News

Palo Alto and firefighters reach contract deal

New agreement between city and union eliminates 'minimum staffing,' adds second tier for pensions

After 16 months of heated negotiations, Palo Alto and its largest firefighter union on Friday reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract that eliminates the longstanding and controversial "minimum staffing" requirement in the union's contract.

Members of the firefighters union, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, voted by a margin of more than 4-to-1 Friday afternoon to ratify the new terms, which include reforms to pension and health care and -- most significantly -- the elimination of the requirement to keep at least 29 firefighters on duty at all times.

The City Council had tentatively approved the terms of the agreement and is scheduled to formally adopt it on Oct. 17.

With the agreement, the firefighters join the more than 800 other city employees -- including members of the Services Employees International Union and the non-unionized group of managers and professionals -- who have seen their benefits scaled back over the past two years. The new contract establishes a "second tier" pension formula for new employees. These workers would get pensions of 3 percent for each year worked, with retirement eligibility at age 55, the city announced. The pension calculation would no longer be based on the single highest year's salary but would reflect the average salary of three highest consecutive years.

Firefighters would also now be required to pay their full 9 percent contribution into California Public Employees' Retirement System (the city previously paid both the employer and the employee contribution). Employees and future retirees will also be required to pay 10 percent of their medical insurance premium.

Perhaps the most critical provision of the new contract is the minimum-staffing provision. City Manager James Keene had told the Weekly in June that eliminating this provision would be key to any deal with the firefighters union. The union had proposed over the course of the negotiations to cut the number of "minimum" employees, but the city has consistently maintained that the requirement needs to be scrapped altogether because it hinders the City Council's ability to change staffing levels.

The city's position was bolstered by a February report from consulting firms ICMA (International City/County Management Association) and TriData, who wrote that the city "should never agree to a minimum-staffing requirement that establishes the total force as this equates to establishing the level of service provided."

Though the union had previously argued that the provision is necessary to guarantee public safety, members ultimately softened their stance. Union President Tony Spitaleri said the city agreed, in exchange, to keep each fire apparatus staffed by three people.

"We agreed to a system that allows us to have some staffing configuration in the contract and that gives the city some flexibility," Spitaleri told the Weekly.

Spitaleri said the union voted "overwhelmingly" to support the proposed contract, with more than 80 percent agreeing to ratify it.

"We heard loud and clear about the city's issues, and we've been dealing with them during the negotiations," Spitaleri told the Weekly. "We've made previous offers in the past that weren't accepted, but I think the overall contract is good."

The city estimates the contract, which runs until June 30, 2014, to save the city $1.1 million in the current fiscal year and $1.5 million annually starting next July. The city's current budget assumes $4.3 million in concessions from all of the city's public-safety unions. In a joint statement from the city and the union announcing the terms of the new contract, City Manager James Keene said the city "expects that the elimination of minimum staffing will produce significant additional savings in firefighter overtime through a more strategic deployment of staff resources."

"The elimination of the unit-wide minimum staffing requirement was a key objective in the City's negotiations," Keene said. "This change is needed to help reduce overtime costs, provide more staffing flexibility, and achieve operational efficiencies."

The tentative agreement follows 16 months of tense negotiations between the city and the union. The two sides began negotiating in May 2010. After failing to agree on the new terms, the city declared an "impasse," sending the dispute to binding arbitration. The arbitration proceedings began on Sept. 20. Once the City Council approves the new deal, the city and the union will cancel the arbitration proceedings, according to the city's statement.

The two sides remain divided, however, over the City Charter's binding-arbitration provision, which enables a three-member arbitration board to settle disputes between the city and the union. The City Council voted in July to place a repeal of the provision on the November ballot. The union strongly opposes the repeal.

Spitaleri said the new agreement demonstrates that the two sides are capable of working things out even amidst major disagreements.

"And it's another example of a settlement being resolved without binding arbitration," Spitaleri said.

Mayor Sid Espinosa said he was "pleased that we have been able to reach agreement with our Firefighters' Union after a long negotiation period."

"The City is not out of the woods financially, but this agreement with the Firefighters is a necessary step forward," Espinosa said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Stepheny
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Union president Tony Spitaleri only compromised because he saw the writing on the wall.

