News


Firefighters union rejects latest offer

 

It's back again (and again) to the bargaining table for firefighters with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, which covers Atherton, East Palo Alto, and unincorporated areas, as well as Menlo Park.

The union rejected the latest offer from the district, tendered in a letter on Aug. 18, which included an additional $750 per month for health and post-employment benefits, but did not dangle a pay raise.

Peter Ohtaki, the district's board president and Menlo Park City Council candidate, said the offer was made while residents and other fire departments are enduring a recession.

"The District promises no layoffs or furloughs through next year due to prudent financial planning. We've spent a lot of time preparing an offer that is attractive to our firefighters and fair to taxpayers," he said.

The union rejected the offer by Aug. 30. The district's firefighters also filed a lawsuit in July over the issue of overtime pay for time spent picking up equipment before and after their shifts start. Last year the district decided to replace salaries with hourly wages, leading to the overtime dispute.

John Wurdinger, president of the Menlo Park division of the International Association of Firefighters union, declined to specify the reasons for the rejection.

When asked if the firefighters voted to reject the offer, or whether the union leaders alone decided, he replied, "The firefighters responded to the (district's) letter."

Both parties previously scheduled a negotiation meeting for Sept. 13.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 31, 2010 at 6:21 pm

While we all appreciate the work of our public safety officers (fire and police), they too should appreciate the fact that they have a good job. When other fire agencies up and down the state are facing budget cuts, lay-offs, downsizing, station closing, and outsourcing; our fire fighters should be pleased that the Fire District hasn't had impose these conditions here.

I'm all for fair compensation and that's what they get paid. Working for the government (as a public servant) was never intended to be a get rich job. The union leaders need to wake up and realize what kind of economic times we live in.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 31, 2010 at 6:46 pm

It would be interesting to know if the union leadership rejected the offer without a vote of the firefighters or if the firefighters them selves rejected the offer. I strongly suspect that the union leadership rejected the offer without a vote of the members. We are fortunate to have a superb group of firefighters; they are unfortunate to have poor union leaders. The union leaders simply refuse to accept the fact that the firefighters are already paid well above the average of the communities which they serve plus having an extremely generous retirement program.

And thanks to the Fire Board for continuing to hold the line.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 31, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Disgraceful, disgusting, and outrageous, given the hole that the California economy is so manifestly in. Par for the course when it comes to the unions of our so-called "public servants".

The best solution would be to outlaw the union and fire anyone who complains.


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Funny! In the daly post last Thursday they ran the salaries of the fire department and compared them to last year. The fire chief last year got almost a 10% raise with other chiefs got 13% or more. The majority of the firefighters had gotten a pay cut. I do not think we are getting the whole story here. This sounds like this news paper is trying to spin something. I appreciate the daly putting that out. I wonder mr carpenter while you bash the firefighters were you doing that to put a smoke screen over your true intensions. Wow 10% in one year what a joke!


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 6:48 am

George - the 'whole story' is that the firefighters demanded an 11% pay raise in 2008 and the Board, on which I then sat, refused. The firefighters then refused to negotiate and so are still being paid at their 2008 rates because there is no new contract.

The senior staff/chiefs are covered by a separate contract that included a one year salary freeze so the 10% figure is really the change over a 2+ year period.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 6:55 am

The Fire District is one of the most transparent local governments in the nation - see this page on their web site for details on labor relations:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Sep 1, 2010 at 7:32 am

Peter,
The article in the post compared the salaries from 2008 to 2009 that is one year and there seems too be no pay deferral. If I were a firefighter and saw the chief getting a 10% pay raise in one year why wouldn't I ask for that? Thank you for pointing me to the districts website. I looked through the site and found the group the chief also get 15% in specialty pays. I partially looked through the fire fighters contract and nothing of the sort in there. I will look more later. I am sure that the truth is out there and we are not getting it here.
George


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 10:19 am

George - you deserve a better answer than I was able to give and I have asked the Fire District to answer your question more fully.


