In March 2008, after a nearly two-year effort between the Oakland Police Department and the police union to reach an agreement on a new labor deal, an arbitrator granted police brass broader management rights in exchange for 4 percent annual pay increases for officers.
Both sides said they were satisfied with the outcome.
Jump ahead 15 months and, with Oakland in the worst financial crisis anyone can remember, that same contract is the source of consternation between the City Council and the Oakland Police Officers Association as the two sides struggle to reach a deal that is agreeable to the union while helping Oakland through its financial straits.
On the one side, City Council members say it’s fair the police officers take the same 10 percent compensation reduction other city employees are expected to take.
On the other, union leaders say they’ve met with the city in good faith, offering to give up their 4 percent raises and offer other givebacks, only to be stymied.
“We understand economics,” said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, Oakland police union president. “We see what’s going on out there.”
The City Council on Tuesday rejected a deal that, according to the union’s leadership, would have included a two-year extension of the police officers’ contract until July 2012. Officers would have given up the 4 percent raise they are promised in the current contract and gone a second year without a raise as well, the union said. In the third year, salaries would increase 2 percent and then another 2 percent after six months.
Officers would also have taken a lower per-hour rate on overtime and patrol officers would have reduced their workload from 84 hours to 80 hours every two weeks, the union said.
The deal would have also involved settling a long-standing lawsuit filed by officers in 2006 alleging police were consistently unpaid for pre-shift and post-shift activities, including dressing for their shifts.
The settlement would have included what the union called minimum cash payments (mostly for legal fees), while granting vacation to officers who are plaintiffs in the case in lieu of cash. It wasn’t clear how much vacation would have been given.
Rocky Lucia, an attorney representing the officers in the lawsuit, said the case is worth “tens of millions of dollars.” City Attorney John Russo’s office believes it’s worth a fraction of that amount.
Putting the lawsuit aside, union Vice President Sgt. Barry Donelan said the salary giveback and the overtime and shift changes would have saved Oakland more than $10 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Council members interviewed for this story declined to comment on the details of the rejected deal, but strongly disputed the union’s figures.
“All I’m going to say is that it’s absolutely, unequivocally wrong,” said Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente. “It’s all smoke and mirrors.”
In a way, the union has the upper hand in the current round of talks since their contract gives them 4 percent raises — at a cost of at least $5.6 million to the city — in the next year. But there are hints that council members are ready to play hardball if they don’t get what they want.
“Their contract expires next year,” De La Fuente said. “That means it’s a new ballgame next year. The whole contract will be open.”
Oakland is facing an $83 million general fund budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Revenues are projected at $414 million, with expenditures pegged at $497 million.
City officials have said they are close to new deals with three of the city’s unions — SEIU Local 1021, Local 21 of Professional & Technical Engineers and Local 55 of the International Association of Fire Fighters — that would include overall compensation reductions of 10 percent.
“I think we would like to see (the police) step up and provide help that is equivalent or close to equivalent to what the other unions are doing, what the other employees in the city are doing,” said City Council President Jane Brunner (North Oakland).
With so much disagreement on the figures involved, it’s hard to gauge how close the union is to where the City Council wants it to be.
Arotzarena and Donelan said talks about restructuring their contract date back to November of last year. They picked up considerably in May in a series of meetings with City Administrator Dan Lindheim. Lindheim has declined to discuss specifics about what has been proposed.
For a period of a couple of hours Tuesday, it appeared the talks had completely died after the council rejected the union offer in a closed-session meeting.
Arotzarena and Donelan, upset by the decision, drove to City Hall only to be greeted by city negotiator Jon Holtzman.
The two union leaders and Holtzman were joined by City Councilmembers Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) and Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) and, at certain points, acting police Chief Howard Jordan, for an impromptu discussion on the possibility of a new deal near the front steps of City Hall.
That ended when Brunner chastised Holtzman for holding the discussion with a council meeting in progress. Reid and Quan returned to the dais.
It’s unclear what was discussed, but the City Council will meet again in closed session Tuesday to discuss a number of labor issues, including the police union contract.
Donelan remained unhappy with how things were progressing Thursday afternoon, saying the city had still not produced a formal counter offer. But Reid said he thinks a deal can be reached.
“I think something can in fact be worked out with the OPOA where they give something back just like all the other unions who have stepped up to the plate during this very difficult time,” he said.