Allow me to clarify my role and explain the fire fighter union for a minute. As President, I am the leader and spokesperson for all of the departments/districts that we represent. I am the spokesperson to the press, at public meetings, negotiations, and even funerals. I also communicate with all of the other fire Locals throughout the state and attend conferences and conventions, along with other elected officers in Local 1230.
I am very well aware of the public sentiment regarding our salaries and benefits and pensions. It is my job to educate our members as to what that is and make suggestions based on their expectations or wishes. I am also aware of the budget situation in all of the jurisdictions we represent, and the concerns of those politician and community. I attend the council or board meetings in order to stay informed, so I can inform my membership.
When we prepare for contract negotiations we hold meetings and take input from our members. My say, goes as far as my members allow it to go. If they are willing to ask for something that is out of line in today’s economy I do advise them against it, sometimes very strongly.
If you look at the contracts of the members in the 6 jurisdictions we represent, since I have been President, we have gone backwards or stayed the same. We have been very responsive to the environment we are in.
Despite the spin that was placed on why our contract negotiations were delayed until after the election, the truth is we have done yearly contracts with no changes since 2007. There was no big money deal dependent on the tax passing or not.
Our contract covers more than salary and benefits. Many of the other items in the contract would have been dependent on 27 fire fighters versus the 63 that we would be getting to depending on the tax. Also a paramedic program would have to be developed, along with many other contractual changes. It made absolutely no sense to make a contract until we knew the outcome of Measure S.
The press and others, made it look like it was about pay and benefits. Unfortunately, we do not get the access to the press like the opposition does.
My quotes are partially printed and our goals twisted by the Contra Costa Times. We suspected that, but still chose to do the right thing. It is very easy these days to make us look like we are up to no good.
Any politician who knows me, knows that I will go back to our members and make the appropriate recommendations on supporting necessary changes to get through tough times and to be sustainable, despite how unpopular it maybe to my members.
In Con Fire I recommended a 10% pay cut to keep stations open. I barely made it out the building, but was able to get majority support. We operate under our own constitution and by-laws, which I am liable to uphold.
Again our track record speaks for itself. Local 1230 has saved the county, cities, and districts we represent, millions of dollars over the last three years.
ECCCFPD had a funding problem since its inception. Well before the market crash and the pension cost increases. I was assigned East County when I was a Vice President back in 2005.
We were working with all communities back then, to find a funding source. I learned all about Prop 13 and property tax increments through this process. The portion of the 1% that was appropriated for ECCCFPD was a hot topic back then and up to now. All involved were trying to figure out a way to overcome that gap.
Everything from developer fees, to benefit assessments, and a parcel tax, was being discussed. A plan was put in place to get local control of the fire district first, then go for a tax. Unfortunately, 2008 came along and the housing market crashed. Property taxes went down, and here we are today.
A deficit caused by tax appropriation and now combined with loss of assessed value and on top of that, pension contributions have increased due to the market loss as well.
I am not trying to say that the pension issue doesn’t need to be addressed, but I will say it is not the cause. Pension costs have went up $500,000 since 2008, but we lost $4 million dollars in revenue due to the housing market crash, added to an underfunded fire department.
As long as we all look at it that way, we can have a responsible conversation. Those who turn it into a pension only issue, of course we take a stance! Let’s work to resolve the entire problem.
When the tax amount was being discussed, the question was; do we ask for enough to maintain status quo, underfunded and the understaffed level, or do we go for fixing the entire problem at one time.
Obviously the voters have spoken, but again, don’t ask us to view this responsibly, but not do that yourself. It may have been voted down due to pensions, or just the timing, who knows.
Those who have been following this issue know that it had a funding problem long before 3%@50 kicked in (2005). We are willing to work with the fire district, as we always have, but will oppose the offensive nature being taken against us and our profession.
The ECCCFD has done what they could to work through their financial challenge. The parcel tax was always part of the strategy. Unfortunately, the entire Country has been hit by the recession. Don’t lecture me about being a responsible leader through tough times; I can assure you I have been.
As a military veteran, and a 17 year fire fighter, I will defend against those who are using this recession for their own personnel gain and work with those who are serious and reasonable.
Feel free to call me or email me with responsible suggestions that address all the facts and I will be happy to meet or talk to you! We are willing participants in a permanent solution that supports everyone’s interest.
Vince Wells can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org