Laguna’s Public Safety Unions in Contract Talks

Firefighters are bargaining with city officials over pay. Here, a firefighter is decontaminate in June after entering an apartment hit by a stink bomb.

The city’s negotiators outlined a tentative labor agreement with Laguna Beach firefighters and a separate progress report on negotiations with police at a special meeting of Laguna Beach’s City Council on Monday.

“We’re getting really close,” said Mayor Toni Iseman after the session, though she declined to discuss the terms of the proposals. No action was taken on either agreement.

City Atty. Phil Kohn said finalized contracts should be ready to present to the City Council next month. “Discussions are still taking place,” said Kohn, who characterized on-going talks as a positive signal that agreements will be reached.

A separate labor contract with the city’s largest employee group, 107 municipal workers and fulltime lifeguards, is not under review and remains in force until June 2013. Due to fiscal constraints and to avoid layoffs, municipal employees agreed to forego 5-percent pay raises in 2010 and 2011, said Scott Diederich, president of the Municipal Employees Association.

Statewide scrutiny of public retiree plans and the cost of those benefits generates an undercurrent in local bargaining. “The public expects us to address pension issues and we take it very seriously,” said Iseman, who expects labor contracts statewide will start requiring current employees to pay towards their own retirement and new hires receive less generous retirement terms.

Laguna firefighters held two negotiating sessions in the previous week with the city’s negotiating team and a mediator, said John Latta, who represents the 36-person Local 3631. He hoped to learn whether council members preliminarily agree to the tentative pact.

Firefighters could be asked to vote on the contract as early as next week, said Latta, who declined to disclose the term of the proposed pact or any of the provisions on the table.

“It has positive long-term impact,” said Iseman, who declined to be specific.

Larry Bammer, president of the Police Employees Assoc., wants to ensure his members’ pay and benefits remain competitive with firefighters.

While city officials have balanced the last two years of operating deficits by selectively reducing expenses, Laguna, like other cities, anticipates rising retirement costs, partly to make for investment losses by the state retirement system.

Firefighters’ previous five-year contract awarded them an 11 percent cost of living adjustment in 2006 and 5-percent pay increases in each of the four succeeding years. Pay also included retirement contributions equal to 9 percent of salary. Police receive contributions of the same amount.

The previous three-year contract with police employees awarded them an 8 percent cost of living adjustment in 2007, 5 percent in each succeeding year, but included a one-year contract extension without salary or benefit increases.

The police labor pact covers the department’s 75 employees, including sergeants, sworn and civilian personnel. Talks are not as far along as firefighters, said Bammer, who expects a reply to the current proposal from police employees on Aug. 31.

Police employees would prefer an 18-month contract, which would permit future contract talks to occur prior to the adoption of the city budget, Bammer said. “If there is a dire need for money, we’re willing to work with the city,” he said, pointing out his recommendation would be to eliminate two, unfilled top-brass positions in the department budget before pay concessions are considered elsewhere.

Two lieutenants currently supervise the department’s patrol and investigations division, which also includes clerical and animal control officers. Prior to Paul Workman’s promotion to chief, three captains headed the divisions.




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