News


Firefighters try to keep labor reform off ballot

Union files complaint with Public Employees Relations Board, seeks to keep binding-arbitration repeal from going to voters

Palo Alto's firefighters union has filed a complaint with a state labor-relations board claiming that the city broke the law by placing a repeal of binding arbitration on the November ballot without first consulting the union.

The complaint by International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, seeks an injunction that would keep the repeal of the binding-arbitration provision off the November ballot. The 1978 provision empowers a three-member panel to settle labor disputes between city management and its public-safety unions.

The City Council voted 5-4 on July 18 to draft a resolution placing the repeal on the ballot. The council is scheduled to adopt this resolution Monday night.

In its "unfair practice charge" complaint with the Public Employees Relation Board (PERB), the firefighters union claims city officials broke the law by not conferring with union officials before deciding to place the repeal-measure on the ballot. In their argument, the firefighters cite Section 3507 of the California Government Code, which claims that public agencies must consult "in good faith with representatives of a recognized employee organization of organizations for the administration of employer-employee relations under this chapter."

The union argues in the complaint that it has asked city officials on numerous occasions to "meet and confer" or "meet and consult" about the possible modification or repeal of the binding-arbitration ordinance. The council, the complaint states, "indicated that its action on the motion was final and that it would not engage in the 'meet and consult' process over its decision."

Though city officials have consistently notified the union before the council or its committees were scheduled to discuss the topic, the union claims that these notifications fall short of the "meet and confer" requirement.

The union is asking the Public Employees Relation Board to issue a determination that the city "has failed and refused and continues to fail and refuse to provide charging party (the union) with reasonable time and opportunity to meet and discuss the aforesaid ballot measure and companion ordinance and has further failed and refused and continues to fail and refuse to listen to and consider any proposals which charging party may have to make respondent regarding these matters."

The "companion ordinance," which the council also adopted on July 18, would require the city and all of its unions to seek non-binding mediation to resolve labor disputes.

The complaint also requests reimbursement from the city for legal fees and an injunction that would bar the city from taking the necessary actions to place the repeal on the ballot.

The firefighters' complaint is the latest salvo in a nearly two-year feud between the city and the union. The two sides have been in a standoff over a new contract since May 2010 and saw their negotiations stall in February 2011. The dispute is scheduled to go to binding arbitration in the fall.

Last year, the firefighters spearheaded their own ballot initiative seeking to freeze staffing levels in the Fire Department and to require the city to hold an election any time it wanted to reduce staff or close fire stations. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the firefighters' Measure R.

This year, it's the council that's looking to the voters for help. The council has been mulling a repeal of the 1978 provision for more than a year, with council members Karen Holman and Greg Scharff leading the charge and arguing that the provision makes it impossible for elected officials to perform their budget-balancing duties. The council also considered an alternate measure that would have modified, rather than repealed, the provision by narrowing the arbitrators' scope and requiring them to consider the city's financial condition before making a ruling.

The council voted for the repeal -- and not the modification -- with Scharff, Holman, Pat Burt, Greg Schmid and Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh in favor and Mayor Sid Espinosa, Larry Klein, Gail Price and Nancy Shepherd opposed.

The union immediately lashed out, equating the council's repeal proposal to Wisconsin's recent effort to strip its state employees of their collective-bargaining rights.

City Attorney Molly Stump disputed the firefighters' arguments and cited recent decisions in which courts determined that binding arbitration falls outside the scope of mandatory bargaining with unions. She pointed to two cases -- DiQuisto v. County of Santa Clara and Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers v. County of Santa Clara -- in which the state Court of Appeals and the Public Employees Relation Board, respectively, sided against the unions on this very issue.

She also said the firefighters had plenty of time to weigh in on the issue before the council decided to place it on the November ballot.

"It's interesting because the firefighters have been aware that the City Council has been considering a repeal of binding-interest arbitration since 2010," Stump told the Weekly. "Over the past few months, there have been many, many discussion and they (the union) did not come over and provide input.

"It's a little late for them to say the voters should not have a say on the repeal."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by G
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:46 pm

After Measure R I'm not very sympathetic.


