Modesto pension costs skyrocketing – ya think?

Modesto Pensions

February 2nd 2017

The writer Even Rosen once summed up the difference between negotiation and collaboration this way: Negotiation is “I win, you lose” or “I win bigger than you win.” Collaboration is “win, win.”

On its face that sounds reasonable, mature and of good nature. However as in all things there are appropriate avenues for all discussions, and in the realm of negotiations.   As Mayor I thought I had seen and heard it all – until I learned the backwater process of negotiation with the numerous Modesto employee collective groups.

Unless you are involved in the muck of 10th street place, or a municipal policy-wonk, I bet you have never heard of the MCMA (Modesto Confidential & Management Association), the MCEA (Modesto City Employees Association) and a whole variety of public safety (fire and police) groups.   Every few years, mandated processes of negotiation (shakedown) involving these employees on the public payroll takes place with the City.

In these meetings, demands are made of the City, by these groups with high powered San Francisco negotiators complete with weeping salary studies showing how underpaid and underappreciated City employees are in comparison with their private sector equivalents.

When I was Mayor, it was procedure to have a non-biased, high level member of management in the room who was not a member of an employee group, nor a member of the Council, nor the Senior Executive Team.  The purpose of this person was to observe, and aid in the negotiation process from an unbiased opinion.

Welcome to my first dip into the chicanery of Public Employee Negotiations.  In discussions with this City observer after the first ne-negotiation with groups – My long-held thoughts (and fears) were confirmed.

As these meeting dragged on for hours and days, the most perfunctory details were discussed Ad nauseam, everything from paid shoe-string replacement to grace periods for showing up as much as two-hours late to work.  It was a 2-inch thick stack of demands from the groups that would make those in the private sector sick, as many of them are living from paycheck to paycheck.  But this is not the back story of this stick-up.

The back story of this is what happened on the last few hours of the last day of the “negotiations”.   Suddenly it became clear that the members on both sides of the negotiating table were for the most part approaching retirement age.

Amazingly, both sides dropped the silly animosity and begun to COLLABERATE on the “serious issues”, such as converting unused sick leave to lifetime health insurance, and a rapid-fire golden benefits agreement that lasted an hour (yes only an hour-long) – a lovefest on pension benefits for retirees.   A jocular and cooperative mood took over as the previously opposing groups (with the same goal of golden retirement plans) hammered out a deal that is just now coming home to roost – note the Modesto Bee story

I am NOT anti-union, not by a long shot.   I would like to quote an opinion of a NY Supreme Court from 1943 regarding Public Unions.

 “To tolerate or recognize any combination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy, but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded. Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen. To admit as true that government employees have power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, is to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power. Nothing would be more ridiculous.”

Could not have said it better.

Since my administration the words “protect and serve” has been removed from Modesto police cars and private security firms have flourished to “protect for a fee”.

Public safety unions engage in the marketing strategy of self- glorification with promises they cannot keep us safe without more money.  However, their use of existing funds is questionable – $24,000 for jaunt to Jordan and Paris by Sherriff Christianson and a select few.  Recently the City Police spent a minimum of $22,000 (payroll only) to send an honor guard to Washington DC.    These fiscal bullet points are just a drop in the bucket of the money they really pirate.

To be fair, the line officers who make the sacrifices to truly keep us safe should be considered separate from the activities of Police Unions.

Unions have three missions – higher pay, more benefits and job protection.  To reach these goals they engage in public manipulation, and partner with entities that will select/elect/appoint public officials who will rubber stamp their demands.

A few examples… Mayor Marsh who advocated a sales tax for “public safety” while he was running for re-election.  The Police union stabbed him in the back by supporting his opponent who was “appointed” to run by developers.

Mayor Ridenour kept his promise by giving the police a 9% pay raise.  When it was discovered that the City could not afford the raise, the union was offered a choice of giving up the pay raise to keep nine officers employed. The union responded by telling the City to lay off their brothers on the thin blue line, and take the 9% for themselves.

Candidate Ted Brandvold said that “George Petrulakis recruited me, but I’m not taking his help”.   After the run-off, he came to Sabatino’s Restaurant to ask for my vote, and said “Petrulakis only persuaded me to run.”  I informed him that I knew Petrulakis had indeed helped him by changing the word “recruit” to “persuade”.

Bottom line – candidates need money and unions to get elected/selected/appointed.  Unions need elected officials to provide them with better pay, more benefits and lifetime career protection/guarantees.

Police are paid 90% of their highest salary upon retirement at age 50.  The only place the City can get the money is from YOU.

Indeed, the chickens are coming home to roost and eat your taxes…

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