Five days after Irvine’s police officer’s union dropped $35,000 in advertising mailers on behalf of two city council members running for reelection this month city leaders scheduled a vote to approve lucrative pay raises for officers. 

The deal was supposed to be finalized at the council’s Oct. 25 meeting but the contracts got bumped to the council’s next meeting:

On the evening of November 8 – Election Night. 

According to the city staff report, the contracts would give every union in the city an 11% increase for their workers’ income next year, with an additional 3.5% increase in 2024 and 2025. 

Altogether, that’s just under a 19% increase by 2025 from employees’ current salary. 

The unions’ last four year contract only granted a 2% increase over that same timespan according to city manager Oliver Chi.  

Employees will also be required to pick up some additional contributions to their retirement program, bringing the total gains after 2024 down to a 3% annual increase according to Chi.  

So far, the police union has been the biggest labor contributor in the race. 

A Voice of OC review found at least $17,500 have already been spent on the campaigns of Mayor Farah Khan and City Councilman Anthony Kuo by the city’s police union, going toward mailers and digital ads according to campaign finance disclosures. 

The police union also contributed less than $1,000 apiece directly to several other candidates, including Councilman Larry Agran, finance commissioner John Park, UC Irvine professor Kathleen Treseder, and transportation commissioner Scott Hansen. 

Kuo, Khan and police union leaders did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC on Thursday. 

Chapman University political science professor Mike Moodian said it’s not uncommon for unions to push for big raises when cities have a budget surplus like in Irvine. 

“The voters may like this, they may not like it, but until there’s any sort of election reform, this is how the game is played,” Moodian said in a Tuesday phone interview. 

“When cities have a budget surplus, many times you’ll see unions come in and they’ll do what a good union does, and that’s try to get a raise and the highest raise possible for the union employees they represent.”

The contracts will cover the city’s police unions and all the unions represented by the Orange County Employees Association, which make up every bargaining group in the city according to Chi. 

Voice of OC was not able to locate any other major spending by the employees association in city elections beyond $1,100 from the Irvine City Employees Association that was split between Kuo and Khan, who were also endorsed by the county employees association.

Charles Barfield, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association, declined to comment for this article. 

The city’s firefighters are not included in this negotiation, and are separately handled by the OC Fire Authority board of directors, which is currently in the midst of a heated negotiation with the firefighters’ union. 

Read: Is Orange County’s Fire Authority on Fire?

Chi praised the contracts as a necessary raise for an underpaid staff and said the city’s budget surplus would cover the increases. 

“Irvine employees have typically been compensated toward the top quarter in OC, and we’ve fallen behind fairly significantly,” Chi said. “(The new contracts) follow our compensation policy where we try to make sure we stay in the top three cities within Orange County.”

Chi said the contracts were pushed to election night in order to clean up some of the wording, but the overall basics of the contract would remain the same. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada. 

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