no longer live in an age when many people are willing to put themselves in harms way for not a lot of money and benefits. It's sad, but it's factual.

Peter:

where our fire fighters choose to live is meaningless. We are supposed to be paying them an amount of money sufficient for them to live in our communities. If they choose to live elsewhere that is a seperate issue.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 9, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Menlo Voter, you are incorrect. It is the fiduciary duty of our government stewards to pay our public servants the MINIMUM necessary to hire and staff qualified individuals.

Given the shocking unemployment in our state, it is impossible to believe that public compensation is anywhere near fair. These employees, unless they accept significant reductions, should be fired, and their ranks should be filled at cheaper rates from the ranks of the unemployed.


Like this comment
Posted by Do We Need ALL of them?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 9, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I'm just asking some legitimate questions: Do we REALLY need all of the firefighters we have in this very small town of only 30,000 residents? 4 firehouses? I have lived here for 13 years, and I can only remember the Sharon Heights home, the townhouse off of Valpariaso, the 7-11 and Cala's as "true" fires, that required equipment and fireman. And still, all of these fires could have been controlled and conquered by possibly 2 firehouses, one on either side of the tracks? Second question: Why do we need a fire truck at every 911 call if someone feels faint? Can't we have an ambulance or some other type of emergency vehicle do this, for MUCH cheaper?? Last question: Why doesn't anyone ask these questions, this department should NOT be untouchable, we have to look at everything these days, and I have yet to be convinced that the fire department budget is not overbuilt.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Do We Need ALL of them - the Fire District serves Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and portions of the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. It was established over 90 years ago - BEFORE there was a City of Menlo Park. The Fire District serves over 90,000 residents over 30 square miles with 7 fire stations - 3 located in Menlo Park, 1 in Atherton, 1 in the unincorporated area and 1 in East Palo Alto.

The service levels for this area and number of residents meet, but do not significantly exceed, national standards. About 60% of all "fire calls" are actually for emergency medical assistance.

If each of the covered jurisdictions had their own separate fire departments there would be approximately 20% more staff required - significant duplication of supervisory position was prevented by having an area wide Fire District before the individual cities came into existence.

In fact, the best solution would be to have ONE County wide fire agency like Sac Metro or Orange County - that would reduce the current staffing by about 10%.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Menlo Voter states:"We are supposed to be paying them an amount of money sufficient for them to live in our communities. If they choose to live elsewhere that is a seperate issue."

State law prohibits requiring the firefighters to live within the community which they serve. And common sense says any cost of living factor should be based on where people live, not where they work.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Do we need all of them asks:"Can't we have an ambulance or some other type of emergency vehicle do this, for MUCH cheaper?"

When I was on the Fire Board, I advocated for years for motorcycle paramedics like have been used very successfully in other communities for decades. Traditions die hard in the fire service and my efforts failed.

Also under California law the County has responsibility for ambulance service and the Fire District MAY NOT provide that service. Frequently the nearest county ambulance assigned to this area is in Half Moon Bay. This is a great issue for the citizens to get outraged about.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 11:47 pm

do we need them all asks:"Why doesn't anyone ask these questions, this department should NOT be untouchable, we have to look at everything these days, and I have yet to be convinced that the fire department budget is not overbuilt."

Your Fire Board asks these questions on your behalf every day and as a result is one of the most efficient and financially stable agencies in the nation. I encourage you to read the Fire District's Annual Budget at Web Link and then go to a Fire Board meeting with specific questions.

In my 8 1/2 years of service on your Fire Board fewer than 20 citizens appeared before the Fire Board with questions or concerns - a fact that I find appalling.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

Perhaps they live elsewhere because they can't afford to live here? From your statement you imply that they're ok to work here but we don't want them living here. Also, true to your ususal spin, you introduce an argument I did not make. I never even implied the fire fighters should be REQUIRED to live here.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

Menlo Voter states:"From your statement you imply that they're ok to work here but we don't want them living here."