Like this comment
Posted by Angry Voter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 12:13 am



More attempts to manipulate the system at the expense of the public by the fire union. We ought to quit wasting our tax dollars and sack the entire overpaid, overstaffed, fire department and outsource the job to the county or to a private provider. At the very least, we need to elect leaders who will clamp down hard on the ridiculous salaries and benefits these public "servants" are receiving. Why do these guys get 6 figures and six figure pensions starting in their 50s? We could cut the pay in half and there would still be hundreds of qualified applicants for every opening.

Spitaleri and the fire union have too long made the city their own private money trough, and need to be stopped now.


Like this comment
Posted by reasonablle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 12:16 am

I think they are reasonable,but you,hmmm


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 6:24 am

Whoever is handling strategic decision making and PR for the firefighters is an idiot. Has that person given any thought to how this move looks to the general public? Desperate is the first word that comes to mind. Petty. Small.

If you have to rely upon minute technical details to keep the vote out of the citizens' hands, then clearly you know you're going to lose.

Comparing this situation to Minnesota is a false equation. The people of Palo Alto will decide, not a select few.


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 8:36 am

If I was a firefighter I'd be asking myself how well served I am by this union leadership that is squandering the substantial goodwill that the public used to have for firefighters, spending significant funds and firefighter free time on an over reaching losing election campaign, and now spending more money on lawyers to try to prevent the citizens of Palo alto from having a vote on an economic issue during these tough times.


Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2011 at 8:46 am

If I were a firefighter, I might also be asking myself why am I not being shown a little more respect for doing a job wrought with potential dangers.


Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 30, 2011 at 10:30 am

The FF's should find a different union leader. I know the guy is trying to support his members but he comes across as a Tea Party congressperson - some compromise is needed for the greater good,


Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 11:22 am

These guys don't know when to give it a rest. I could understand if they were really getting taken advantage of here, but, for goodness sake, they are making more than doctors and lawyers.


Like this comment
Posted by Sheesh!
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2011 at 11:58 am

More time?!! This has been going on for nearly two years and the union has the gall to say they haven't been consulted about it?!!


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm

"The FF's should find a different union leader."

I agree that Spitaleri is classic union boss whose only concerns is how much he can extract from the taxpayers to benefit himself and his union. But ... I'm not sure the fire safety union members are unhappy with him. The average pay for a fire safety employee in the US is under $50K annually. The ones is PA take home 3X the national average. They work less hours and are overstaffed to the point where they sleep more than they work. So Spitaleri (and the other union bosses in this area) has been incredibly effective in enriching their members at taxpayer expense.

Taxpayers need to take an interest in who they elect and restore some balance and discipline in the city budget. We need to vote out politicians like Price (who get their funding from labor and place the union interests above the citizens interests). It is pretty obvious that the fire safety union is going to continually be battling for compensation that is far greater than what they are worth. I would like to see a serious analysis of the cost/benefit of outsourcing the functions of the PAFD. I believe we could cut the costs by 50%, improve the service, and not have to be constantly monitoring the union to see what tactic they are using to take more $'s from the taxpayers.


Like this comment
Posted by Overpaid
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Why do we as citizens/voters/taxpayers continue to overpay this special interest group so flagrantly? 3X the national average, rampant overtime abuse, and union-appeasing overstaffing? This is ridiculous. Let the voters have their say. If the union were actually delivering 3X what we could get paying sane market rate compensation, they wouldn't be so afraid of the voters.

The job simply isn't as taxing and hazardous as it may have been in the past. In fact it's not dangerous at all compared to construction, manufacturing, agriculture, or most other jobs that don't command "danger premiums". A Firefighter should make at most half what a cop gets. The public is getting ripped off.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Each palo alto union ff costs the taxpayer on average over $193,000! Where do I sign up? And retire for life at 50!


Like this comment
Posted by Hyperbolometer - PING!
a resident of Woodside
on Jul 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm

"they are making more than doctors and lawyers"

No hyperbole there, eh?

A doc friend tried like all heel to pretend his income was under a quarter mil during his divorce, after always bragging it's way over a half.

Lawyers in California? Show your data, Koa.


