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Sounding Off: Unions not to blame for high costs

October 28, 2010|Clay G. Epperson

With Tuesday's signing of the contract with the police association, the city of Costa Mesa dodged a bullet — at least for the time being. Kudos to Council Members Wendy Leece, Gary Monahan, and Katrina Foley for putting the community first and rejecting partisan politics and outside influences.

Even with the new contract, the outcome of the upcoming City Council elections could negatively affect public safety in Costa Mesa for a long time. With a declaration of war on the employee compensation and benefit packages by council candidate Jim Righeimer, the unwillingness of Councilman Eric Bever to participate in negotiations, and the ongoing pressure by conservative Republicans to pressure Leece into stopping negotiations and voting as directed, the implications are clear.

The council majority was hoping that Righeimer would be elected and that they would be able to dictate their terms to the police and fire employees. They do not want to collaborate, they do not want negotiate, they want to impose conditions that have more to do about their own political careers and less to do about the safety and security of Costa Mesa.

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The bargaining units for police and fire employees, with the well-being of their families at stake, have attempted to negotiate new contracts that lowered pay and that increased their contribution to the pension plans. The Costa Mesa Fire Assn. opened up their negotiations when they did not have to in order to make concessions that they did not have to make. On the Fire Assn. initiative, the city will save well over a half-million dollars. The police association has had a standing offer to the city with substantial concessions, but they are operating without a contract because negotiations are being stalled at the City Council level. Because the council majority saw fit to let the contract lapse in hopes that Jim Righeimer would be elected, it cost the city $254,000 a month.

Righeimer uses every opportunity to call the police and fire bargaining units "Unions" as a derogatory epithet, hoping that the term will strike a negative note in the community. He does not acknowledge that the police and fire associations are prohibited by law from engaging in strikes, job slowdowns or any type of job action. If negotiations do fail, the city can impose a contract. It is hardly the stuff of rabid unionism. The employees can accept the contract or they can leave. Leaving is perhaps the most costly outcome for the city.

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