Claremont Insider: Their Fair Share - UPDATED*

Monday, October 31, 2011

Their Fair Share - UPDATED*

Last Tuesday, the Claremont City Council voted 3-2 to impose a new, one-year contract on the Claremont Police Officers Association and the Claremont Police Management Association.  The vote came after the City was unable to reach any agreements with the two police organizations in recent contract negotiations.
The CPOA, which represents Claremont's rank-and-file public safety workers, was extremely vocal in the days leading up to last week's vote.  As we previously noted, the CPOA's attorney, Dieter Dammeier, deployed his political action committeee, COPFIRE, to issue a threat to Claremont City Councilman Corey Calaycay, warning him that they would target him in future elections if he didn't vote the CPOA's way.

You can review the video of the council meeting here.  The Daily Bulletin's Wes Woods II also had a write up of the meeting.

The City had been asking for the police to start paying their own retirement contributions with a three-year, phased-in system.  The City also offered a 1.5% cost of living adjustment.  The police associations didn't want to accept the City's terms unless they got a 3% COLA, twice what the City was offering.  The council then proposed imposing the new contract with its requirement that the police start paying two-thirds of their 9% salary contribution to their CalPERS retirement accounts.  (Currently, the City is picking up the entire 9%.)

Of the many arguments made by the CPOA at last Tuesday's council meeting, the one that really caught our interest went like this:  If you don't pay us what we want, your community's safety will suffer.  Underlying this sentiment is the idea that Claremont would lose good police officers to surrounding communities that are willing to pay their police higher salaries and better benefits.  The CPOA's justification for police deserving better compensation than other municipal employees is that police have a more dangerous job.  They put their lives on the line every night.

To this line of thinking, we say our police are already paid higher salaries commensurate with their greater responsibilities.   While we appreciate their good work, we also think they are already adequately compensated.  Further, the danger they place themselves in is relative.  The CPD and their negotiator Dieter Dammeier make it sound as if they're patrolling the streets of Kabul every night.   Let's face it, in terms of threat levels, Claremont is pretty light duty.   The Claremont Courier's Saturday Police Blotter is invariably filled with stories about domestic disputes and drunk-and-disorderly arrests, not gang shootouts.

Let's be honest, folks, Watts we ain't.

The CPOA claims its members would leave for other Dammeier cities, like La Verne or Azusa, because the compensation is better there.  We thought about this and then realized that in his remarks to the City Council, Dieter Dammeier let slip a factor we hadn't thought about before.  Dammeier told the council that he represents all of the police associations within 20 miles of Claremont.  He then said that the contract the council was considering would make it difficult for Claremont to compete for qualified police officer applicants.   This struck us as an admission by Dammeier that he controls what amounts to a labor cartel.  He gets to set prices in the form of salaries and benefits, and there really is no competition as long as Dammeier and his clients get their way.

What Dammeier really fears is a city such as a Claremont going against the grain and breaking Dammeier's hold on the local public safety labor market. That monopoly, though, really could use some busting.   In his remarks to the Claremont City Council last week, Dammeier mentioned Pomona's police, another department Dammeier represents.  The Bulletin covered Pomona's budget problems in an article yesterday, noting that the single biggest annual expense was personnel costs, of which the Pomona PD accounted for the lion's share:

When it comes to expenditures by category the largest was personnel which took up 48 percent of the general fund, followed by the city's fire contract which took up another 28 percent.

If the expenses are broken up by department the highest cost is the Police Department which had about $38 million in expenses and fire costs totaled about $24 million.

It's the sort of financial problems Pomona is contending with that Claremont seeks to avoid.  You'd like to think that CPD officers would want to help with that effort, but getting people to give up something to which they think they're entitled, like having the City pay the employees' share of their retirement contributions, is never easy.  

The Bulletin, by the way, also had an editorial last week that said that the sort of strong-arm tactics Dammeier has used in Claremont are wrong and that Claremont is correct in seeking to get the police employees to fund their own retirements.  The Bulletin pointed out that by all rights, these payments are something our public safety workers should have been making in the first place:
It's called the "employee contribution" for a reason - it's the part each employee is supposed to contribute toward his or her own pension. But back in headier economic days, most government bodies in California started paying not only the employer's contribution but the employee's as well. In some cases it was a matter of courting union political support, in some it came in lieu of a raise or a bigger raise.

Trouble is, the economy has tanked and tax revenues along with it. Cities are finding their pension contributions unsustainable, diverting money that might have gone to employee salaries and services for residents. Hence, prudent city councils are looking for employees to kick in the employee's contribution once again. It doesn't reduce pensions in any way, it just means employees contribute to their own eventual retirement while they're working in good jobs and can afford it.
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That 3-2 council vote on the police contract was a peculiar one.  The two fiscal conservatives, Corey Calaycay and Opanyi Nasiali, voted against imposing the contract on the public safety employees, which on the face of it would seem to be a vote in support of Dammeier and the CPOA. 

The other three council members, Mayor Sam Pedroza, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder, and Joe Lyons, are all left-leaning and are generally supporters of public employee unions but all voted in favor of the imposition of the contract. 

We suppose this could be seen as a validation of Dammeier's intimidation tactic, but Calaycay and Nasiali both said they couldn't support the contract because it included that 1.5% COLA, something they were against. 

*UPDATED, 11/1/11, 7:20PM:  As the Claremont Courier's Beth Hartnett reports in today's paper, Calaycay's and Nasiali's main objection to the one-year police contract was that they felt the 9% CalPERS contribution should have been instituted all at once, rather than phased in.   

Additionally, Hartnett notes that the one of the things the CPD officers object to is having the 6% contribution instituted immediately as opposed to having the 9% phased in over three years, as was done with the City's other employee associations. (At 8%, the City's non-public safety employees' CalPERS contribution is slightly less than the police.)

The City's response is that because of timing of the imposed contract, splitting the 6% into two 3% increments would have meant that the next 3% increase would have been in nine months when the next fiscal year begins in July, 2012.  Hartnett reports that the City's negotiator, Richard Kreisler, argued that they accelerated the public safety employees' CalPERS phase-in because of the uncertainty the City faces with the CPD employee associations.  

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Incidentally, we received an email from another reader who got one of those robocalls from the Claremont Police Officers Association made prior to last Tuesday night's council vote.  Our reader questioned whether or not the CPOA used CPD call data to get phone numbers for their robocalls:

DATE: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 4:47 PM
SUBJECT: Claremont Police Officers Association robocalls

Hello all,

Like another of your readers, I also got a robocall from the Claremont Police Officers Association. It was a voicemail message left on my cell phone on Monday, two days ago, urging me to show up at Tuesday's city council meeting to support the police department against further budget cuts.

Here's the odd thing: few people have my cell phone number. And it has a 541 area code. So I'm wondering how did the Claremont Police Officers Association get my number?

Could it be because on 14 October 2011, I used my cell phone to call the police department (to report a coyote citing)? And if so, who at the police department is passing on incoming telephone numbers to the Claremont Police Officers Association. And -- if that is what happened -- was it legal?


Claremont CA