Like this comment
Posted by patsummers
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Sad as it is, I would like to have respect for my firemen. I wish no harm to them, but I sure feel as if they are not just here to protect. They are here to take advantage of what money our town still has. The economy is in the craper. Every one needs to accept some small sacrifice. I did this year and last, by loosing a bug chunk of my income. Why cant they atleast make a small temporary sacrifice.
This battle with the firefighters union is going on almost 3 years.


Like this comment
Posted by how?
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

What made you lose your income,ff?You are blaming them who are helping us ,aren't you?


Like this comment
Posted by Overpaid
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm

193K + pension starting at 50 is a huge waste of taxpayer money. The public never signed up for supporting a privileged class of overpaid, underworked public "servant". I'll happily support any council candidate who will crack down on this inefficiency until the FD is properly staffed and paying just enough to balance supply and demand in the market (there hundreds of applicants for each opening because the job is hugely overpaid)


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I love the comment by Crescent Park Dad that whom ever is handling strategic decision making is an idiot. The committee that is continuing this stance has not realized that they have lost nearly all public support, and this latest move is was a huge mistake. Tony got the FFs on the gravy train after all the post 911 patriotic events, but now they're shooting themselves in the foot. The Palo Alto fire union membership needs to get a collective clue by busting Tony and come to the table with a reasonable attitude before they loose everything.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm

This issue of pensions is off the table as far as the City Council is concerned, because they have outsourced the whole pension payment to CalPERS. CalPERS, run for the benefit of the labor unions, does not provide the public much information about the payouts that future retirees will receive, but it's not that hard to make estimates, based on exit salaries:


Using a COLA of only 2%, public safety retirees receive the following payouts:

Total Pension Payouts

Pension
$100K--10-Years: $1.1M | 20-Years: $2.5M | 30-Years: $4.1M
$150K--10-Years: $1.7M | 20-Years: $3.4M | 30-Years: $6.2M
$200K--10-Years: $2.2M | 20-Years: $5.0M | 30-Years: $8.3M

What this table is saying is that public safety employees who live at least thirty years, retiring with exit salaries between $100K and $150K (yearly) will receive between $4M and $6M dollars in their retirement. And, as their exit salaries drift up to $200K (or more), the pension payouts jump up to $8M per retiree.

Police and Fire Department employees are routinely drawing over $100K in the larger CA cities. Their pension is 90% of their high salary. In another decade, or so, the public sector will totally bankrupt the private sector with their pension demands

The magnitude of the payouts is staggering. And most people--including City Council members, have no clue.


Like this comment
Posted by Les
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 31, 2011 at 1:00 am

And Mr. Martin, less than 8% of police officers and firefighters ever reach their maximum pension. Never mind the nature of the work, for which I am extremely grateful, and respect those who choose to take on a profession which most critics, like yourself I'm sure, would be unwilling and unqualified to do yourself.


Like this comment
Posted by Overpaid
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 1:27 am

Police do a much more dangerous job than that of a Palo Alto firefighter, which is statistically safer than most private sector construction or ag. jobs. Furthermore, Police are not paid on the job for long periods of sleep or downtime at the station. Despite this, the Police union is much more flexible, and reasonable than their FF counterparts.

Lumping the two together is a tactic used to incorrectly justify paying firefighters way more than they are worth. It's also not fair to the police, who if anything are worse off for the FF union's antics due to the disproportionate amount of taxpayer money wasted on overpaying an inefficient department.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2011 at 4:16 am

> less than 8% of police officers and firefighters ever reach
> their maximum pension.

Not exactly certain what this comment is supposed to mean, as it is confusing .. but suspect that the poster is claiming that firefighters die early deaths because of the nature of their jobs.

This claim is not substantiated by CalPERS, however. A couple of years ago, Steve Greenhut, an investigative reporter for the Orange County Register, asked CalPERS about life expectancy of its members. The following is from the article where he published the response he received from CalPERS:
---
Here is Myth No. 4: "Safety members do not live as long as miscellaneous members." CalPERS officials explain that "rumor has it that safety members only live a few years after retirement." Then they use actuarial data to answer the question: "Do they actually live for a shorter time?"

