Vallejo, California: Unions help city with lay-offs

The city of Vallejo in the San Francisco Bay Area may be the first city in California history to declare bankruptcy. However several unions are helping the city to cut jobs in an effort to ward off bankruptcy.

Submitted by OliverTwister on March 2, 2008

This cash-strapped city reached a tentative deal with its police and firefighters unions Thursday, just before city leaders convened to decide if the city would seek bankruptcy protection from a swell of economic uncertainty.

That question remains unresolved, however, as details of the deal will be made public today before the council revisits the issue Monday.

For now, Vallejo staves off the embarrassment of becoming the first sizable city in California's history to seek protection under Chapter 9, a rarely used provision of bankruptcy law that allows municipalities and other government entities to keep creditors at bay while trying to recover from economic hard times. Officials had said the city would run out of money to pay its bills – and employees – by April.

The apparent deal would eliminate a $13.5 million budget deficit, said Mayor Osby Davis, who called the meeting into session about 30 minutes late, ostensibly because negotiators were talking until the last minute. City officials had been negotiating with the unions to accept pay cuts and other concessions.

Both sides had been under pressure by angry residents, many of whom packed recent meetings after apparently being caught off-guard by the talk of bankruptcy.

"The unions have been cooperative," Davis said following Thursday's session, "but it's been tough." The agreement "keeps us from filing bankruptcy … for now," said the mayor, who took his post just two months ago and was instantly plunged into one of the worst financial crises in this city's history.

The deal with the firefighters union gives the local government some much-needed breathing room. The mayor also hoped the extra few days will allow passions to cool, particularly among residents who have come out in droves to express concern about the city's fate, which for decades had been linked to Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

Jon Riley, vice president of the city's firefighters union, said fire stations are being staffed by 43 fewer personnel since 2000.

The city has 78 firefighters. To help reduce costs, the union has cooperated with the city and is expected to cut 29 positions. It also plans to cut funding for libraries and the city museum and delay routine maintenance of streets, roadside lighting and other public facilities.

"It's not the people of this city who created this problem," said Sam Kurshan, a Vallejo resident who worries about the negative image of his city.

"Don't put a Band-Aid on this," he told the council. "It's a quick fix. … A lot of people think bankruptcy is inevitable to help break the cycle."

At least two council members shared similar sentiments after Thursday's City Council session.

"If it's not a long-term solution to this budget imbalance that we have," said Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes, "then I might not support it."

"Bankruptcy is a better solution than a short-term fix," she said, explaining that the financial gains of the proposed union deal would only postpone what some call inevitable. "We eliminated the deficit for this year, but come July 1, we'll have another $14 million deficit."



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Submitted by OliverTwister on February 29, 2008

From ABC News10 -

[Vallejo City Councilwoman]Gomes said that last year, 98 firefighters made more than $100,000 and 10 made more than $200,000 including overtime. It is overtime that some firefighters say they would just as soon not have to work.

"With the extra hours, it's like some of them are working two jobs," said Jon Riley, a veteran fire captain and vice-president of Firefighters Union Local 1186.
Last week, seven police officers and 14 firefighters suddenly and unexpectedly resigned. "The guys at the firehouse have called last Thursday the St. Valentine's Day Massacre because we lost so many of our individuals on one day," said Riley.
While Riley said there are now 38 fewer firefighters in Vallejo than there were seven years ago, the vacancies are being filled by existing staff working extra shifts.

So apparently, there were at least 98 firefighters last year, but they were few enough that they all had to work loads of overtime - now there will be 78 minus a portion of the 29 job losses (assuming some of those 29 are police).

Assuming the firefighters had a base salary of $60,000 and were working an average of 20 hours of overtime a week, that would give them an annual salary of $105,000 - decent, but hardly extravagant given that a cheap house in a poor section of Vallejo will start at $500,000 minimum. Not to mention that's for working a 60 hour week year-round.

However if there were 120 firefighters last year and now there will be just 60, they will all be forced to work even more overtime yet the fire services will suffer at the same time.