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City on the Hook for Millions Over Firefighter’s Union Grievance

UFCW Local 5 Mike Henneberry, IAFF Local 689 President Domenick Weaver, Lena Tam, IAFF Local 689 Political Director Jeff Delbono, Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore, Unidentified (File Photo)

The City of Alameda is on the hook for millions of dollars owing to a dispute with the local firefighters union over “me too” benefit clauses in past and current contracts. The City’s hoping to resolve the issue with a provision for education incentives in a new contract to be considered by City Council tomorrow night.

The exposure is outlined in a City Attorney memo released by the city along with proposed new contracts for the City’s four public safety bargaining units – Fire Management personnel (AFMA), sworn Fire Department employees (IAFF), Police Management personnel (APMA) and sworn Alameda Police employees (APOA).

The City Attorney explains in the memo that the exposure, if not mitigated, could grow to over $7.1 million representing pay owed to firefighters for the 2007 to 2008 Fiscal Year through the 2016 to 2017 Fiscal year.

In October, 2009, the local firefighters union, (International Association of Firefighters, Local 689) invoked a clause in their contract, saying that the City owed firefighters retention pay and uniform pay after police officers were granted the same under their agreement. Such clauses are commonly called “me too” clauses because they ensure that one bargaining unit receives benefits automatically if another bargaining unit does.

The clause was present in the 2001 to 2007 contract with the firefighters, and in the Jannuary 2008 through January 2010 contract.

According to the City Attorney, former Fire Chief David Kapler, former Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and former Human Resources Director Willis are prepared to testify that the parties intended to remove the clause for the 2008 to 2010 contract.

In 2010, Kapler resigned as fire chief after firefighters went public with photographs of the chief filling up his personal vehicle with city gas. Kapler said his agreement with the city permitted him to do so.

Also in 2010, City Councilmembers Marie Gilmore, Lena Tam and Rob Bonta ousted Ann Marie Gallant as Interim City Manager. The firefighters union contributed heavily to their election campaigns that same year.

The troublesome clause remained in the 2010 to 2013 contract, which was approved by city council last year, and applied retroactively. Gilmore, Tam, Bonta and Councilmember Beverly Johnson all voted to approve the contract.

The City Attorney says the new contract for 2013 to 2017 contains a provision for education incentives that settles the dispute. The firefighters union has already ratified the agreement.

The career development incentive program clause of the agreement provides for as much as a five percent pay increase for employees with 15 years of tenure with the Fire Department and who possess a baccalaureate degree and serve in one or more pre-approved program manager or instructor positions.

Last week, Alameda City Council approved a proposal to make permanent, effective January 1, 2013, a shift-schedule change for the Alameda Fire Department. The department had been trialing the so-called 48/96 shift schedule that sees employees work back-to-back shifts over two days (48 hours) and then take four days off (96 hours).

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