Fire officials, by the way, make identical claims about dying early as police officials. For answers, CalPERS looked at an experience study conducted by its actuarial office in 2004. It looked at post-retirement mortality data for public safety officials and compared it with mortality rates for miscellaneous government workers covered by the CalPERS system.

Here are the CalPERS life expectancy data for miscellaneous members:

>>If the current age is 55, the retiree is expected to live to be 81.4 if male, and 85 if female.

>>If the current age is 60, the retiree is expected to live to be age 82 if male, and 85.5 if female.

>>If the current age is 65, the retiree is expected to live to be age 82.9 if male, and 86.1 if female.

Here is the CalPERS life expectancy data for public safety members (police and fire, which are grouped together by the pension fund):

>>If the current age is 55, the retiree is expected to live to be 81.4 if male, and 85 if female.

>>If the current age is 60, the retiree is expected to live to be age 82 if male, and 85.5 if female.

>>If the current age is 65, the retiree is expected to live to be age 82.9 if male, and 86.1 if female.

That's no mistake. The numbers are identical for public safety retirees as for other government workers. Here is CalPERS again: "Verdict: Myth No. 4 Busted! Safety members do live as long as miscellaneous members."

Read more at the Washington Examiner: Web Link
---

> like yourself I'm sure, would be unwilling and unqualified
> to do yourself.

Personal attacks on blog posters do not advance the discussion about pressing public matters. The problem of out-of-control public sector pensions has been occupying the public's attention for several years now. It's hard to pick up a paper and not find some City government reporting about its unfunded pension liabilities "coming home to roost". Attacking peoplem, like myslef, as being "unqualified to be a fireman" really doesn't help the issues facing all of us.

Here are a few links from this week's news about pensions from around the nation:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Les
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 31, 2011 at 11:18 am

No, not because of early death Mr. Martin. Simply that less than 8% of firefighters, or police officers for that matter, ever reach their full pension through years of service. The vast majority leave the profession due to injury, stress, etc.

As for any suggestion of personal attacks, I also find it offensive that so many people weighing in on this topic summarily dismiss the danger, sacrifice, and unique quality of character that it takes to be a firefighter. In addition to the numbers and calculations, we need to consider the nature of the work and the people involved. It's not just anyone that can do that job. Let's consider that and show some respect. Bottom line, in my humble opinion, for what those men and women do, they deserve the pay and compensation.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Les must be a union spokes person who distorts facts.

Check out the seniority of the PA fire department against the "8%".

And yes there are plenty of qualified candidates who will do the job

for less, and that is not being disrespectfull.

Following the logic, how about paying them more? Take all the tax money and only pay the ff union? Because of the sacrifice and unique qualifications?

It has changed from public service to public gouging.


Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 31, 2011 at 12:39 pm

This "unique quality of character" the above post refers to is not so unique. There are many, many qualified applicants for every opening.

Perhaps it is becuade a benefit package close to 200k and a 100k pension at 50 if far too good a deal to do a job that

1. Has no statistical danger premium or effect on life expectancy.
2. Involves long paid periods of idling or sleeping on the clock, made more so by union work rules.
3. Involves over 95% of all calls being routine medical calls and having nothing to do with a fire.

I have a son overseas and making about 1/4 what these ff get, and I get very frustrated whenever I see the hero card get played by the ff union or their supporters. Unfortunately it's been hugely overplayed by spitaleri at every turn.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Firefighters should receive pay and benefits which are fair, equitable and appropriate for the risks of their job. Unfortunately local firefighters are being paid far more than what is fair, equitable and appropriate for the risks of their jobs.

There are a lot of important and risky public servant jobs that pay far less than what our local fire fighters are paid

Here are a few such comparisons:

1 - The pilot of Air Force One is a USAF Colonel usually with 20-25 years of service.

His base pay is $11,007.30/month or $132,087 /year

He also receives about $500/month or $6000/year of flight pay

He supervises a crew of approximately 26 (not including the Secret Service agents accompanying the President).

