Santa Ana Service Employees Unhappy With Budget Deal

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Members of the Santa Ana City Council this week hailed new labor deals with police officers and service employees unions as significant progress in climbing out of a projected $30-million budget hole going into next fiscal year.

But not all sides are happy with the deal.

Leaders of the city’s service employees union are angry about the terms of their agreement, which they say unfairly targets their bargaining group. Since the beginning of the recession in 2007, they said, service employees have taken the brunt of the city’s budget cuts while little has been asked of public safety employees.

“We’re upset, disappointed at the way the council came after us,” said Joaquin Avalos, president of the Santa Ana chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

Avalos said union leaqders signed the deal because they believe it will significantly reduce the chances of more layoffs. “We’re hoping they’re nice guys and they won’t lay us off,” Avalos said. “That’s the only reason we signed.”

Under their new agreement, the city’s service employees will be contributing 13 percent of their paychecks toward their pensions by 2013 and will be taking 17 additional furlough days. The combined givebacks mean a 15 percent pay cut for service employees in the first six months of 2013, according to union leaders.

The deal struck between the city and service employees is supposed to save the city $7.4 million, according to figures provided by the union, though only $3 million will be savings to the general fund.

Meanwhile, sworn members of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association’s will be contributing 7.9 percent of their paychecks toward retirement by 2013, but the additional money is to come from scheduled salary raises.

The disparity of the deals has left service employees scratching their heads.

“We gave to police. It makes you really upset,” said Angelo Giron, an executive officer on the union’s board of directors.

Leaning heavily on service employees for cuts has proven to be an ineffective approach, Giron and other service employees officials argue, because public safety expenditures dominate the budget picture. Public safety costs consume more than 75 percent of the general fund and have been rapidly ballooning since the 1990s, despite shrinking numbers of firefighters and police officers.

City leaders only this year acknowledged a built-in budget deficit that won’t be solved without substantial cutbacks to police and fire budgets. It is generally accepted that spiraling public safety costs along with reduced revenues from the recession and state takeaways pushed the city into dire financial straits.

Critics of the service employees leadership point out that they received raises in 2008 and 2009. Yet the majority of the budget-cutting has been focused on service employees. In 2009, the city laid off dozens of service employees and introduced regular furloughs.

By October 2010 service employees were contributing 8 percent of their paychecks toward their pensions, the rate recommended by the state’s retirement system. Police and firefighters at the time were contributing between 1 and 3 percent.

Giron said it didn’t help matters when the City Council appointed Police Chief Paul Walters as the interim replacement for longtime City Manager Dave Ream.

“If he [Walters] hammered the police department, his officers would lose confidence in him,” Giron said.

Walters maintains that he wasn’t involved in the labor negotiations. “I don’t sit at the table. It’s the attorneys, and the attorneys take direction from the mayor and council.

“It’s not me. I don’t tell them what to do,” Walters said. “Anyone who says I favor the police department, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

John Franks, president of the police union, said he would refrain from criticizing other unions’ deals.

“I could have done the same thing last year with the Fire Department. They got a sweetheart deal too. But I’m not making this police versus fire versus [service union]. That’s just not my stance.” Franks said.

“I have members that aren’t happy with what I proposed. I’m not going to police everybody. I’m the leader of this organization. I’m going to do what I need to do for my organization.”

Franks also argues that police officers can’t make certain sacrifices, like department-wide furloughs, that service employees have made.

The frustration of service employees has already had political consequences for Councilwoman Michele Martinez. The day after council members approved the new agreement with service employees, union leaders announced their endorsement of Julio Perez, who is running against Martinez and Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly for the 69th Assembly District seat.

“After what they [council members] did to us, to turn around and award one of our council folks — I would look silly,” Avalos said.

City Council members Martinez, Vincent Sarmiento, Sal Tinajero, David Benavides, Carlos Bustamante, Claudia Alvarez and Mayor Miguel Pulido did not return calls for comment. Chris Roelle, president of the Santa Ana Firemen’s Benevolent Association, also declined to comment.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

 

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