The $20,000 push telephone poll of Palo Alto voters the union just ran told him that voters are very disenchanted with fire union leadership and are going to overwhelmingly vote YES on Measure D to send a signal of resolve. Palo Alto voters feel the fire union has become self-serving and greedy with their staffing, compensation, and benefit demands.

This agreement between the city and fire union (note that over 80% of fire employees voted to support this compromise) clearly demonstrates that Palo Alto's archaic binding arbitration charter provision has outlived its usefulness.

Repeal binding arbitration by voting YES on Measure D.


Like this comment
Posted by tomarnold
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm

The palo alto fire department needs to kick Tony Spitaleri to the curb. They need to get someone who knows the difference between make believe and real life.
The fire department needs to change the way the public sees them. I know I'm not alone. wWhen I say I'm kinda confused, if I should give them a high 5. Or look the other way when I see them in public?


Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Once binding arbitration is repeal in November, then the the city needs to start dealing with minimum staffing and overtime.
We do NOT need the same amount of firefighters working/sleeping at night that are working during the day.


Like this comment
Posted by What's real?
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Sid Espinoza, the mayor of Palo Alto, is on the Commonwealth Cub tonight saying that the Palo Alto economy is booming.

Jim Keene apparently receives an additional 24,800 that the public was unaware of in a non payroll deferred account per contract and has NOT continuing that "sympathetic cut" to his pay (as announced to the public) for more than one year...and a 12,000 raise in September per contract.

Palo Alto not only has 50+ double dippers (3-4 times more than surrounding cities), but also has 10x as many hours of work by double dippers. Most of these double dippers are managers because there is no succession planning. Managers did not train for succession planning ensuring themselves well paying PT jobs after retirement. The ones that came in before the recent restrictions can be earning over $50 an hour.

Palo Alto wants to be progressive?
Try exploitive and nontransparent.



Like this comment
Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2011 at 1:46 am

The elimination of minimum staffing will mean fewer firefighters to respond to the next emergency medical call for residents. Your life could be lost because of city budget cuts. Urge council to reject this contract and require sufficient staffing to respond to all medical situations. Your life could depend on it. Vote your self interest!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Phillips C
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

While this is a great development for the city of Palo Alto, and one that we can all welcome, we must be clear about the union's motive in finally, after months and months of taciturn negotiating tactics, agreeing to this with the vote on Measure D less than 6 weeks away. The fact is that the crown jewel in negotiations with the city has always been (since 1978) binding arbitration. With binding arb in jeopardy pending the November vote on Measure D, the fire union now decides to come to the table in a realistic manner. More than anything, they fear the loss of the unfair advantage they have with binding arb, an advantage than no other city employees, other than fire and police, possess. Taxpayers of Palo Alto...is that fair and equal?

Repealing binding arbitration is a long term fix to a structural problem. I'm thrilled with the concessions from the fire union, regardless of the tardiness. But make no mistake, if we don't repeal binding arb by passing Measure D, we'll be right back at square one before we know it. Yes on D


Like this comment
Posted by gas pipelines
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 1, 2011 at 9:48 am

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is single-handedly blocking a new federal law on gas pipeline safety. Too much regulation, according to him, even though Kentucky had a gas line explosion just last week.

Minimum staffing could be useful in the future.


Like this comment
Posted by Ben C.
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

"The city estimates the contract, which runs until June 30, 2014, to save the city $1.1 million in the current fiscal year and $1.5 million annually starting next July. The city's current budget assumes $4.3 million in concessions from all of the city's public-safety unions."

So let me get this straight, the city still needs $3.2 million in concessions from public safety unions? I'm pretty sure there's only two public safety unions, PAPD and PAFD. This means that after all the poor community relations consistently shown by PAFD, they get away with conceding about 25% of the "public-safety unions" cuts, leaving PAPD to bear the remaining $3.2 million. I seem to remember PAPD offering to forego their contract guaranteed raises of 6% for the last 3 years to the city (the city said NO this past year).

This seems like a great deal for PAFD and a spit in the face after a kick in the back for PAPD...


Like this comment
Posted by Stepheny
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

Tony "Wolfman" Spitelari's days may be numbered as president of the Palo Alto fire union.

With more than 80% of fire union members voting for a compromise Tony strongly opposed forever (but reluctantly recommended, then embraced, after it was too late), the logical next step is for union members to elect a new leader who can help them work back out of the giant negative perception hole Tony's leadership dug for firemen.