He can retire with 2.5% of the average of his last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

2 - a US Forest Service Smokejumper (a firefighter who parachutes from airplanes to put out forest fires) are in GS-5 to GS-9 pay grades and start as $27,026/year and top out at $53,234/year at the top step level for non- supervisory (includes crew chiefs but not management level) smokejumpers

MEDICAL AND PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS: Smokejumper duties present unusual hazards and require that personnel be in excellent physical condition and possess a high degree of emotional stability and mental alertness. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet demands for performance in the position and for human reliability. Before entrance on duty, and periodically during employment, smokejumpers must undergo a medical exam, physical conditioning, and an adeptness test. Failure to meet any of the required standards will be considered disqualifying for employment or a basis of termination. The adeptness test will be given in one time period and consists of performing 25 push-ups, 45 sit-ups, 7 chin-ups, and a 1.5-mile run which must be completed in 11 minutes or less. In addition to the work capacity test at the arduous level (as referenced under Other Significant Facts), a smokejumper pack-out test is required and consists of completing a 3-mile hike over level ground carrying a 110 pound pack in 90 minutes or less. The health of individuals must be such that they have the capacity to meet the demands for human reliability and performance in the position.

3 -Maj. Jennifer Grieves is the first female helicopter aircraft commander in the history of Marine One, the HMX-1 helicopter the president of the United States flies on. She makes about $84,000 and she can retire with 2.5% of the average of her last three years base pay for each year of service but capped at 75%.

4 - NASA's civilian astronauts are in the GS-11 through GS-14 pay grades, based on academic achievements and experience. Currently, a GS-11 astronaut starts at $59,493 per year; a GS-14 astronaut can earn up to $130,257 per year. To date 13 out of 321 who have flown in space have died in the line of duty or a fatality rate of about 4%.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 31, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Best part time job around--21 hours on the clock for every hour worked. Grand Jury report.


Like this comment
Posted by FF Arrogance
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Rather than looking to address some of the flagrant inefficiencies that the grand jury report identified, such as the one mentioned by John above, Spitaleri brushed it aside by claiming the jurors were "biased."

Our fire union's sense of entitlement has long surpassed arrogance.


Like this comment
Posted by facts
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 6:02 pm

From what I understand, Cal Pers is the entity paying retirement. Hmm, The City paid as low as 82k per year into cal pers for every retiree in the 90's. Every employee paid 7 to 9 percent of their salary into Calpers.

Based on Calpers investments and markets....That's where the retirement checks come from.

Try to understand the real cost to the City.


Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 6:05 pm

When I write 82k for every, I mean for All retirees per year. An 82k expense per year to cover all future retirees is piss poor planning on behalf of the City.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 31, 2011 at 6:46 pm

The poor planning on the part of the city was:

1.) paying folks who should be paid $50K per year, $150K
2.) allowing the fire safety employees to retire at 50 with 90% salary (max payout should be $50K, and start at 65 yrs)
3.) allowing the union to dictate the over staffing. instead of 30+ staff sleeping every night, should be max 20.


Like this comment
Posted by facts
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Again, the retirement checks come from the state....not CPA. Also, who wants a 65 year old firefighter rescueing them from a burning building? Since it is manditory that firefighters pay 9% of their pay into a retirement program (calpers) since the biginning of their career, arent' they entitled to the benefits? How many of us in private sector are mandated to pay in 9% from every paycheck for our retirement?


Like this comment
Posted by FF Arrogance
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Firefighters should be entitled to what they pay in, plus whatever appreciation is realized on their contributions. Their contributions are far below the bloasted benefits they are currently receiving, and the taxpayer and our children are on the hook for the rest.

In the private sector, what you pay in (plus actual appreciation or depreciation) is what you get. Period. On top of this, we're supposed to be reaching into our pockets to overpay retired bureaucrats? This public is finally wise to this and the gravy train is derailed for good now and there's no turning back.

The public sector should eulate the private sector, streamline efficiency, and achieve more with less, as the private sector does with brutal efficiency. Instead, all too often they act entitled and hide behind their out of touch unions. The fight over inefficient minimum staffing levels that guarantee paid idle time and opportunities to abuse overtime by our firefighters are the perfect example of this.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2011 at 9:04 pm

People need to understand the 90% at age 50.
The formula is 3% times the number of years as a firefighter with age 50 being the earlist you could retire. So if a person becomes a firefighter at age 28 and retires at age 50 he does NOT get 90% of his pay. He/she has 22 years (age 50) as firefighter, times 3% which would be 66% of his yearly salary that he/she would get. Also, overtime does NOT count towards retirement. It is only the yearly base salary. So if a firefighter has a base salary of 80K, he/she would get 66% of that at retirement. Call Calpers if you don't believe this.


