Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parallels of a Time Past

Of late I have been spending more and more time at home taking care of my father-in-law, who is being cared for by Hospice as well. My father-in-law, Junior Parker, is a great man; 85 years old; WWII veteran who served with the 101st Screaming Eagles at Bastogne; is a Silver Star recipient; returned from the war and joined the Los Angeles Fire Department where he rose through the ranks to Chief before retiring 31 years ago this Sunday. His two brothers also served in WWII and both retired from the LAFD. He often shared his thoughts and wisdom from his days on the LAFD. There are so many parallels to what he experienced during his time and what is occurring today with the San Diego Police Department.

In 1978, my father-in-law was attending a budget hearing of the Los Angeles City Council when it was decided vacation leave would be capped; sick leave would be reduced 50%; and all leave over the cap would be forfeited. My father-in-law had served for 32 years and had NEVER taken a sick day and had accrued in excess of 1,200 hours of vacation leave and an equal amount of sick leave. He quickly crunched the numbers and realized he would lose a huge sum of money and made plans to retire. He said he had no desire to leave a job he loved and believed he had several good years left to serve the department before he retired. But my father-in-law is also a practical man who grew up during the depression and knows the value of a dollar and was not willing to lose that which he rightly earned. So, on June 28, 1978, my father-in-law retired from the Los Angeles Fire Department; before he was ready or wanting too. (Sound familiar?)

Several years before his retirement, the Los Angeles Fire Relief Association (LAFRA) made a pitch to the City Council to add a COLA to retiree pension benefits. The active members were willing to go a year without a raise to gain this benefit. The City refused, so the LAFRA took their request to the voters. They won in a landslide; giving retirees a COLA matching the cost of living published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was the first COLA for a municipal retirement system. There was NO cap to this COLA and when you take into account the maximum retirement benefit at the time was 70% at 30 years it was a necessary benefit.

Fast forward 25 years; voters in Los Angeles voted to approve DROP for Police and Fire. Their retirement system is not facing an Unfunded Liability anywhere near that of the City of San Diego. The press and public understand the system and it works. The DROP in Los Angeles started out being a 3 year DROP and has now increased to a 5 year DROP. Members must have 25 years of service to enter DROP. The reasoning is this ensures the retiree has made sufficient contributions to sustain the system and is not retiring early which negatively affects the system. The COLA still remains, but is capped at 3% and the maximum retirement benefit is 90% at 33 years of service. There are four (4) tiers in the retirement system for the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments. Tiers two through four offer a maximum 70% retirement with 30 years of service; tier five offers a maximum 90% retirement with 33 years of service. The contribution rate is 8% of salary as long as the system remains 100% funded. If the system drops below 100% funded the employee contributes an additional 1% until the system is back to 100% funded.

So why do I spend time talking about Los Angeles? I think we need to take a look around and examine why other plans are working and what is it they are doing that allows them to maintain 100% funding. Why is it voters in Los Angeles, San Francisco and many other cities across the nation are voting to implement DROP programs for their Public Safety members? We need to take a hard look at our DROP and find out if the program is "Cost Neutral" or what the actual cost is. Once this is determined we can understand what if anything needs to be done to correct the faults with the program, so it works for both the employee and taxpayer. To do otherwise would be foolish in the face of a mayor intent on taking this cherished benefit away. We need to have the facts and knowledge to refute his repeated miss-statements and spin regarding DROP so we can make our case to retain this earned and vested benefit.

The benefits offered employees of the City of San Diego have been labeled "Cadillac" and "Excessive" and "Illegal" and so many other descriptors that I could go on and on. The reality is the benefits offered are in line with those offered across the state and nation. In many ways the wages and benefits when combined; fall well below those of workers in cities; not only within the region but the state. The cost of benefits to a San Diego employee is in many cases 10-20% higher than those of other cities. The contribution to SDCERS by employees is between 10 and 17%, while other cities pay the entire amount for the employee as part of their benefits. Many cities pay the medical insurance of employees and their families while the City of San Diego covers basic health insurance for their employees only. Top that all off with wages that are in the bottom tier of ALL cities in California.

Reasonable suggestion for changes to DROP and other benefits should come from us. What is acceptable to us that will allow for DROP to remain part of our Retirement Benefit? We could sit back and refuse to participate in discussions to protect DROP; but we would then be subject to someone else making the determination of what we should do and how it should be done. I believe we need to participate in the process of evaluation and review that will set the platform for discussions if changes need to be considered.

This is a large field of landmines when dealing with the current mayor. His spin machine is large, tested, and nuclear powered, compared to that of the SDPOA. The mayor's army of henchmen is salivating at the thought of eliminating DROP. Their belief is they can spin the analysis to further turn the taxpayer/public against us. That is why we need to ensure our participation in the analysis and review of the plan. Knowledge is power and the more we have related to this issue the better prepared we will be to combat the spin machine and lies that are sure to surface.