Tony's "Wolfman" nickname is well earned. He has cried "wolf" so often...'bloated fire staffing required for fast emergency responses, minutes can mean the difference between life and death, closing a fire station will leave an area dangerously uncovered,' etc.

Cries of 'wolf' got the Palo Alto fire union what they wanted for a long time...minimum 24/7 fire staff that couldn't be reduced plus ever higher wages and benefits for fire employees.

Now the city faces a big financial crisis (gigantic and growing retirement benefits for firefighters) which, in the best of circumstances, it won't be able to overcome for years.

But crisis is bringing change. Moreover, Tony may soon be out.

Your YES on Measure D will add the exclamation points to these actions long overdue.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2011 at 10:05 am

Aah -- the favorite fire union defender tactic emerges: fear mongering.

JT: If you listen to Tony Spitaleri and believe safety is the primary concern behind minimum staffing, he would likewise be asking to strip the firefighters of their precious 24 hour shifts (which allows them to work only 2 days per week, enjoy significant downtime on their shifts, and work other jobs) and move to an 8 hour shift, five days per week. This makes the public safer not only because we can better staff more during busy hours and less during off hours, but when your life is in danger, you won't run the risk of tired firefighters arriving on the tail end of a 24 hour shift. The union is interested in only one thing: enriching its members. To equate their self-serving demands with the safety needs of the public is wrong.

Regarding gas explosions:

1. PG&E has already secured a 7% rate increase on the ratepayers of CA for pipeline maintenance, with minimum 3% increases in the next 2 years. The CPUC has shown it will side with PG&E on any rate issue where safety is in play. PA pipelines will not be exploding due to maintenance negligence.

2. In the event of an explosion, etc, we have a shared resources agreement with Menlo Park -- having say 25 vs the old minimum 29 firefighters on duty will be fine. Systemically, however, we're not paying those extra 4 firefighters to be on duty during the vast majority of days they're not needed, while we have a viable backup in place on the rare day they are needed.




Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 1, 2011 at 10:46 am

Hmmm. Last comment said Palo Alto can always count on Menlo Park fire to help out?
Menlo Park fire's primary responsibility is the Menlo Park Fire District. I know MPFD gets busy at times and already had told Palo Alto "No" when asked to send a fire engine to Palo Alto for mutual aide...fact is you CANNOT count on them coming, they are often unavailable.

Also note that some of the "Palo Alto" firefighters are assigned to stations on Stanford Campus and SLAC.

I know I don't want to cut the numbers of emergency responders in my city, I think a wealthy city like Palo Alto would be crazy to have less people on duty at night time...that is often when major fires occur, the last big flood was at night time, very bad car accidents happen at night, and major medical emergencies happen at night too...think stroke and heart attack for example. Good luck.


Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2011 at 11:15 am

Sam,

Do you have hard figures on the number of times Menlo Park Fire said "no" to a request for mutual aid? I seriously doubt this happens, ever.

ALL fire departments rely on mutual aid, not just Palo Alto. What's more PA doesn't rely on Menlo Park only; Santa Clara County and Mountain View provide mutual aid as well.

Lay off the scare tactics, they no longer work...


Like this comment
Posted by Jose L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Amen to stopping with the scare tactics already. It would be nice to have one firefighter for every citizen on duty day and night in case a meteor hits the city, but overkill is obviously a waste of money. Letting the union dictate what is a necessary staffing level is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.

There is a difference between supporting our public workers and being taken to the cleaners by them. I'm voting yes on D. I think the fire union should consider itself lucky to have gotten the deal it did, and the 4-1 margin it was approved by shows the same.


Like this comment
Posted by Harmony at Last!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Peace in the Valley. Harmony at last!

Truly, "peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars".

All you grumpy people out there will have to find something else to moan and groan about now.


Like this comment
Posted by Listen for once
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm

It's the same 20 or so of you that spew your hatred for public workers on these blogs. Quit hiding behind your computers and go do something useful with your lives. If you are so outraged with public safety unions, wages and benefits, I suggest you quit your job (if you have one), and go back to school to become police officers and firefighters. You might just find out that serving and helping the public is not only challenging, but also personally rewarding. I very much doubt there's so much as one of you out there that has the character or integrity required to do the job anyway..


Like this comment
Posted by You Listen
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2011 at 9:55 pm

@Listen, I don't hate public workers, but I'm not thrilled about their unions and union leaders. The problem is certainly not the character of the workers, particularly in the area of public safety, but there are serious issues with their contracts. Our job, as citizens, is to make sure the elected officials get the message and make the needed changes.


