San Gabriel settles pension reform deal with labor associations
BY JIM E. WINBURN
San Gabriel announced that it has formed a tentative agreement with the city’s police association and two other public employee groups after 13 months of tense labor negotiations.
The City Council unanimously approved memorandums of understanding at Wednesday’s meeting that outline salary, benefits and working conditions for the San Gabriel Police Officers Association, San Gabriel Firefighters Association, and San Gabriel Fire Management Group.
Assistant City Manager Marcella Marlowe reported at the meeting that the three labor associations all met and ratified the memorandums of understanding the first week of May. The last memorandum of understanding expired on Jun. 30, 2011 for each labor association.
The city yielded a tentative deal, suggested to them by the mediator, with the Police Officers Association and Firefighters Association in April. The Fire Management Group, whom the city had already reached an agreement in March, was offered the same structural deal and agreed to the same terms. Marlowe said that the city offered the same structural agreement to the Police Management Group, but they declined the offer and will continue mediation with the city on May 23.
Negotiations with labor association representatives began on Apr. 27, 2011, resulting in many meetings for the City Council over the last 13 months. The city declared impasse with all associations on Mar. 6, except for Fire Management.
“Our primary goal was accomplished, which was to achieve significant pension reform, and I believe we have done that,” said Marlowe.
The terms of the MOU cover a three-year term effective Jul. 1, 2011 through Jun. 30, 2014, but no changes will be made to retirement benefits the first year. A second tier plan will be implemented beginning fiscal year 2012-13, lowering new hires to two percent of their top salary for every year worked with retirement eligibility at age 50.
In addition, all current employees of the three associations will begin to pay six percent of their pension contribution on Jul. 14, 2012. And on Jul. 13, 2013, these employees will begin to pay the additional three percent of their contribution bringing the total amount to nine percent, which is the total employee member contribution required by CalPERS.
However, all sworn-in employees will receive a cost of living increase of three percent, which is designed to help offset some of the cost of their increased pension contribution, Marlowe said. The city also will recommend adopting this similar structure for all none sworn-in employees.
According to Marlowe, the fiscal impact of the terms of the MOUs will be approximately $475,000 over the course of a three-year contract. “And we believe that that will be funded by budget savings believed to be accomplished over that same period of time,” she said.
Vice Mayor Mario De La Torre said the terms of the MOUs are basically what the city was looking to accomplish, but he also voiced concern for putting the contentious negotiations behind them.
“We need to focus all of our attention and efforts into improving our city, to improve our businesses,” De La Torre said. “This MOU is in the best interests of our residents, and we’ve been fiscally, economically, financially responsible.”
Councilmember David Gutierrez said he too was happy with the results but expressed reserve for some of the flak the council endured from the deadlocked negotiations. “I have to say that I am very sad, very disappointed by the path that some decided to take throughout this process from the other side, and some of the allegations and personal attacks that were made,” he said.
Yet to be settled is the Police Officers Association’s lawsuit that was filed against members of the City Council on Mar. 8. The lawsuit alleges that city officials illegally spent $5.7 million in employee retirement funds. Denying the allegations, the city filed a response to the police association’s lawsuit that requests a trial by jury.
In his comments at the meeting, Councilmember John Harrington said that labor negotiations and cutting benefits is not the part of their job that city officials look forward to doing.
“I really think that with the limited budget we have, this is the best path going forward,” said Harrington, adding that regardless of the contentious rhetoric from any one side, “when it all goes away, we are left as one community. And that’s our job here – to represent everybody.”