Union's take

Dear Editor:The Downey Maintenance Employees Association (DMEA) would like to clarify some issues in the recent article about labor negotiations in your paper ("City, Unions Continue Talks," 3/17/11). These comments refer only to the DMEA. We agree that the past two years have been the worst in our experience. Not because of ill intent of management but because of the downturn of the entire economy. It is true that two years ago (not last year as implied in the article) DMEA did receive a 4% salary increase which was justified by a compensation survey of surrounding communities. However, last year there were no improvements in salary and benefits for the bargaining unit and we are not expecting increases this year either. The Salary Survey this year showed that DMEA is just slightly below the current market. The agreement to allow for 100% cash out of accrued sick leave may only be used to offset the costs of medical insurance after retirement. The city contribution for retiree medical is $98/month towards a premium of more than $700/month for a couple. This is not a gift. It is a benefit earned by employees who have excellent attendance. The current retirement formula that a council member says is unsustainable was not a gift either. The employees paid for the extra cost for their retirement formula by giving up a pay increase. The council member chooses to ignore the fact that for years the city was "superfunded" at CalPERS and paid very little for employee retirement benefits. Of the value of the investment pool at CalPERS more than 75% of the pool is from return on investments. The remaining amount is split about equally between employees and employer (taxpayer?). We do not deny that the value of the CalPERS investments have dropped due to the economic downturn but the investments returned 13.3% in the past year instead of the assumed 7.75% that is included in the city actuarial statement based on data from two years ago. The maintenance employees of the City of Downey take great pride in their work even as their ranks are being thinned and they are asked to do more with less. There are few specialists in the unit with most being "many hatted" as they go through their daily duties; to keep your city clean and in good repair, your parks pleasant places and your water safe to drink. Do you really want your environment and services maintained by lowest wage earners? The ability to attract and retain good employees is always a concern for all employers. Please do not use this economic downturn to take away well earned salary and benefits. We are not the highest paid maintenance employees in the area as implied in your article. -- Philip Cokkinos, President, Downey Maintenance Employees Association

********** Published: March 31, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 50