Fire board President Chuck Bernstein cast the sole vote against a new contract that gives the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's non-firefighter union members 9 percent in raises over three years, plus more generous benefits, when the board met Tuesday night, Jan. 16.
The contract for members of the American Federation of State and Local Employees (AFSCME) union also includes a matching clause, a provision that automatically gives the 11 positions it covers increased benefits if the district's non-union employees (management and upper level administration) negotiate better benefits for themselves.
According to the state, the fire district already has the highest average wages of any state or local government agency.
A staff report says the new contract will cost the district $125,591 more than the current contract over its three-year term.
"I think the agreement doesn't represent the community standards," said fire board President Bernstein, who is the founder and head of the Early Learning Institute, a local business with 125 employees.
But other board members supported the new contract. Board member Virginia Chang Kiraly said she had some concerns that had been addressed in a closed-session meeting earlier that evening. The contract, she said, is "not a perfect agreement because no agreement's going to be perfect."
"We did the best we can and I'm comfortable with where we're heading right now," she said.
Board member Peter Carpenter agreed. "Every agreement is a compromise between the representatives of the two parties, he said. "I know these things are not easy to do."
Mr. Bernstein said he had "been advised here to vote for (the contract) because that would show support for our employees."
"I am appreciative of what our employees do," he said. But many local taxpayers also work very hard, and may have had to retire without the public pensions and health care fire district employees will receive, he said.
Board members Robert Jones and Rob Silano also voted for the contract.
The contract gives an additional paid holiday on Columbus Day and additional paid time off for employees who have worked for the district 10 or more years, in trade for employees paying their own state disability insurance premiums.
Four of the district's current members of AFSCME have more than 10 years seniority, Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.
Under the contract, the top base salary for the positions, by the time the third 3 percent raise is awarded in 2020, will be: administrative analyst, $92,714; administrative assistant, $76,082; administrative specialist, $86,716; emergency services coordinator, $99,075; fire prevention coordinator, $100,590; fleet supervisor, $130,846; logistic specialist, $86,131; mechanic, $102,312; plans examiner, $126,616; public education officer, $99,046; and senior management analyst, $136,575.
Paid time off, which includes vacation, sick and personal leave, will be increased under the new contract for employees with 10 or more years with the district. Brand new employees receive 204 hours a year of paid time off, or more than five 40-hour weeks. Employees with 19 or more years with the district will receive 324 hours of paid time off annually, or more than eight 40-hour weeks.
Employees who can't find a way to take the time off can take their accrued hours in cash once a year.
In addition, employees receive 14 paid holidays a year, including two floating holidays. The employees covered by the contract work four 10-hour days a week and receive overtime for all hours worked beyond 40.
They also receive $250 a month in extra pay for living within 30 miles of the district. That benefit started at $100 a month in 2015 and was raised to $200 a month in 2016 and $250 a month in 2017.
All but one member of AFSCME receive the benefit for living within 30 miles of the district, Chief Schapelhouman said.
Employees covered by the contract also get an extra 2.5 percent in hourly pay if they have a two-year associate's degree and an extra 5 percent if they have a bachelor's degree. The new contract makes it even easier to get that pay boost by reimbursing employees for tuition, enrollment fees and books for any courses that "increase employees' competence in their present job or prepare them for advancement" in the district.
The district-provided life insurance will also increase from a $25,000 policy to a $100,000 policy, under the new contract.
The fire board also meet in closed session to discuss acquiring a house at 2110 Valparaiso Ave. in unincorporated West Menlo Park, next door to the district's fire station at 3322 Alameda de las Pulgas. The board did not announce any agreement.
The district has scheduled the Alameda station for replacement in 2022.
The Valparaiso Avenue house is not currently listed for sale, but Zillow estimates its value at $2.22 million; it was listed as available for rent for $6,200 a month. The three-bedroom, two-bath house is 2,050 square feet on an approximately 6,000-square-foot lot.
The district's Alameda fire station lot is slightly more than a half-acre in size, and sits on the corner of Valparaiso and Alameda.