Fire board to impose terms on union employees


The latest resolution from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors outlines almost three years of back-and-forth contract negotiations with the firefighters union that stalled with impasse after impasse. Now it looks like the next step is imposing terms.

On Tuesday, April 19, the board will vote whether to implement new benefits at a level first offered in November. The terms include an additional $350 per month for health and welfare benefits, and $400 more per month for post-employment health benefits, but no salary increase.

Currently, the firefighters have the option to take that money home, according to a union representative.

"A member who takes that $750 home in cash won't be able to under this imposition," said John Wurdinger, vice president of the Menlo Park Firefighters Association Local 2400. "It works out to a 7.7 percent pay decrease. Ten to 15 percent of our membership has either gone bankrupt, had houses foreclosed on, lost homes. We were already down $300 to $500 per month because of increases in healthcare costs. It's sad. I don't know how else to put it."

Negotiations between the board and union first ground to a halt in 2009 after Local 2400 filed a grievance with the state's Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) alleging unfair labor practices.

Talks broke down again in October 2010 after union representatives asked to meet with the district's board members individually after refusing to meet with designated negotiators. The board declined the request, saying in a response letter that it would violate state law.

The district sent another letter last November to union leadership saying it would double the amount put toward health benefits in hopes of coaxing the union back to the bargaining table after the firefighters rejected an offer of $750 per month towards their health plan.

Now, as the PERB case heads to court in May, the district plans to impose the new terms. "While the hearing is set for next month, it could be another two years before the case is fully and finally adjudicated, once you consider the possibility of appeals. The district doesn't believe it can or should wait for completion of such a lengthy and uncertain process," said Rick Bolanos, who serves as the labor representative for the district.

Mr. Wurdinger said the union believes it will win the case. "If we weren't very confident, we wouldn't have held out this long."

Board director Peter Carpenter, speaking only for himself in an email, called the PERB case without merit and thinks it will be dismissed. "The union would have been well advised to start behaving like the other public service unions in California and have returned to the bargaining table with concessions rather than an unwavering demand for an 11% salary increase."

Mr. Wurdinger acknowledged that public sentiment has shifted against unions, but said the firefighters don't deserve to be treated with a lack of respect and common courtesy.

"I'm not evil. I'm just a fireman," he said with a rueful laugh. "I'm the guy who gets your cat out of the tree or performs CPR on your grandmother."

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm

This issue continues to be distressing. In a time when other public employees are making concessions, I haven't read or heard that our firefighters are willing to help out.

Based on the quotes above from the union rep, I wonder why he believes employees should have the option of taking home $750 and opting out of the health coverage. This wouldn't happen in most businesses today. I also take issue with some other comments of being treated with disrespect. I believe our community has been supportive of public safety employees and appreciate when they show up in an emergency.

In past articles and other public information available, it does seem, however, that the pay scale for public employees, including fire and police, is out of balanced. It's time for the pendulum to swing back towards center. I have no problem with our elected officials saying enough is enough.

Like this comment
Posted by advise
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I don't feel sorry for fire fighters. They have a job with security. I know many, many people who are out of work, and without benefits. The unions have to stop the politics as usual approach. Of course, safety personnel are appreciated. I also appreciate my car mechanic, my baby sitter, my children's school teachers. FF have had it so good for so long, I don't buy into this crying act.

Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

"I'm not evil. I'm just a fireman," he said with a rueful laugh.

I believe Mr. Wurdiger is incorrect in his stance. That said I would very much prefer that Ms. Brundage not editorialize in her reporting. The description of Mr. Wurdingers laugh as "rueful" is a matter of opinion....NOT reporting.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm

The only question that matters is how easy is it to hire qualified replacement firefighters at the proposed compensation level. If it is easy, the firefighters are overpaid. Otherwise, they are not.

Given unemployment rates in California in double digits, it is very hard to believe that firefighters are not considerably overpaid.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm

The Fire District has more than 100 qualified applicants whenever it has a vacancy.

Clearly these people do not think that they are applying for a low pay/low benefits/poor working conditions job.

Like this comment
Posted by Fire them all!
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Joe Davis is correct!

Fire all these trained, experienced firefighters!

Let's replace them with lower paid, unregulated private contractors, that submit the lowest bid!

Let's start with the ones near his house, by replacing all the firefighters that service Emerald Hills. Actually, let's save even more money and close that firehouse and consolidate down to the one on Jefferson near ECR.

We bought those trucks with big ol' red lights and nice loud fancy sirens, they can make the additional distance in a couple minutes.

Why, how many times have they ever called on Joe's block? Probably a couple times a decade. What a waste.

Maybe RWC and Woodside only need one fire house. What's a couple minutes when you never use them, anyway?

Firefighters. More evil than teachers, in my opinion. Clearly the cause of our fiscal mess. Probably caused the Wall St disaster, too.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Fire them all! has the right idea. I would just state that replacement firefighters should be qualified and competent, and that service levels should be maintained. It is easy to see that it is possible to do so and save a considerable amount of money.

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

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