Santa Rosa holds last-ditch session with employees’ union
Santa Rosa hopes to head off another expensive and protracted fight with an employee union with a last-ditch negotiating session Tuesday aimed at resolving what one council member says has become a “huge mess.”
The city’s labor relations manager is set to meet Tuesday with Teamsters officials representing the 410-member Santa Rosa City Employees Association for a bargaining session both sides hope can avoid a fact-finding process scheduled to begin Wednesday.
The meeting follows a spirited debate last week by the City Council about whether to authorize paying another $250,000 to a Los Angeles-based law firm to help the city negotiate new labor agreements with city employees.
By a 4-1 vote, the City Council approved a contract extension with Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP through the end of 2015 despite a union official’s warning that doing so would amount to “declaring war” on city employees.
The additional funds, if all expended, would bring to $500,000 the total tab spent on the law firm, a sum that appalled at least one council member.
“We could have a whole other city manager for what we’re talking about spending right now, or the parks and recreation staff we so desperately need,” Erin Carlstrom said.
She characterized the negotiation process to date as a “huge mess that is divisive and destructive and costly.”
The law firm has been negotiating on the city’s behalf with various public employee unions over the last year, including a contentious and expensive fact-finding process with the smallest and the largest city unions.
The six assistant city attorneys went through four finding hearings over the past several months, striking a tentative agreement with the city only recently. The deal is similar to those struck with engineering workers several weeks ago.
The deal provides 7.5 percent raises for the attorneys spread over two years with a 1.5 percent increase in payments toward pensions in the second year. That leaves a net increase of 6 percent after two years.
The city agreed to the increases, which include both cost of living and equity adjustments, after it was confirmed that one of the cities Santa Rosa was comparing itself to, Vallejo, had different responsibilities for its base-level city attorneys, said Paul Carroll, the city’s labor relations manager.
The city held the line against other demands, such as retroactivity, because while it could have afforded the larger increases for such a small group, not so for larger units.
“While the money was small because it’s such a small unit, the problem was the principal behind it was huge,” Carroll said.
The attorneys and the Santa Rosa City Employees Association are both represented by the Teamsters. Both forced the fact-finding process after negotiations with the city reached impasse last year. Both have been working without a contract for more than a year.
Teamsters Vice President Rudy Gonzalez said he and his team planned to meet directly with city labor relations staff without the “slick suits” that have dominated past meetings.
He urged the council Tuesday not to authorize the additional funds as a gesture of good faith.
“The additional funds that are being requested will send that absolute wrong message to these employees,” Gonzalez said.
The majority of the council was unmoved, however, noting that the expense was unfortunate but the city needed to be prepared to move forward if the next bargaining session failed.
“I don’t think it’s responsible of us as leaders of the community to sit silently by and say we hope it goes the right way,” Mayor Scott Bartley said.
He said he’s “extremely hopeful” the bargaining session will be fruitful and the additional funds won’t need to be expended.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.
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