This guest post is written by, Zac Unger, a lifelong Oakland resident. He has been an Oakland firefighter for 11 years and serves as a member of the executive board of Local 55.
As some of you may have heard, the firefighter’s union has just approved a new contract by an 80-20 margin. Granted, I’m an Oakland Firefighter and a member of the union’s executive board, but I do think that our concessions represent a major show of good will in these bad economic times. Here are the details:
The bottom line is that we are increasing our workweek from 52 to 56 hours, while also taking an 8% hourly pay cut. This has the effect of leaving our overall yearly salary largely unchanged: decrease the pay, increase the hours. Essentially we’re all working four hours a week for free; it’s like a furlough, but we don’t get to take the time off. This saves the city money, since under Measure Y and other agreements, we have minimum staffing levels. Those four hours per week used to be covered by overtime, at time and a half, and they will now be covered by straight time, a significant savings for the city. In addition to reducing the amount of overtime used, this contract will also reduce the cost of overtime when we do use it, since overtime is based on an hourly wage, and that number has been reduced by 8%.
This is a four year contract; since we’ve been working without a contract for one year, there are three years remaining on this contract. We’re taking zero raise in the first year, zero in the second year, zero in the third year. We will be able to reopen the contract for the last year, but only in regards to the issue of money. So basically: three years of nothing, with a re-opener in the last year, and no guarantee of raises at any point during this four year contract.
Next, we agreed to a change in the way the city covers our medical benefits. It will result in the union membership contributing about $300,000 more per annum, another good savings for the city. In total, the Union has made about $6 million worth of concessions while not reducing the level of service we provide to the citizens. In fact, due to a complicated provision we’ll be able to field an additional 41 paramedics at no increase in cost.
And finally, it’s always important to remember that Oakland Firefighters contribute 13% of our salary to our pensions. The Tribune misstated this; they said that we pay for thirteen percent of our pension, which would imply that the city pays for 87% of our pension. That’s quite incorrect. We pay an amount equal to 13% of our SALARY towards our pension; in some years the city pays nothing, and in some years they pay more than we do. For every $100 I earn, $13 goes directly to CALPERS without ever going into my pocket. This is important as a point of comparison to OPD. They contribute zero to their pension, so every $100 they earn is $100 in their pocket. It’s entirely fair to say that the city is 100% responsible for funding the retirement of the police. They do good work under tough conditions and I don’t begrudge them anything they get, but our situations are not the same. “Policeandfire” is not a monolith and can’t be viewed as having the same deal.
In past budget crises, the city has closed the gap by shuttering stations and reducing fire protection. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve come to an agreement that does not reduce service or increase the risks faced by the people of Oakland. We appreciate all of the support we’ve gotten over the years from everyone in Oakland, and we look forward to many more years of high level service.