Raises, more benefits, for non-firefighter employees approved by Menlo fire board

New perks include new paid holiday, more paid time off for longtime employees, education reimbursements

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.


Sign up for Almanac Express to get news updates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


16 people like this
Posted by Who is Driving the Bus?
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 18, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Who is Driving the Bus? is a registered user.

Kudos to Chuck Bernstein for voting against this bloated contract. Even though the other directors voted in favor at least there is one responsible Board member. As for Ms. Kiraly: "The contract", she said, is "not a perfect agreement because no agreement's going to be perfect." Is this supposed to pass for wisdom?

Remember, the public safety contract with a different labor union is up next. Will the Board grow a spine in dealing with them? Don't hold your breath.

26 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 18, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Time to scrap the fire district all together and start over. Yes, we need fire protection services, yes we will have to pay for them - but we need to unwind this completely over grown and over priced (and over taxed) mess. Residents, time to get involved and together we can do so much better. We don’t need our fire department working as real estate speculators.

23 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:09 am

Thank goodness for Chuck Bernstein; he appears to be the only one with real business experience, and is willing to hold the line against more raises for the entity with the "highest average wages in the state". And all the former fire board President, Mr. Carpenter, can spout is pablam. "Every agreement is a compromise...". No compromising here, the Fire District is absolutely shaking us taxpayer upside down emptying our pockets.

13 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Chuck Bernstein should run for the Menlo Park Council and use his skills there. The fire district runs in spite of itself. The MP Council needs a new face, like Chuck’s.

Virginia Chang Kiraly is already breaking ground for a Board of Supervisors run. Maybe she can run for that seat, stay on the fire board and harbor district. She can appear 3 times on the ballot, at the same time.

How wonderful!

14 people like this
Posted by Pot Meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2018 at 3:31 pm

It seems to me the biggest challenge the Fire District has right now is finding ways to use its largess.

At this point would anyone be surprised to see the Fire District purchase a helicopter for use in rescuing Atherton and West Menlo residents from their swimming pools? Of course, it would justify the purchase on the grounds that a helicopter is the only way to bypass rush hour traffic on Willow).

5 people like this
Posted by GetOverYourselves
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Lets remember these jobs help RUN & SUPPORT our fire department, they are ESSENTIAL to the functionality of the FD. Menlo Park is an expensive area to live and work in - we have to pay our civil servants wages to match. Take a look at the job descriptions for these positions, they're likely to require a lot of in-depth knowledge and skills. A fleet manager probably has to be pretty familiar with the various apparatus an FD has and the NFPA codes on replacement timelines. A plan checker has to know building codes, fire codes and municipal codes, and perform inspections. The mechanic has to know that fleet inside and out and keep a multitude of vehicles maintained and running to respond to YOUR emergency call without breaking down along the way. The public information officer is the voice for the department and its programs and on calls. Administrative Assistants serve the public and almost every member of the department, from answering phone calls and being knowledgeable about smoke alarms, the best senior medical alert devices, to dealing with the mountain of paperwork it takes to document everything in the name of transparency to the public.

While this contract was indeed lucrative, why don't we think of the functions these job positions fill for our communities? We ask a lot from our fire departments these days - not just to respond to fires, but to be all-risk agencies that show up and know what to do when we need them most. You can't run a car without gas, or use the internet without a computer or device, and you can't run a fire department without it's administrative division. We should support our fire departments instead of trying to dismantle them.

And if you're truly concerned about what's happening with MPFD, stop hiding behind the comments section of an online news article and attend a Fire Board meeting.

3 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2018 at 5:54 pm

Congrats Virginia Chang Kiraly as Harbor District Board President. Your experience with both the Fire Board and Harbor District will put you in a great position for that Board of Supervisors run.

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

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 38 comments | 2,128 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 543 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 315 views


The Almanac Readers' Choice ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "The Almanac Readers' Choice" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 27th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 17th issue of The Almanac.