Like this comment
Posted by Listen for once has it right
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2011 at 10:57 pm

You people spew this garbage day in and day out. Maybe the fire department gets 500 applicants for every opening, but that is certainly not the case for police.

The police department once again has double digit vacancies and even the officers from other agencies have a difficult time passing the background tests to work in palo alto. With the folks who will be retiring and those looking for work elsewhere, the police department will be down 20 officers by the end of the year.

If all you people think the police department has is so good, go apply. Right now. They have openings with all the salary and benefits you are complaining about and suggest that if we cut the salary and benefits we would still fill all the jobs. Lets see how many of you can pass the hirng test, the background, the criminal checks, the polygraph, the medical. Oh then there is the police academy and the field training for another year, and then maybe you might make it.

The actual truth (not that you will ever lsiten to it) is that they can not fill the positions now in the police department and that will only be harder when you get done trashing them and reducing what we do pay them.

Keep it up. Maybe the fire department can respond when someone is breaking into your house or stealing your car.

pathetic!!!!!!!!!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Yes on D
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 1:14 am

This thread is about firefighters, not police. I think there's a reason fire union apologists often try to hitch their wagons to their more-valuable, more-sensible, more-fairly-paid cousins. Without Binding arbitration to bully the city government with, only those making above market will stand to lose. The taxpayers and the public, on the other hand, will get more for their money and benefit from a more efficient government.

The public sector has made a very arrogant miscalculation by, in the worst recession of our lives, continuing to ask taxpayers for more without first turning inward and taking a hard look at issues such as 150K per year overstaffed firefighters, pension spiking, double dipping, disability abuse, and out of market compensation. The result is they have lost a whole lot of people such as myself; lifetime democrats who have had our faith in the public sector (and formerly reliable vote) flipped on its head by union behavior during these hard times. Trying to keep the public from having a say on Measure D was the epitome of entitlement and arrogance.



Like this comment
Posted by Alisa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 10:07 am

Talking to a Palo Alto firefighter- he even agree that there are less 911 calls at night. So why not reduce the number of firefighters after 9pm? He also said that the police have less officers at night. Why not the fire department?


Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm

@ JT. Spare me. The only thing this might change is that now maybe they'll send the EMT's and their truck, and leave the fire truck in the station. NO one can tell me that a fire truck and crew needs to respond to a medical emergency, unless there happens to be a fire involved. Sending anything more than an EMT vehicle is a joke and a scam designed to pad the payrolls. Fire trucks are for fires, ambulances are for medical emergencies. End of story.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm

"NO one can tell me that a fire truck and crew needs to respond to a medical emergency, unless there happens to be a fire involved. Sending anything more than an EMT vehicle is a joke and a scam designed to pad the payrolls."

Sounds like you have not watched any emergency responses. When Paramedics go into a situation they carry substantial equipment and the victim is usually not sitting by the front door. The victims (let's say a heart issue) are usually not in good shape (well over weight, they are usually in the bedroom - at the end of a clutttered house or even upstairs. How easy do you suppose it is for a two man crew to move the 250 lb person to the ambulance along with all of the equipment quickly enough to save a life? Then once the person is in the ambulance there may be 2-3 people working on the victim while somebody else drives. Remember the ambulance leaves the station with only two people. In significant medical situations the people on the fire truck are absolutely needed.

I found a guy once who had just had a heart attack - he was lying by the side of his house.
It took 4 ffs to carry the guy to the truck while the two paramedics held the IV bag and the other boxes of equipment - it took six people and they saved the guy's life - a retired minister in Belmont.


Like this comment
Posted by danos
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

John,

The firefighters have lost a lot of credibility due to the pervasive use of scare tactics by the union. So you can't be surprised if people have doubts about the number of personnel needed to handle a medical call.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 4, 2011 at 11:52 am

Sorry John. Maybe occasionally you hit an extreme situation, but it's not the norm, and they still don't need a fully staffed fire truck. Call in a couple of EMT's for backup, police do it all the time. I found a guy on the ground at our complex, called 911, performed CPR till the paramedics arrived. By the time they got their equipment set up, the poor guy would have been brain dead anyway. In this case, there were two EMT vehicles with crew, plus a firetruck, 8 guys in all I think. A bit of overkill.
At another fender bender(3 cars), I counted three EMT vehicles, plus three firetrucks, including a hook and ladder. These people need to do an efficiency and risk assessment study. They are just too good at spending other people's money.