Like this comment
Posted by wonder
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 31, 2011 at 9:31 pm

does this mean reduced benefit to 3?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 1, 2011 at 2:18 am

Here is some useful data on what very smart and well educated folks in the private sector make in Silicon Valley:

Web Link

The average tech salary in Silicon Valley is $92,299.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2011 at 7:07 am

> No, not because of early death Mr. Martin. Simply that less than
> 8% of firefighters, or police officers for that matter, ever
> reach their full pension through years of service. The vast
> majority leave the profession due to injury, stress, etc.

I started to respond to this, and realized that it was going to take several hours to do a fair job. The issues involved range from fraud and malfeasance on the part of many, many, public safety employees around the country, to the need to rethink the whole public safety employment model. Before committing that time, I think I need to ask the poster a couple questions:

1) What sources can you cite to back up your claims?

2) You say I have "offended" you by trying to post data about the costs of public safety here in California. So--what "standing" do you have to be "offended" by the truth?



Like this comment
Posted by Denese
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

Greetings All:

You scream, blame and present as much data as you like but the bottom line is, Palo Alto has an overwhelming number of seniors and old homes. Cutting and closing fire departments or taking away pensions from the fire department is wrong.
You close stations you reduce response time to fires as well as medical emergencies. Should we loose stations here in Palo Alto DO NOT START BLAMING WHEN THERE IS A FIRE AND A LIFE IS LOST OR ONE OF YOU CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND THEIR RESPONSE TIME DOESN'T MEET YOUR STANDARDS AND IT'S YOU OR YOUR LOVEONE IN STRESS.

The fire department and police department are two areas that should be left alone. They are not risking a paper cut, but their lives when their siren sounds. They don't know who are what could happen but they respond because they have chosen to serve and or protect the community.



Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2011 at 11:19 am

I propose that we replace firefighters who now respond to non-fire emergencies with EMT's. Then, pay each firefighter $10k for each fire they fight in the PA City limits, which I suspect are relatively few each year.

This would save PA many dollars and how could a FF argue at making that much every time they have to actually work?


Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Wow Concerned Retiree, you have really thought this out! So what do want the FF to do, sit around at home until there is a fire and hope they can make it to the fire in time to save life and property? Firefighters are like insurance polices, you hope you never need them, but if you do, your glad they are only a few minutes away.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Just a comment/question about pension comparisons...

Regarding dollars (or percent of income) paid in to pension plan, I suspect as a private sector employee I'm paying more into Social Security for a much smaller eventual cumulative pay-out. Does Calpers make better investment decisions than the FICA people? No, apples vs oranges. In any case, I believe Palo Alto taxpayers have promised to make up any Calpers investment shortfall so that pensions get fully paid. Yes, Palo Alto got off cheap during the booming 90's, but today the city is paying Calpers dearly for the 2008-09 market difficulties. And which plan, Calpers or FICA, is more likely to be "means tested" in the future?


Like this comment
Posted by bb
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Re. city employees.
The City works departments, ie road repairs, etc, are of concern with regards to cost. We know when streets will be torn up, because those are the streets that have just been paved. This is only one example of inefficiency and lack of planning. If this dept were run by a private corportation/company, it would be MUCH more cost-efficient, as a current employee of this dept told me. Of course, when this person made suggestions to the dept, they were stonewalled..."that's not the way we have been doing it...."


Like this comment
Posted by HERO
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2011 at 12:43 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm

As Mr. Martin and Mr Carpenter do, all posters should cite facts, not opinions, when making statements. A good source to compare fire dept. actions is the City's "Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report for FY 2010". A free copy can be obtained from the Budget office at City Hall.

On pages 28 and 29 data are given on number of fire vs emergency medical services calls; average response time; number of residential structure fires; etc. Not given, but a significant factor in assessing the data, is a requirement that 4 fire fighters (a minimum of two trucks) must be on hand before any can enter a structure on fire.

