News

Fire board member opposes proposed contract

 

It's been seven years since firefighters working for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District have worked under a contract. If district governing board member Chuck Bernstein were to have his way, they will be working without a contract into the fall.

Mr. Bernstein was alone in his dissent among his four colleagues when the board voted 4-1 in July to post the new contract for public comment. The contract with the San Mateo County Firefighters Local 2400 represents years of "protracted and contentious negotiations," Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman has said.

Mr. Bernstein, in an Aug. 3 letter to fire district residents, makes several arguments about why he plans to vote no when the contract comes before the board for approval on Aug. 25. After expressing his pride in the district's performance, Mr. Bernstein said he believes the contract "represents a terrible deal for residents and taxpayers."

Among his assertions: the money used to boost firefighters' pay would be better spent on equipment and facilities; increases in total compensation exceed the consumer price index by 60 percent; firefighters are too well paid given the typical firefighter's education; and an oversupply of applicants for firefighting jobs does not justify the increases.

The board has scheduled a vote for Tuesday, Aug. 25. Board meetings start at 7 p.m. at 300 Middlefield Road in Menlo Park.

The contract requires the district to make a one-time payment to firefighters a total of $1.5 million as a result of the district's having engaged in unlawful piecemeal bargaining and acting unilaterally, according to rulings by the state Public Employment Relations Board.

In general, firefighters' average base salaries would rise by 18 percent over three years. They would pay an additional 3 percent of their pension costs, and 10 percent of health care costs. They would also receive a stipend for living within 60 miles of the main fire station. The contract would cost the district about $9.8 million over four years.

Fire district responds

Chief Schapelhouman responded to several of Mr. Bernstein's points. The district was not expecting the letter, he said, so responses to specific assertions about compensation, including the cost-of-living issue, would have to wait for an analysis by Municipal Resource Group LLC, the district's Danville-based consultant.

In his letter, Mr. Bernstein put firefighter total compensation increases in the context of larger issues, such as the district's need to upgrade facilities, buy new equipment to deal with taller buildings, and "find either new routes or new equipment that can bypass our increasingly congested roads."

"Though the District is well endowed with tax revenues, it will need to spend a great deal over the next 20 years to maintain its current response rates," he said. "Frustration with excessive compensation and benefits will rightfully discourage residents from approving bond issues and other means of financing these needs when they could have been obtained using existing resources that taxpayers feel have been squandered."

"I don't agree with that statement," Chief Schapelhouman said. The district can handle facility upgrades of $7 million to $10 million each with existing resources, he said. The current budget projects a $17.3 million balance in the capital improvement fund, a balance that grows by at least $2.5 million a year, he said.

The district's one ladder truck now has a crew of three, but the new contract would raise that to four. Mr. Bernstein argues that ladder trucks never deploy alone, so additional firefighters are always available, and that the district has a higher priority: buying and staffing a second and possibly a third ladder truck in response to increased traffic congestion.

"Firefighters see (a fourth crew member) as a safety issue, and I can't disagree," the chief said. Ladder truck crews tend to be more experienced, and have "high-intensity, high-risk" jobs, often involving complex rescues using technical equipment, he said. A fourth crew member has been a standing request for seven years, he said.

The district, Mr. Bernstein said, augments a firefighter's $100,000 to $200,000 annual salary when the firefighter has a college degree, but degrees are uncommon. Residents such as teachers and child care workers have more degrees but are paid much less. "It is not fair or reasonable to tax our residents making less money in fields requiring more education and training to pay for this excess," he said.

Those non-firefighting occupations "are valuable positions, but are these people being placed in harm's way?" Chief Schapelhouman asked. "It's very difficult, dirty, hard work. ... We put ourselves between the emergency and the public. Public safety is a difficult job."

Firefighters in situations involving rescues can contract diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis C, he said. Firefighting suits gain weight as they absorb toxins from fires. "We may know all that," he said, "but does that mean that we don't go in?"

