City, unions continue talks

DOWNEY - The city's official line on the current contract negotiations with the different city employee associations comes from human services director Irma Youssefieh.Because the talks are conducted in closed session, she would only confirm, "The City is currently in contract negotiations with the following recognized employees' associations (with their contract periods): 1) the Downey City Employees' Association - Miscellaneous Unit (11/1/09-10/31/10); 2) the Downey City Employees' Association - Maintenance Unit (11/1/09-10/31/10); the Downey Public Safety Auxiliary Association (11/1/09-10/31/10); the Downey Fire Management Association (7/1/06-6/30/10); and the Downey Firemen's Association (7/1/06-6/30/10)." She then goes on to say, "Generally, the items of negotiations include all mandatory subjects of bargaining, including, but not limited to, wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment." That's it. No mention of any details about what concerns the employees most at this point in time, about adjustments to their wages/salaries, about their medical and retirement benefits, or about cost-of-living adjustments, if any - topics that are usually bandied about in contract talks. If we can take a cue, though, from past collective bargaining agreements, we see that the Maintenance Unit's latest contract (which is now under negotiation), provided for a reported "4 percent pay increase, a 100 percent unused sick leave payoff at retirement, increases to their life insurance programs," etc. (the unit consists of employees representing the maintenance, transit, water utility and housing divisions). The Miscellaneous Unit (representing general city employees) got practically the same package. The Downey Public Safety Auxiliary Association (code enforcement officers, forensics specialists, 9-1-1 dispatchers and records specialists) got a better deal, in particular a 5 percent pay raise. (Further details may be found on the city's website at, click on City Departments, Human Resources, MOUs) So it would be a safe guess to say the same issues will be part of the associations' negotiating strategies. The best hints, though (translated 'read between the lines'), about the situation may be gleaned from equally-guarded comments made by assistant city manager Gilbert Livas, Mayor Luis Marquez and Councilman Mario Guerra. Livas says, "Right now we're in the process of carefully reviewing the contracts. If we find anything that needs discussing, we'll do so. The important thing is that we work together. These are difficult times, and the associations understand that. We hope we can come up with a solution that will be fair." Guerra: "While we need to uphold the promises we've made in the past to our employees, the current levels of pension and retirement benefits are simply not sustainable. To go forward, the levels need to change. We have to consider short- and long-term scenarios. The city of Downey is not alone in this. All cities throughout the state are forced to look at this, too, especially in these times of budget deficits and drops in property and sales tax revenues, among other things. At the same time, we don't want to hurt our fine employees and great staff. But note: we have avoided laying off people or resorted to furloughs. In this sense we have been blessed." He goes on: "Having said all this, the city is committed to providing quality services to our citizens. Without belaboring the obvious, we face tough choices. Do we cut services? Do we have to resort to furlough days? Or what? We are looking at everything. Revenue streams, costs (can we afford 'it'?), our reserves, everything is being reviewed in the light of benefits to the city as well as services to the community. But we should emphasize that we are negotiating with our employee associations in good faith. I don't have all the answers myself. All we can do is try our best." In the meantime, Guerra warns, "The more time passes, the worse things will get." Marquez adds this perspective, "Everything is on the table. We're looking at budget details, the financial situation, and so on. We're having discussions and negotiations on everything." Guerra says that, at this stage, negotiations are now being conducted once every fortnight (before, the sessions were oftener), with the city council advising city staff (with the legal counsel in the forefront) in its interface with negotiating experts representing the employee associations.

********** Published: March 17, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 48