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April 21, 2010 > Letter to the editor: Employee bargaining groups question fiscal impacts of fire department merger

Letter to the editor: Employee bargaining groups question fiscal impacts of fire department merger

The City of Union City faces a substantial budget crisis with deficits projected to be as high as $1.8M for fiscal year 2009-10 and as much as $1M the following fiscal year; a projected General Fund deficit total of as much as $2.8M by June 30, 2011.

On Tuesday April 20, 2010, Union City's City Council will vote on whether to contract with Alameda County (ALCO) for Fire Services. It has been proposed that the merger will result in enhanced Fire Services for the community. What has not been clearly identified is how the merger will affect other services throughout Union City.

Representatives and membership of the city's labor units (Union City Police Manager's Association, Union City Police Officer's Association, SEIU, Professionals, and Mid Managers) fully appreciate the fiscal crisis facing Union City.

We understand that, in theory, regionalization of government services can reduce costs and enhance service-levels in some cases. We realize contracting with ALCO Fire has some advantages such as access to additional fire resources.

Under stable fiscal conditions, we might agree this merger is in our community's best interests. However, given the circumstances facing us, we believe this merger has costs that will directly and adversely affect the level and quality of all remaining city services provided to our community. Additionally, we believe this merger will have a lasting and adverse impact on the productivity, motivation and loyalty of our remaining workforce.

We have been told it will be necessary for all remaining departments to drastically cut resources and staffing to address the projected fiscal deficit, a deficit that will be exacerbated by the direct and indirect costs associated with the merger, including but not limited to:

Substantial costs associated with the payout of leave-banks for Fire personnel separating service with Union City, which is currently proposed to be paid through funds in the city's General Reserve, thus depleting reserve funds available to help offset the deficit.

Cost of greatly enhanced medical retirement benefits, which ALCO representatives state are unfunded (pay as you go) and will result in substantial additional costs in the future for Union City.

Costs associated with ALCO's enhanced compensation benefits, for example, increased vacation accrual and a negotiated salary increase for ALCO Fire employees scheduled for implementation next fiscal year.

To balance the current and following year's budgets, employees have been told to expect reductions in salary and benefits to help offset the projected deficit. The merger further exacerbates this proposal to offset the deficit by reducing the number of personnel available to participate in a salary concession strategy, thus requiring the limited number of remaining employees to dig deeper into their own pockets. As demonstrated above, this merger will result in significant enhancement to the benefits of the few [Fire personnel] at the expense of remaining Union City employees.

From a disaster preparedness standpoint, we are concerned the number of public-safety employees available to respond to the city when needed will be significantly reduced. With our current agreement, all Union City employees are required to respond to Union City during times of natural or man-made disasters. Proponents of the merger might argue that we would expect a greater level of fire service response. However, that may only be true if the emergency at hand is localized. Should the emergency affect the surrounding region, we could only rely on those fire personnel on duty at the time, as other ALCO Fire resources may be directed elsewhere. In other words, the loss of local control for our public-safety resources could potentially prove detrimental to our community.

We understand the benefits of a regional merger of fire services. However, information provided so far suggests costs outweigh the benefit. We firmly believe the community and our employees would be better served if this merger were postponed until economic conditions improve.

The representatives of the listed labor groups, on behalf of their respective members, realize that going forward this fiscal crisis will require effort and sacrifice on the part of all city personnel, including Union City Fire personnel; sharing the burden, and working together to rebuild the economic health of our community.

For additional information and inquiries, contact Mark Evanoff at (510) 475-5778

Brian Foley, President UCPMA
Kevin Finnerty, Vice President UCPMA
Mike Ward, President UCPOA
Stan Rodrigues, Sergeant-at-Arms UCPOA
Mark Evanoff Union City Mid-Manager's Association Union
Paul Hammond City Professionals
Paul Roman, President Service Employees International Union Local 1021

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