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April 9, 2013 > Negotiations fail between fire union and City of Milpitas

Negotiations fail between fire union and City of Milpitas

Submitted By Frank Addiego

Effective April 19, 2013, the city of Milpitas will lay off four firefighters, demote six Fire Department employees and decommission one fire engine. This is a result of failed negotiations between the City and the firefighters union, which rejected a contract that would have allowed the City to greater flexibility over minimum staffing on given shifts, in exchange for a $2.1M Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the federal government.

"The grant was a condition of the fire union allowing me some flexibility with the minimum staffing," said Milpitas Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant. "The City is not accepting the grant because we did not secure a favorable agreement."

The grant was a possible solution to rising overtime costs within the Fire Department. The City formed a task force consisting of Vice Mayor Althea Polanski and Councilmember Armando Gomez and held public meetings. A resolution was drafted to prevent downsizing of the Fire Department during the grant's two-year duration.

"I understood attendees at the task force meetings agreed with the task force's direction," said Polanski, "I was very disappointed the union rejected the proposal and still does not completely understand why the membership decided it was in their best interest to reject the proposal."

The contract allowed the City to reduce minimum staffing for a given shift to as few as 13; this would violate a union provision of a minimum staff of 15 firefighters on a given shift. Captain Geoffrey Maloon had prepared a detailed report on the union's position for the March 19, 2013 Council meeting but left after the Council refused to extend his time during public comment.

In addition to lay-offs, the City will eliminate overtime for firefighters; according to Chief Sturdivant, this ranges from $60 to $70 per hour. One of the goals of securing the grant was preservation of overtime, subject to a maximum of $50,000 per month, a limit set by the task force. According to Sturdivant, overtime costs are "nowhere near $50,000: and, lately, have "hovered around $75,000." Firefighters' overtime often costs the City well over $100,000. Firefighters union president Steve King suggested the City's use of the SAFER grant to hire more personnel would reduce overtime expenditure.

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