Fire district administrative employees receive a stipend for living within 30 miles of the district, but the new contract with firefighters expands that distance to 60 miles. "In a severe emergency, where transportation was disrupted, it would help little to have firefighters stranded in Petaluma, Stockton, and Salinas," Mr. Bernstein said.

This provision is about less-than-major emergencies, the chief said, and "will help us refill positions more quickly." He said he knows of California firefighters who live outside the state and even outside the country. A firefighter is paid overtime for every hour of travel back to the station, he said.

As for an oversupply of job applicants, the chief said that more than half don't show up for the evaluations, and many are unfamiliar with the qualifications. Applicants are winnowed to those who indicate a strong interest in the district.

==I Go to menlofire.org for details on the new contract.==

Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 12, 2015 at 12:32 pm

The argument that fire fighters should not get pay raises because compared to better educated teachers, fire-fighters are over-paid is absurd. Could it be that it's not that they are overpaid, but that teachers are grossly under paid? We expect firefighters to put their lives on the line to rescue us, but we pay them less than they need to live in the communities they serve.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Marie:

many firefighters could afford to live here, most of them choose not to. Our firefighters are very well paid.


5 people like this
Posted by Hiding behind anonymity
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2015 at 12:54 pm


But then again, it does seem like the local government sector does get to operate under a different set of efficiencies than the private sector. 500 job applicants for every job would demand that salary increases be muted, all the more because the supply of non-college educated individuals is numerous.

But the there's the harm's way argument. Well, I do suppose that is an argument that should be equally applied to triple military pay to bring it in line with fire fighter salaries.

If we're having problems with retention, by all means be liberal with your salary increases. If not, why do I have to pay so far beyond the rate at which job supply and demand balance out?


3 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 12, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Really ! The Chief makes a good points, what fire service experience does Mr. Bernstein have, to fully understand
both sides of the coin ? It may seem like a huge raise, but when you divide everything by seven, it's not so big
now is it. Mr. Bernstein makes some good points, he just needs a better understanding of how the fire service
functions, like 3 of the other board members.


6 people like this
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Who is there in the middle of the night to save your life before you can get to the ER? The MPFPD. I have seen first hand the incredibly important and often life-saving work that they do. They do not need a Ph.D. to do their jobs. Pay them these increases! Bernstein can go pound sand.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

water:

by your logic we should pay them whatever they ask. It isn't necessary. There's a reason there are 100 applicants for every open position. Positions that only seem to open due to retirements by the way. It's a well paying job with some risk. The risk isn't as great as they would make it out to be. A year or so ago I researched it. Of the top 30 most dangerous jobs in the country, firefighters didn't even make the list. Police officers did.


Like this comment
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2015 at 2:04 pm

That's not my logic at all.


Like this comment
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Btw, I don't care about the cops - they're not the subject here. I also didn't say anything about risk. I wrote about their being there in the middle of the night and saving lives.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 12, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire Board, of which I am an elected Director, took the extraordinary step in 2008 of adopting a resolution (RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT ADOPTING A POLICY REGARDING DISTRIBUTION
OF PROPOSED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS) requiring that BEFORE the Board acts on a tentative labor agreement that agreement must be made available for public comment for at least 15 days.

This sunshine policy is unique amongst local public agencies.

At it July meeting 4 Directors voted to provide the tentative agreement to the public for the public's comments and do do so for 30 days before meeting on Aug 23 to consider the tentative agreement. Only Director Bernstein voted against seeking public input on the tentative agreement.

The purpose of this public comment period is to get the public's input BEFORE the Board considers this tentative agreement.

As an elected official I feel it is my obligation to hear what the public has to say about this tentative agreement BEFORE I decide how to vote - why else seek public input?

However, Director Bernstein has already declared that he will vote against approval of this agreement before getting public input.

I urge interested citizens to go to the Fire District's web site, read the tentative agreement and submit any questions you have to the Clerk of the Board. Answers to those questions will be posted on the District's web site.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

I am posting these comments as an individual and not on behalf of the Fire District or the Fire Board.