Like this comment
Posted by Frugal
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Why not cross train firemen and policeman and lay off a bunch of each? A patrolman can go to a fire if necessary. Downside though is the city won't earn as much in traffic tickets.


Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Frugal, you raise a point worth some discussion. Before I state my opinion on the subject, I'd like to make two things clear-(1) I do not believe organized labor has any place in the public sector, and (2) I happen to support the idea of outsourcing public services when both economic and efficiency benefits exist.
I know that some cities actually do combine fire, police and paramedic services, with the fine people staffing those functions rotating between the three every 6-12 months. I believe the nearest example of this approach is in Sunnyvale. Here are a couple of issues that have always bothered me about such an approach-listed in my perceived order of importance.
• I think most people who pursue such careers do so out of a passion
for their profession. Some want to be fire fighters, some want to
be police officers, some want to save lives as paramedics. I think
it is that passion that drives an individual to be the best they
can be, and for me, when I need one, I want the best of each.
• Sort of related to my first point, these are not jobs that are
merely "give me my assignment and pay me my money" They all
require special and constant training and practice (emergencies
tend to do that). To expect someone to be equally dedicated in
these diverse skill sets is unrealistic.
• Lastly, I'm not so sure that there would be any savings to be had.
In a given city, you have the potential to need fire, police and
paramedic services at any time, and people can't be in two places
at once. Also, from a market value standpoint, who is more
valuable (command a higher salary), a person trained in one
profession, or someone trained in three? It could conceivably wind
up costing more
• Just one more, and this is a bit tongue in cheek, which union
would get to represent them?


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Sep 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Frugal, your idea has some merit, but rather than (for example) firing 50% of police/fire by making them cover each others' duties, would not the public be better served by keeping the same number, and reducing pay and benefits by 50%?

I guarantee that given California's 12.5% unemployment rate, there will be absolutely no problem hiring qualified police and fire for half the current king's ransom.


Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Let the terminations begin. Then they will come to their senses.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

A quick check of the City of Sunnyvale budget shows their cost for Public Safety for the 2010/11 budget to be $70,842,461. Of that, $24,322,852 is for Police services and $25,891,213 is for Fire services with the balance being misc. services. The estimated population is 140,450. So per capita cost for police is $173.18 and per capita for fire is $184.34. Not knowing Menlo Park's per capita cost for fire, it's hard to make a comparison, but it sure looks like they save on Police costs. It makes sense when you think about the lack of duplicate command structures.

Peter: what is the per capita cost for Menlo Park for the Fire District?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Menlo Voter asks:"Peter: what is the per capita cost for Menlo Park for the Fire District?"

A quick response is that the Fire District serves about 100,000 people with a budget of about $31 million so that would be about $310 per capita. Note that is fully burned with all of the District's overhead costs. Your figures for Sunnyvale probably do not include the overhead component - Council/Board, City Manager, space costs, payroll etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm

The story has been updated with a response from the union.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm

"
When asked if the firefighters voted to reject the offer, or whether the union leaders alone decided, he replied, "The firefighters responded to the (district's) letter."

Translation - NO the firefighters did NOT vote on the offer; this decision was made by the union leaders without a vote. Sad.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Peter:

Actually Mr. Wurdinger said it would be inaccurate to say the union leaders rejected the offer without a vote.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm

"Actually Mr. Wurdinger said it would be inaccurate to say the union leaders rejected the offer without a vote."

Wurdinger is a clever person - a vote by whom? I suggest it was a vote by the union leaders. A vote by all of the members would have required at least three 2 day shifts to occur.

Ask him - did all the members vote on the proposal - yes or no?

It is important because if the members did not vote to reject the offer then the public rage should rightly be directed at the union leaders and not at the firefighters - which may be why Wurdinger is obfuscating.


