OAKLAND — The union representing Oakland firefighters voted 335-64 in favor of a new contract that will freeze wages and increase the hours firefighters work as the city faces an ongoing financial crisis, the union’s president said this week. The city relied heavily on concessions from city workers to try to balance its budget this year, and the firefighters became the second major city union this week to agree to a new contract. Chuck Garcia, president of Local 55 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents Oakland firefighters, said the union agreed to the deal to save jobs and protect services. “I think it’s important that the citizens know that Local 55 took a leadership position to save the city $6.4 million so the city could have a balanced budget,” he said.
Under the terms of the contract, firefighters will work 56 hours a week rather than 52 with no additional pay, will have cost-of-living adjustments frozen through June 2011, will continue paying 13 percent of their retirement pensions, and possibly will have a less expensive health plan. The contract will run through June 2012.
At a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday, the City Council is expected to give final approval to the fire contract and a contract approved by city workers represented by Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union. Council members pushed for a 10 percent reduction in pay and benefits from all of thecity’s major unions. The city is close to a deal with Local 21 of Professional & Technical Engineers.”They’ve stepped up,” City Council President Jane Brunner (North Oakland) said of the unions. “They are giving back. They understand the crisis. It’s going to end up saving a lot of jobs and saving services.” After contentious back-and-forth last month, the city also may be nearing a deal with the Oakland Police Officers Association on changes to their contract. In a closed session earlier this week, the council approved the framework for an agreement that the union will bring to its members.
Few details were available about the deal, except that it would be a multiyear extension of the current contract and would include, among other givebacks, deferring 4 percent pay hikes officers were promised in a contract secured in 2008. “I think the conversations have been very good, and I think the police association is taking our requests very seriously,” Brunner said. Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, the head of Oakland’s police union, said he was “very pleased with the talks” with council members and City Administrator Dan Lindheim. “We’re very close,” Arotzarena said. “We’re at the point now where we’re going to present a contract extension to our members.” Police layoffs uncertain Just weeks after council members adopted a budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year, it’s become clear they will have to make more deep cuts. Officials said they would have to do so before they voted to close an $83 million deficit June 30. A special meeting is scheduled July 28 to address the ongoing budget issues. It’s not clear whether the city will know at that point exactly how much it will have to cut, but a key question for a number of people is whether Oakland will move to lay off police officers in the coming weeks and months. “It’s unlikely, but it could happen,” Acting Chief Howard Jordan said in a meeting with reporters this week. “The reason I say that is there are a number of factors that haven’t been worked out yet.” Those factors include the ongoing negotiations with the police union; a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, to pay for police in high-crime, cash-strapped cities; and the outcome of an application seeking $67 million over a three-year period from a federal grant to pay for 140 police officers. Oakland received bad news on that front recently when the U.S. Justice Department indicated the city would receive less than a third of that grant because of the high demand from policing agencies across the country. It all leaves City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) more pessimistic than Jordan. He said at a council committee meeting this week that he believes the city will have to lay off police officers. “We’re going to grapple with that,” he said. “And I know it’s going to be probably the hardest decisions the mayor and the City Council (are) going to have to make, but I think to be able to be fair to all the “… different sectors of our workforce, I don’t think we’re going have a choice.”
Polls close soon Time is winding down to cast a ballot in Oakland’s mail-only special election, in which voters are deciding on four ballot measures that could generate $7 million or $8 million for the city in the next year.
Ballots must be received by the Registrar of Voters office by 8 p.m. Tuesday. With the deadline approaching, people can drop a ballot in person at the Registrar of Voters’ office at 1225 Fallon St. in Oakland.
Story by: The Oakland Tribune