3 people like this
Posted by competent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 2:26 pm

A reasonable person that has been following this issue will assume Carpenter and the others are competent. It was the endorsement by Carpenter and others that gave Bernstein credibility as a fire board candidate, but now Bernstein wants to challenge this credibility.

Regardless of his other credentials, Bernstein basically opporates a day care, he has never worked as an emergency responder. The chief did oppoint him to oversee CERT, but he has never preciously been CERT certified, or shown any interest in disaster preparedness.

The lack of any challengers in this election cycle is a clear indicated that residents are happy to have a contract, that the current board is able to work together in a collaborative and respectful way, and that campaign drama is not necessary.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

water:

they're there in the middle of the night saving lives because that's what we pay them to do. Quite well I might add. If it wasn't a well paying job we wouldn't have so many applicants for every opening. The market indicates they are over paid now (100 applicants for every opening). When there are fewer applicants for openings it will indicate the pay is actually coming into line with the value of the job.


4 people like this
Posted by Mickie Winkler
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 12, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Why did the Fire Chief oppose the addition of a fourth man on the hook and ladder for 7 years before supporting it now?

Why did he prviously say there are 300 qualified applicants for every job. (In LA they are saying they have 3000 such applicants.)

Dr. Bernstein asserts that "The District has released information to the press indicating that “BASE compensation” will increase 18%. However, that figure is misleading insofar as TOTAL compensation, from 2014-15 to 2017-18,
is projected by the District to increase 41% (from $13,620,217 in 2014-15 to $19,194,705 in 2017-18), four times the increase in the cost of living."

Why does The District have to consult with a consultant to verify (or try and disprove) Bernstein's assertion? Especially AFTER the union contract has been tentatively approved. What will happen if Bernstein is correct, as he probably is?

How can the District justify a stipend for living within a 60 mile radius of Menlo Park. I remember when the talk was about a 20 mile radius. How many firefighters already live within that radius and will get a raise for doing it? The union won big time on that.

There are many other problems with this contract including pension issues. To criticize a contract should not be confused with denegrating firefighters or the work they do.


5 people like this
Posted by competent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Bernstein's current path could lead to further lawsuits, costing the district another million in legal fees and fines. We'd prefer to see that million go into refurbishing and replacing antiquated equipment.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 8:40 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

competent sounds like a MPFPD firefighter.


Like this comment
Posted by competent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 12, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Sorry no, and I have no government pension. Like many others in town, I trust that Carpenter has this under control.


1 person likes this
Posted by Alllivesmatter
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2015 at 5:09 am

If I'm following Director Bernstein's thought process correctly - the Communites of Prescott Arizona who lost 19 members of a wildland fire crew in on burn over, or the Communites of China where 12 firefighters lost their lives in one big boom within the last 24 hours, have nothing to worry about because there are plenty more applicants to immediately replace them. Mr Bernsteien use your education/instructor skill set and visit ground zero in New York and learn about the "343". Then when your in Sacramento lobbying for education dollars, research the California Firefighters Memorial - pay attention to the cancer and cardiac deaths while your their with you superior intellectual abilities. One more must see on your bucket list is the National Firefighter Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland - even more line of duty Cancer and Cardiac deaths their. Your Menlo Park Firefighters deserve your respect and industry standard compensation. Because "all lives matter" including those who stand ready to serve your fire suppression/advanced life support/technical rescue/hazmat abatement needs. The community expects our public agency policy makers, to utilize their highler education and critical thinking skills to better our protection, in our communities. Maintaining an workforce of experienced, confident, well trained responders is a must. Our Firefighters must be compensated with industry standard wages, medical and retirement benefits. Be fair because our "firefighters lives matter".