Like this comment
Posted by KJ
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 1, 2010 at 6:30 pm

FIRE the [portion deleted] Union: Pay these people what they are worth...I would say....$60,000/yr. And be done with it... Limit the OT pay to $10K a year MAX....OR I will do the job...not too tough to sit around a firehouse an BBQ steaks. Emergency's...ok...but give me a break!
I will take that job! [portion deleted.]


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2010 at 7:12 am

Peter:

the overhead component exists for both cities, so is it really worth considering in the comparison? On the surface it certainly looks like a public safety department could offer significant savings without out sourcing.


Like this comment
Posted by broke taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2010 at 10:12 am

Too much is not enough!

The fire district gets $200,000 in pay and benefits per employee!


Like this comment
Posted by Dharma
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:29 pm

In more than half the fire districts in the US the firemen are VOLUNTEER. That was true even back when buildings had knob and tube electrical with no grounding, homes had flammable walls and gas lamps and commercial buildings had no fire sprinklers or smoke detectors and there were lots of fires. But in unionized cities the fireman who would be at his day job until the fire bell rings is instead at the station house being paid for three 24 hour days, then off for six days. For this he is paid no less than $100,000 per year in the Menlo Park Fire District. On retirement at 50 years old, he has to live on only $90,000 per year. Plus healthcare. With inflation protection. That works because the budget for the Fire District is about equal to the entire general fund budget of the City of Menlo Park. Your tax dollars at work.


Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I am with Dharma......Lets have a Volunteer Fire Department....


It will be great, we can take care of each other....Unless of course there is something interesting on the TV, and your house is on the other side of town......In that case.....well there must be lots of other volunteers........And when they arrive......OK so they don't know their arses from their elbows...BUT hey the volunteers have arrived.....

Right, so lets get serious....First both sides should be treated with respect....."Wurdinger" is Mr. Wurdinger, he represents the Firefighters, you do not have to like it. It simply is......


Mr. Wurdinger.....We do not have the money (as a community) to meet the Unions demands. How can we resolve this impasse?


Looking forward to your response....Thank You


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Menlo Voter asks:"the overhead component exists for both cities, so is it really worth considering in the comparison? "

Yes it is critical to include the fully burdened cost, i.e. including overhead. The figures you gave do not include overhead, the MPFPD figures do include overhead.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Dharma staes:"the budget for the Fire District is about equal to the entire general fund budget of the City of Menlo Park.'

Yes and the City of Menlo Park serves about 34,000 people and the Fire District serves about 100,000 people - Menlo Park plus East Palo Alto plus Atherton plus some of the adjacent unincorporated areas of San Mateo County.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2010 at 7:47 pm

So what is teh break out Peter? What are the costs without overhead? If we know those we can make a more accurate comparison.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Menlo Voter the question is what is the true overhead rate that should be added to the figures which you cited? The MPFPD budget is all inclusive and hence fully burdened with all of their overhead costs - I know of no way to determine their overhead costs. And you may know of no way to determine Sunnyvale's overhead costs - so we would simply have to agree that we are comparing apples and oranges.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 2, 2010 at 8:42 pm

If you do not know the overhead percentage rate for Menlo Park, you could "impose" the rate from a comparable district on Menlo Park. It won't be exact, but it will be close enough for this back-of-the-envelope analysis.

You could also contact someone from the finance office at the district or look at their audited financial statements (although "overhead" often means different things to different people!).


Like this comment
Posted by tom h
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm

intereting that the retired firemen in our area want to decrease beifits for the new fire fighters now that they have hugh retirment packages.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 9, 2010 at 7:25 am

George stated:"I am sure that the truth is out there and we are not getting it here."

I have further researched the chiefs' salary 'information' included in the Daily Post - when the complete facts come out after a competent reporter does his or her homework the Daily Post will be embarrassed by their incomplete and shallow 'reporting'.

The full details will be included in the agenda package for the Fire Board's 21 Sept. meeting. I think that we will all be very proud of the position being taken by the Fire District's leadership.


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

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