If you want to ensure DROP is available when you reach 50 years of age, I would urge you to get involved today and offer your time to the SDPOA. You cannot afford NOT to MAKE time to involve yourself. If you want a DROP, you must sacrifice your time and energy. Do not expect "the other guy" to do it for you.


Anonymous said...

Over the last 5 years, maybe longer, all we've heard is DROP is bad, DROP is the problem. All of this without independent analysis to determine the costs.

What’s the old saying; You tell somebody something often enough, long enough, they'll usually believe it's the truth.

After thinking about the Judge’s words during the hearing the other day this IS what happened.
He said SDCERS has a fiduciary duty to make sure the City remains solvent. He was referring to DROP and its "long term" costs. More specifically he was speaking of paying the 7.75% annuities over the life expectancy. For those who don't know you can look them up in IRS publication 590.

At 55 the single life expectancy table shows 29.6 more years. In my opinion the judge brought some emotional "male" protector baggage to the bench and into his thought processes. He told the parties SDCERS has a duty to protect the City from itself. It should not allow the City to grant benefits it cannot afford 20, 30 or more years down the road.

This is an admirable idea but, impossible if not unconstitutional to implement. SDCERS cannot control the Council, or its actions. We do not elect the Board Members, and they are not accountable to us. This is the responsibility of the Council in our form of government. But here is the problem with the idea. While one council may correctly budgeted dollars to pay the costs of pension benefits, a subsequent council may be less responsible. They, for whatever reasons, may spend the peoples resources unwisely.

In the case of our vested benefits, claim there was no money for “regular pay raises” so in lieu of enhancing your pay, we’ll boost your future pension benefits.

Today we’re learning the insidious aspect of this tactic; when the benefit becomes payable those who responsible for creating it, no longer represent us and not responsible to pay it.

Other factors, such as the collapse of the financial markets and Wall Street financial houses are beyond knowing. Finally the future political needs of those we elect to represent us play a large role too. Think of the projects to promote themselves rather than the good of the community.

No one had a crystal ball in 1997 when DROP was created or three years later in 2000 when DROP became a permanent VESTED benefit, no one could foresee the coming financial storms and this is where the Court's reasoning is flawed. Applying this unreachable standard is reversible.

Who knows, is the solution to order the parties back to the table? Force them to talk and find the solutions. Maybe, maybe not this depends on them. If the parties remain set in stone nothing gets done. We know Sanders NEEDS DROP TO END. WE KNOW THE POA NEEDS DROP TO REMAIN INTACT.

There is one thing I do know, City employees have faced years of false and misleading propaganda. You must battle the media bias. But due to the deepest recessions since the Great Depression, you have angry taxpayers too. Their retirement nest eggs have evaporated before their eyes, while yours is intact and growing.

This tsunami of anger is focused against public employees, whose pensions are protected the by Constitution. Simply put they resent it and they resent you.
Combine all these factors and you have a perfect storm coming to destroy years of negotiated benefits designed as “deferred compensation” for your retirement years.

It is time to become involved beyond reading a blog, whining at work, or being angry at home. And, if you believe someone is going to do it for you, you're wrong.
A few directors at a labor group cannot accomplish what hundreds, no thousands, of employee voices can do. You have years of rhetoric, incomplete or inaccurate studies, and the will of a man, our Mayor, whose goal is to promote himself over all others to overcome. So, and sorry about the cliché, get off the sidelines, those guys who run the POA, MEA, LOCAL 127 and even the fire weenies at local 145 who caved in again cannot protect your vested benefits from this on-going attack without YOU becoming involved.


Anonymous said...

You cops do a good job at cop work. You do a lousy job at protecting your personal benefits.

I know it is illegal to strike. But you need to get your cause out to the public and the elected officials in the City of San Diego. Politicians just care about two things. One is fund raising and the other is getting votes at election time. And the politicians dumped on you guys this year. That should piss you off.

Organize and get out there. Hire a political consultant. Every cop, every cops family and friends should write to their City Council member complaining about the loss of pay, benefits and employees. It seems like you have a weak union or association or bargaining unit.

A year or two ago I remember seeing cops walking the streets in protest. Cops were in shopping centers handing out flyers. Cops were getting the message out. You need a structured, well planned and organized plan and goal. You need follow-through. If not, this City will continue to eat you alive. Your cops should be mad as hell and refuse to take it anymore. Or will they just spend their time sitting behind a computer typing out their frustrations?

Your readers must channel their energy to combat and conquer what is being thrown at them by the Mayor and other elected officials.

Like I started with, you cops do a damn good job and crime is down. Too bad you don’t take care of yourselves also.

NO I.m not a cop of fireman. Just a blue collar union worker. Great job with your Blog and getting info out.

Good luck. Thank you for protecting us. Now go protect what you deserve and have earned.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sparky ...posting past midnight is bad for your health. Make sure you get recuperative rest too. We need to hear your voice. So keep your blood pressure low so you can go on raising theirs with your rants and perspectives.

Anonymous said...

Your father in law is in our prayers.