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 13, 2015 at 6:43 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

alllives:

if it was truly "industry standard" compensation there wouldn't be 100 applicants for every opening. It's a sweet compensation package especially when the retirement portion is considered and the fact that the schedule is 10 work days a month, leaving plenty of time for second jobs or side businesses which almost all of them have. Do you have any information as to whether or not firefighters suffer cancer and heart disease at greater rates than the general population? Also, there are far more dangerous occupations that earn far less compensation.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 13, 2015 at 6:50 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

top ten most dangerous jobs: Web Link

Check out their compensation.


1 person likes this
Posted by Nathan Wind
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 15, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Sounds like Chuck "Sabotage" Bernstein is at it again!! Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Just sayin'
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 15, 2015 at 9:49 pm

Those New York City firefighters you're referring to - who pretty much everyone would admit have much more dangerous jobs than our suburban firefighters - according to the New York City website make way, way less than ours do.
Web Link

And most east coast firefighters, especially those outside urban areas, are volunteers. They make no salary at all.


8 people like this
Posted by Dane J
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 15, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Lets get volunteers. You'd feel good with that when they show up hungover when your granddaughter's life is on the line.

And you get your first insurance bill.


Like this comment
Posted by credentials
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Chuck Bernstein has valid credentials to question a financial arrangement. He earned a Stanford MBA. He worked on public financials (including Menlo Park). He served on the Menlo Park Budget Advisory Committee. He raises legitimate questions.
You don't have to be a fire responder to understand finance related to pay and benefits. In fact, if you understand finance, you probably are not a fire person.


1 person likes this
Posted by malfeasance
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 16, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Bernstein writes, "the proposed contract is... excessively costly, and it provides nothing of significant benefit to residents," and "the board of directors failed to properly supervise the negotiations..."

This reads like an indictment. Bernstein will never get his way by accusing his fellow board members of malfeasance.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT
BOARD OF DIRECTORS' POLICY AND PROCEDURES MANUAL

"5.8 Board Members Conduct and Responsibilities
Conduct
The Fire District Board Members shall observe the following code of conduct designed to guide their actions in carrying out their responsibilities. A Fire District Board Member should strive to: Understand that his/her basic function is "policy" and not "administration";
1. Refuse to make commitments on any matter which should come before the Board as a whole;"


2 people like this
Posted by nonsense
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2015 at 3:17 pm

The comment Carpenter makes above, quoting a procedures manual, is stupid and ridiculous. This reads like an attempt to muzzle those who would disagree, and in this case, essentially the contract has been already presented to the board and only a "rubber stamp" is expected.

Good for Dr. Bernstein, willing to put real transparency into what has taken place, as the only board member apparently willing to calculate the real cost, and not take staff's word for its accuracy.

This is public money and should be protected.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 17, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

At it July 7th meeting the Fire Board Directors voted 4-1 to provide the tentative agreement to the public for the public's comments and do do so for 30 days before meeting on Aug 23 to consider the tentative agreement.

The purpose of this public comment period is to get the public's input BEFORE the Board considers this tentative agreement.

I urge interested citizens to go to the Fire District's web site, read the tentative agreement and submit any questions you have to the Clerk of the Board. Answers to those questions will be posted on the District's web site.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here are the questions and answers regarding the tentative agreement:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2015 at 11:59 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the latest update of the Questions and Answers:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Peter, would this be a fair statement?

"It is interesting to note that the Fire Board meeting is schedule at exactly the same time as the City Council meeting - another nice way to exclude input on the labor contract from all those who will be attending the City Council meeting".









Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Anyone who wants to comment can send their comments to the Clerk of the Board and those comments will be distributed at the meeting.

mradcliffe@MenloFire.org

And the Fire Board's discussion of the Tentative Contract was scheduled well before the ECR Study Session by the City Council was even agendized.


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

Redwood City gets new brewery
By Elena Kadvany | 11 comments | 4,972 views

Learning Disabilities and the Struggle to Be Known
By Aldis Petriceks | 0 comments | 1,094 views

Couples: A Relationship Test . . .
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 637 views

Food Party! SOS
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 367 views

Enjoy every configuration of your family
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 349 views