Frankly, I would prefer that they be required to live in the District; certainly in the event of a large scale disaster like an earthquake we would be much better off if they did not live hundreds of miles away.

Menlo Voter states:" Also, true to your ususal spin, you introduce an argument I did not make. I never even implied the fire fighters should be REQUIRED to live here."

No spin, I was just telling you that the Sate laws preclude the Fire District cannot require the firefighters to live in the District and that given the freedom to choose where they live most of our firefighters have chosen to live elsewhere even - though they are paid well more than the average resident whom they serve.

I don't think that you read what I have written very carefully.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 11, 2010 at 10:29 am

"Just Wondering Again asks:"Still waiting for an answer.."
Your question is unrelated to this topic - feel free to start a new topic on your question."

I'll take that a a yes, Peter, you like ripping off taxpayers.

And to the forum editor: The next time I call out PC for being evasive, do NOT delete it as being disrespectful - it is simply the TRUTH, as evidenced by the above evasive answer.


Like this comment
Posted by district cost
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 11, 2010 at 10:45 am


I understand that the fire district has a budget of over 30million. also, that compensation is about 70 pct of that and that at just over 100 employees, the cost per employee is about 200k - salary, retirement, health, etc. how many are firefighters and how many are clerical? admin?

i also once saw a presentation that the typical years fire damage is about 1/2 million, sometimes more, sometimes less. does that seem excessive? $30mill, 7 stations, 100 employees for 1/2 million?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

Just wondering states:
"Still waiting for an answer.."

And you will wait a long time for an answer from me.

I am no longer an elected officials and therefore I now have the privilege of choosing to answer only those questions which are both intelligent and respectful - your questions always fail this simple test.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 11, 2010 at 11:03 am

Dear District Cost - All of the information you desire is posted on the Fire District's web site - you might try doing a proper citizen's homework.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by wish i had a pension like that
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm


The following list of 16 persons are retired from the Menlo Park Fire District. Each of these individuals is a member of the $100,000 per year pension club. FYI, only one Menlo Park police officer has made it into this club, former commander Terri Molakides.



SHURSON, RANDAL $9,717.07 $116,604.84 MENLO PARK FPD
RICE, WAYDE $9,709.38 $116,512.56 MENLO PARK FPD
HALL, RICHARD $9,554.42 $114,653.04 MENLO PARK FPD
GIRAUDO, JOHN $9,498.91 $113,986.92 MENLO PARK FPD
ZAHND, CHRISTOPHER $9,492.44 $113,909.28 MENLO PARK FPD
STURTEVANT, CHARLES $9,334.62 $112,015.44 MENLO PARK FPD
HITCHCOCK, DAVID $9,087.72 $109,052.64 MENLO PARK FPD
DEMARTINI, DOUGLAS $8,884.23 $106,610.76 MENLO PARK FPD
EDENS, LEANNA $8,773.82 $105,285.84 MENLO PARK FPD
ALLORO-LICHENSTEIN, PAULA $8,527.74 $102,332.88 MENLO PARK FPD
JULIHN, MILES $8,466.49 $101,597.88 MENLO PARK FPD
YOUNG, PAUL $8,344.91 $100,138.92 MENLO PARK FPD
AUGER, GREGORY $12,419.53 $149,034.36 MENLO PARK FPD
AUGER, RICHARD $12,329.47 $147,953.64 MENLO PARK FPD
LICHTENSTEIN, JAMES $11,522.62 $138,271.44 MENLO PARK FPD
GREENE, EDWARD $11,457.13 $137,485.56 MENLO PARK FPD


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:03 am

These are the firefighters who have already retired - just what until you see the figures for new retiring firefighters !

The Fire District has just spent more than $13 million from its reserves to start covering its unfunded retirement liabilities - a critical step and one which practically no other local agency is doing.
Saying that a local government has reserves without subtracting their unfunded retirement liabilities from those reserves is dishonest.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:31 am

Correction - the paydown is not $13 million but:

"The Board of Directors authorizes the District to proceed with the pay down of the PERS safety group side fund in an amount not to exceed $14,600,000."


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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