We can always depend on a crisis to bring out the best and worst in people caught up in the chaos. The Coronavirus pandemic is an historical life-change event. Everyone alive right now, from children to the elderly, will remember 2020 as the year their lives changed.

In my position as General Manager of OCEA, Orange County’s largest public-sector union, I have had the privilege to represent essential workers who risk their own health and the health of their families to keep us safe by providing vital services to our community.

Public servants have experienced the devastating social and economic effects of the pandemic firsthand. If you dial 911, it is first responders and essential workers who are committed to answering the call. The municipal services on which we depend, such as infrastructure, clean water, sewer, and sanitation, have continued without disruption. Our public workers have risen to the occasion and met the moment because it is their job and their calling.

Even while doing more with less, public workers, including those serving the City of Fullerton, have performed during this crisis in a way that has filled the community with pride. Other public agencies sat down with their workers and, in true collaborative fashion, adopted strategies like voluntary furloughs and early retirement incentives to address fiscal challenges. That does not mean there will not be sacrifices. Residents are still likely to see the impacts at their favorite parks, libraries, and on the streets.

Throughout the County, employers and community members have shown appreciation for the sacrifices our public workers have made and continue to make. However, in Fullerton apparently no good deed goes unpunished.

City Manager Ken Domer has taken advantage of his authority to impose his own crash program and is pushing cuts that harm workers and the community. Instead of collaborating with his dedicated workers, Mr. Domer’s default solution is mandatory pay cuts or layoffs, leaving employees with an impossible choice. Members of the Fullerton Municipal Employees Federation (FMEF), the people who actually provide services to the community, have reached out to Mr. Domer for clarification on the data used to justify his insensitive and unnecessary approach, only to receive conflicting and incomplete justifications.

The community understands that police officers, firefighters, public works staff, and many other essential workers will be needed by everyone to pull us through this public health crisis.

The FMEF is an OCEA affiliate. We are proud to stand with them. Our consistent message to the City Manager has been this: A decision to lay off committed public servants during a public health crisis should not be made without exhausting every other possibility.

But Mr. Domer was undeterred. He forced a vote of the FMEF on Tuesday, Aug. 25th. He offered an unimaginative take-it-or-leave-it choice for City workers: A 5% pay cut that hurts workers and their families or sacrifice the livelihood of some of their coworkers, with Mr. Domer and his department directors deciding who to lay off. Remember these are working families counting every dime. These workers don’t have a car allowance or other managerial perks. A 5% cut is a big deal. A majority of the workers made the agonizing decision to protect their families.

To underscore his level of insensitivity, Mr. Domer has refused to provide any guarantee that the laid-off workers will be hired back or pay cuts restored should the City’s fiscal situation improve, if and/or when additional federal aid is made available.

We hope the Fullerton City Council majority will direct the City Manager to try harder and be more imaginative. Throwing essential workers – and they are all essential – under the bus is wrong. Adding to the unemployment rolls as our economy struggles to regain its footing is not smart, compassionate, or even fiscally prudent.

FMEF members deserve better. Fullerton residents deserve better.

Charles Barfield, General Manager, Orange County Employees Association.

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Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please email opinions@voiceofoc.org.

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Fitzgerald and Flory: OCEA Needs To Get Its Facts Straight on Fullerton

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