California is facing daunting budget deficits and a potential pension crisis brought on in large part by the union bosses for government workers. Brian Calle of the Orange County Register doing yeoman’s work has discovered a slew of collective bargaining abuses that bleed taxpayers dry and threaten the financial stability of the state. Among them: disclosures of $100,000 a year lifeguard jobs; $5,600 a year bonus for city motorcycle officers who clean their bikes and now he discovered that “police officers in Costa Mesa are paid an additional, guaranteed 2.5 percent of salary simply to wear uniforms on the job. According to the city’s Memo of Understanding with the Costa Mesa Police Association (the officers’ union), officers are given “Uniform Assignment Pay” to wear their uniforms while working.”
Of course these disclosures are just emblematic of the abuses but they are significant none the less. As Calle writes:
Encountering pay gimmicks like these can explain why so many people have begun calling into question public-sector collective bargaining rights – because these are the fruits of organized labor’s negotiations with elected officials. All the more reason collective bargaining needs reform, pronto.
What complicates matters further is that law firms, such as Upland-based Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, specialize in negotiations on behalf of police unions, and they negotiate similar benefits from city to city, using the pay and benefit levels garnered in one city as leverage in others to achieve the same outcomes. In Orange County alone Lackie, Dammeier & McGill represent police unions in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Anaheim, Brea and Garden Grove.
If attention to special pay seems sudden, it probably is. Only in recent years have cities begun to put online more information like compensation information and memos of understanding, making them more accessible for the public. But because of the sunlight, reform to public employee compensation is becoming sort of en vogue.
And reform is desperately needed. To start, the items that can be part of bargaining should be limited. And, those negotiations should be public. As Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer told me, “So much of this is negotiated behind closed doors that taxpayers have little information about the types of things being negotiated.”
When negotiations happen in the dark, taxpayers are not adequately represented and pay abuses begin to appear in contracts. With questionable expenditures for public employee pay and benefits, it is no wonder that some city, county and state governments are taking drastic measures to curb union influence. Only sunshine and transparency – no semantics, please – will be the cure.