The police face potential danger when responding to every call. The fire dept. faces this risk very seldom; so one can't compare the two when evaluating risk vs cost of service.

Lastly, one should read the three independent surveys (two by the City and one by the SC Grand Jury) to evaluate today's best safety needs and practices for fire suppression. Palo Alto woefully over staffs and over pays for its fire dept.


Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm

musicaal said "Does Calpers make better investment decisions than the FICA people?"

Actually Calpers made more than 20% on investments last year and the FICA people never invest so they always make zero.

Concerned Retiree said "I propose that we replace firefighters who now respond to non-fire emergencies with EMT's."

Why would you do that? Palo Alto is the only Santa Clara city that provides ambulance service and they make money from that service - insurance companies and individuals pay for care provided and trips to the hospital. Responding to medical emergencies saves lives and it helps subsidize the rest of the fire program.

Much of the discussion here is similar to the discussion we have had at work about reducing the cost of our IT department. Some people are unhappy unless everyone in IT is outsourced to India.

One day we will have a major emergency around here like an earthquake. If that happens we will all be in big trouble if we cut back too much.


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Posted by Self-Appointed Heros
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Not to mention these self-appointed heroes enjoy greater safety than a typical farmhand, and if they do their jobs poorly, they hide behind the union at the taxpayers expense. How many lazy public workers are fired every year? Very few. The firefighters in Alameda who idled for an hour on the beach while a citizen drowned in 5 feet deep water are still on the job, are they not?

Lower their salaries until there are 2-3 qualified applicants for each opening. Stop this pension madness now and put them on 401Ks like the rest of the world. Firefighters are entitled to what the market says their services can be delivered for, not the ~3X market they are currently inhaling from the taxpayer trough.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm

MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT
PROPOSED REVISIONS TO BOARD POLICY AND
PROCEDURES MANUAL SECTION 5.11
EMPLOYEE COMPENSATION PHILOSOPHY
The Board of Directors of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (“District”)
hereby adopts this policy concerning the compensation of its employees. The District’s
Board of Directors shall observe this policy when adopting compensation plans and
contracts covering District employees.
Core Principles
Principle No. 1 – Recruitment and Retention: Compensation should, when
economically feasible, be set at a level sufficient to recruit and retain employees who are
qualified and committed to provide high quality services to the community. One critical
measure of whether compensation meets this criterion is whether there are a sufficient
number of qualified applicants for advertised job openings.
Principle No. 2 – Fairness: The Board shall strive to ensure its compensation
program is fair and equitable from all legitimate perspectives, including the perspectives
of the community, labor and management. The District may choose to survey public
and private employers to evaluate the appropriateness and fairness of its compensation
program. The Board is directly accountable to the District’s constituents, and the Board
accordingly retains the discretion to determine the fairness of all compensation
programs.
Principle No. 3 – Transparency: Compensation for all District employees should be
100% transparent – i.e., the public should be able to see all pay elements, including the
cost of all health, pension and welfare benefits, applicable to each employee. District pay
packages should be simple and easily understood. Safeguards must be in place to
prevent abuses such as pension spiking and maximizing overtime through manipulation.
Principle No. 4 – Fiscal Sustainability: All compensation commitments must be
made consistent with principles of fiscal sustainability and to ensure the District’s long
term success in achieving its mission. Compensation adjustments must not compromise
the District’s ability to successfully meet its ongoing and future financial commitments.
The Board shall observe its Labor Relations Policy and Plan.
Principle No. 5 – Accountability: All compensation commitments must be expressly
delineated and are subject to formal approval by the Board of Directors. The Board will
not abide “implied” or unwritten contracts, or unspecified “past practices,” that purport
to require employee compensation.
Principle No. 6 – Performance Based Pay: Whenever reasonably possible,
compensation shall be tied to merit and performance. The District shall not permit pay
increases based merely on the length of employment.
Principle No. 7 – Economic Climate: The District shall consider the overall economic
climate and condition affecting the District and its constituents when setting
compensation levels, including regional economic indicators such as the rate of
unemployment, inflation, current and projected revenues, and the District’s anticipated
ability to pay in the long term.
Principle No. 8 – Legal Compliance: The District will ensure that its pay practices
comport with the Fair Labor Standards Act and, to the extent legally applicable, State
law. The District renews its commitment to negotiate in good faith with labor pursuant
to the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”), and to abide by all requirements of the
MMBA.
Principle No. 9 – Flexibility: The District shall strive to remain flexible and
innovative in light of changing conditions and improving technologies, and shall
continually re-evaluate its pay practices to ensure they are consistent with best practices


