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It was MPOA’s call to make on salary concessions

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POSTED November 22, 2009 2:00 a.m.
Manteca has 12 less police officers today than it did 40 days ago.

Do not get angry with the Manteca Police Officers Association or the Manteca City Council.

No one saw this one coming. Not the police, not elected leaders, and very few of the people who make a living monitoring the economy and guiding United States government forecasts.

Manteca was riding strong on the growth spurt.  The Manteca Police Officers Association – among other employee groups – pushed for a four-year contract that brought 4 percent annual pay raises to get them on a competitive footing with surveyed cities. It was catch-up time and city leaders agreed it was fair.

What no one expected was not the downturn but how deep it has become.

Manteca’s elected leaders a few years back could very easily have opted to hold the line on pay increases and probably lost a few officers to other cities. No one complained –including the MPOA – when they got the four-year contract.

Now that the meltdown has occurred and the city has to deal with new financial realities that make the contract impossible to honor. Instead of trying to shove the decision off into future years, Manteca’s leaders bit the bullet. There was only two options given that personnel makes up 85 percent of the general fund budget. It was either reduce pay or eliminate positions.

Since there was a signed contract, the city couldn’t unilaterally reduce pay. The one thing they could do was cut positions.

Before they took that step, they gave employee bargaining groups the two options to ponder. It struck some in the MPOA as being strong-armed. In reality it was honest.

The money is gone. It’s a new day.

The MPOA opted to hold the city to the contract. That is their call and it should be respected. The city opted to treat all employee groups the same by giving them the two options. The city also has an obligation to keep services intact as much as possible. It seems the course they took was the best given the circumstances.

However, a different day is coming in early 2012. That’s when the contract for all municipal employees are up. Other city workers will have gone two years without pay increases plus have taken a 3.8 percent pay cut.

The pressure is going to be on to stop comparing Manteca to Bay Area and Sacramento area cities and instead make salaries comparable to those found in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

This means the MPOA may have inadvertently passed on an option to keep the current survey cities for the next contract in 2012 with a promise to go toward the middle range in the last side letter proposal that the union leadership rejected.

However, the MPOA may have been pretty smart since their main objective is the financial well being of their remaining members. The economic downslide may continue beyond 2012 especially for cities, counties, and the state. If there is no rebound, they’ve got the money in hand – for now.

But what happens if Manteca – between the outlet stores, Bass Pro Shops and other retail that is coming in early 2010 to the Stadium Retail Center plus the new heavy equipment firm that is hoping to take over Sexton Chevrolet - generates enough new sales tax from regional sources to come back quicker and stronger that surrounding cities?

That means MPOA just passed up a chance to have salaries beyond 2012 tied to several Bay Area and Sacramento area cities.

By giving up raises in 2010 and 2011 now they would have assured their membership of more money later.

It is, however, a roll of the dice and not a card game. The strategy that both sides are taking depends on a lot of variables that aren’t laid down on the table yet.

The MPOA did what they thought they had to do.

City leaders did what they had to do.

At the same time, for anyone to say the majority of the current City Council is anti-police given the fact that four of them were in office when the current contract that the MPOA is defending was adopted is laughable.

The council is simply trying to be pragmatic but then again so is the MPOA from their viewpoint.
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