Like this comment
Posted by Denese
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Sorry, guys but for all of the negative comments and remarks about the fire department; the next time we have a major emergency ie fire or life crisis and response time is slower to response time or not enough staff on duty remember the remarks and the support you have given the fire department. These men and women put their lives on the line for us and no it's not just their job.

They are not and never have been paid their worth.

Thank you fire department for all you do; you are appreciated.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Steve C said-
"At another fender bender(3 cars), I counted three EMT vehicles, plus three firetrucks, including a hook and ladder. These people need to do an efficiency and risk assessment study. They are just too good at spending other people's money."

Sounds like you are making things up in an effort to make your point. PA has two ambulances and I have never seen more than one (along with one fire engine) respond to a single event. I have seen multiple MP fire engines respond to accidents on 101 and I figured it was a safety issue to help block freeway traffic.

I like the PA medical response - one ambulance (two paramedics) and one fire engine (three more people). There is no additional cost to the taxpayer by having the fire engine show up since they are on duty anyway. Your earlier comment "Sending anything more than an EMT vehicle is a joke and a scam designed to pad the payrolls" makes no sense because it simply is not true. I would have rather have more than enough hands at a medical event rather than no enough - given the fact that the taxpayer cost is the same in either case. I assume most medical calls end up being for minor problems and they do not require more than two people but I would rather have them prepared for the worst case.

Another point, I've heard that PA makes money on the Fire medical responses and that helps subsidize the rest of the Fire program - they even plan on adding more ambulances because it is a money making operation. They collect money from patient/victim insuarance for treatment and trips to the hospital.


Like this comment
Posted by Stephen P.
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

"They are not and never have been paid their worth."

200K in total compensation plus six figure pensions at 50, for two shifts per week. I think they're paid a lot more than they are worth, as evidenced by the near zero turnover and the huge number of qualified applicants for every opening.

The police actually earn their money. The firefighters pay should be cut in half and the police should get raises.


Like this comment
Posted by YES on Measure D
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 5, 2011 at 7:54 am

The agreement reaffirms the need to eliminate Binding Arbitration. After a year and a half of not negotiating in good faith, the Fire Union struck a deal within weeks of a vote on whether to repeal Binding Arbitration. Only the risk of repeal forced the fire union to become reasonable.

If measure D fails, we will be back to square one and the union will return to relying on sympathetic pro-union arbitrators to provide them with unfair leverage in future negotiations, which will jeopardizing these reforms. Remember Tony Spitalari was the unions pick for the arbitrator.

The city will need to negotiate a new contract with the Fire Union in 3 years. If Measure D does not pass, the Fire Union can then return to an arbitrator to repeal these reforms. No arbitrator in California has ruled in support of a city’s effort to create a second pension tier such as Palo Alto has just negotiated. Worse, under Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) rules, increased pensions apply retroactively to an employees’ entire career with the city.

Binding Arbitration is simply bad public policy. It ties the hands of the city and puts the financial destiny of Palo Alto in the hands of the fire fighters union and Tony Spitalari.


Like this comment
Posted by Hero
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2011 at 7:55 am

Denese, thank you for acknowledging the obvious. Firefighters have never been paid what we are worth. I am so disappointed in posters like USMC and Stephen. You type your silly posts and pretend like we are ordinary workers with ordinary skills. You need to understand that we are strong, amazing, and brave. We are also ORGANIZED! In the short run you may think you have won the battle. Prop D may pass and you may remove binding arbitration from our arsenal of budger busting weapons. But soon enough you will go back to your ordinary, dreary lives. You will focus on your kids, their schoolwork & sports, your jobs, paying the bills. Once you do we will be back. Comrade Price and Union Boss Spitaleri are not fools. They will let you have this one and then when you turn your attention we will be back. Comrade Price will accept our campaign fundsd and work tirelessly to jack up our wages and benefits. Boss Spitaleri will ride the troops and quell any dissension. Enjoy your short lived success. We are already organizing for our new campaign.


Like this comment
Posted by creditable
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 5, 2011 at 7:59 am

if this "hero" word was coming from a person who has been helped by them,then it seems more creditable to me.you are no hero,you are abusing your power.


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