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Fate of 12 Manteca police officers now in the hands of their fellow officers

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POSTED October 2, 2009 1:49 a.m.
If the City of Manteca’s compensation renegotiations were a chess game Manteca’s firefighters make have put Manteca’s police officers a move away from check mate.

The Manteca Firefighters Association Thursday agreed to a compensation reduction package to avoid layoffs among their ranks. In doing so, they took away the only viable staff reduction the City Council could possibly make if public pressure is applied to not cut police personnel in order to keep the city’s law enforcement officers financially whole.

There was growing sentiment on the street – which the firefighters detected early on – that if push came to shove most Manteca residents would favor keeping the ranks of the police department intact while whittling away at firefighters’ numbers. A reasonable case could have been made since the fourth engine – which requires nine personnel to man at an annual compensation cost of around $1.2 million – has been in place for less than a year.

The deal each bargaining group made with the city was in exchange for giving up negotiated raises of 4 percent annually in 2010 and 2011 plus forgoing uniform allowances for those two years as well as pay more into their retirement the city would work not to balance this year’s budget by laying off people in their particular unit. Employee groups weren’t thrilled that there was no guarantee of no layoffs the rest of this fiscal year or in the upcoming two years. Reality though is pretty stark. Any more drops in revenue than anticipated or a major unexpected expense that can’t be covered will force the city to look at cutting staff. After all, about 85 percent of all general fund expenses are employee compensation related.

Five employee groups had been holding out making a decision to see what the Manteca Police Officers Association would get in terms of compensation reduction. The final deadline given union groups was less than two weeks from now. By not agreeing to the city’s requests to reduce compensation, they would have faced layoffs.

The key to getting everybody on board, from the city’s perspective, was to treat everyone equally and give them the same offer – either take it or face layoffs. Once they agreed to take it there was a promise that – for now at least – plunging are off the table.

The city can ill afford to renege on that deal in order to cough up more money for the police as it would send morale – and employee productivity – diving to the bottom of the sea.

Now that the firefighters have taken the only realistic chuck of money the council could have tapped in a hard-hitting game of political hard ball, the council has virtually no wiggle room to back off from the city’s request for either compensation reductions or layoffs from the police association.

Manteca firefighters paid a much deeper price than any other group. Besides giving up two back-to-back negotiated raises and paying more into their retirement from their own pockets, each firefighter essentially walked away from $12,000 in guaranteed overtime income through the start of 2012. It means roughly a 20 percent cut in firefighters’ expected compensation through the end of 2012.

That guaranteed overtime was encased in the language of the four-year contract the city is now in the second year of with the Manteca Firefighters Association. It had everything to do with minimum staffing levels for fire engines. By backing off that requirement, the firefighters saved the city big money and got rid of a budget busting contract clause.

In exchange, the firefighters all were able to retain their jobs.

The police association and city are talking again next week.

Rest assured there will be efforts to see if the reduction in costs can be made in any manner that reduces actual out-of-pocket losses to police officers.

It is going to be awfully hard to come up with right around $100,000 a year it costs the city per year for the lowest seniority officers when it comes to salary, benefits worker’s compensation, and retirement. The retirement and compensation costs are high due to the fact they are peace officers and have an extremely stressful and dangerous job.

The city might come up with something like revisiting the $1,000 per year uniform allowance they wanted dropped for the next two years but even so that would amount to $140,000 that the city would have to come up with or the equivalent of one officer.

Back in February, most of the employee group bargaining representatives saw what they were up against when a hand-picked group of 15 of the city’s biggest boosters serving on the citizens budget committee made it clear not only were they not in the mood for a tax increase but that the city needed to cut employee compensation to fall in line with the changing economic reality.

Now the fate of 16 police officers – actually 12 as four would be rehired back with federal stimulus funds – are in the hands of their fellow officers.
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