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Posted by PA Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Resident, Meadow Park says: "who wants a 65 year old firefighter rescueing them from a burning building?

A 65 year old who has exercised their physical and mental capacities regularly all their life and maintained a steady weight is just as capable of rescuing me as a 50 year old. The problem with many firefighters is they don't keep themselves in good shape.

Since I retired at age 70 my mental and physical capacities as well as my weight were just the same as when I was 30.


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Posted by John
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm

PC said
"MENLO PARK FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT

PROPOSED REVISIONS TO BOARD POLICY AND

PROCEDURES MANUAL SECTION 5.11"

That is fine, but the fact is Menlo Park Fire is in more turmoil than any other fire district on the Peninsula. Mr. Carpenter keeps talking about policy improvements but he is a Menlo Fire Board member and all he has accomplished in Menlo Park is a huge court battle. He argues compensation is too high yet he admits he approved the increases.

Public Service compensation needs to be rationalized, but we need to get way from the Tea Party approach (my way or the highway) of all talk and no solution.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Triple El
on Aug 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

What I want to know is the percentage of PA FF's that retire due to injury that get disabilty payments along with their pensions? My guess is number is pretty high.


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Posted by Koa
a resident of Barron Park School
on Aug 1, 2011 at 9:32 pm

"Lawyers in California? Show your data, Koa." -f Ping-Hyperbolemeter


Median physician salary in San Jose $198,639
Median lawyer salary in San Jose $106,294
Source: Salary.com

There's the data, the firefighters are making as much or more than Bay Area doctors and lawyers.

In fact, the 90% salary for lawyers in San Jose $141,775. So the average firefighter makes more than 90% of lawyers in the area.


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Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 1, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Alphonso. If there is a major earthquake which devastates Peninsula communities, there won't be enough first responders (fire or police) to cope with all the emergencies. There will be 29 firefighters from 6 stations to respond to the needs of >22,000 dwellings and >60,000 residents.

Doubling or tripling the number of fire fighters won't be sufficient. We will be dependent on our own prior preparation efforts and the help of our neighbors. Are you prepared?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 2, 2011 at 5:27 am

What a wonderful luxury the Johns of the world have sitting on the sidelines and criticizing those who are working very hard to change the system.


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Posted by RadioGuy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2011 at 1:21 pm

RadioGuy is a registered user.

Only in your mind, Peter. In 2008, your Menlo Park Fire Protection District offered most firefighters an astounding 20 percent raise over four years. The offer later got pulled, and now your District is fighting an unfair labor practice lawsuit as a result. Not exactly a great model for other departments to follow, is it?


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Posted by Michael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Peter's posts and ideas are fact-driven and make valid, cogent points about the state of our Fire Department and what can be done better. Per this very article, Palo also is also facing complaints in the court from its fire union, and I take that as nothing short of a sign they are moving in the right direction by standing up to the fire union.

Kudos to you Peter for whatever role you had in implementing the new Menlo Park compensation guidelines. Government needs to run more efficiently, and the guidelines look to address that.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm

"The offer later got pulled, and now your District is fighting an unfair labor practice lawsuit as a result. Not exactly a great model for other departments to follow, is it?"

Actually it is a great model for other elected officials to follow - JUST SAY NO to unreasonable union demands and don't be afraid to be sued. A union lawsuit just means that the union could not get what it wanted at the bargaining table or by a public vote so it turned to the courts as the very last resort - and cost the taxpayers even more for defending their lawsuit.


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Posted by Been There
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 3, 2011 at 6:22 am

Although PERB seems to be an easy outlet for employees to seek remedies, it actullay is the Public Employment Relations Board.


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

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