Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Negotiated Settlement

Remember back in January when the City Attorney wrote a letter to all of the labor groups in San Diego and asked to meet so he could, "engage in mediated settlement negotiations regarding pending lawsuits and disputed issues." He went on to say, "This should not be confused with annual labor negotiations under the Myers-Milias-Brown Act."

The other day it was revealed a meeting took place with a mediator, the City Attorney and the Labor Groups and after discussions and a private meeting with the City Attorney, the mediator said the two sides were so far apart there was NO hope of reaching agreement and his services would not be useful. This leaves us to speculate to the reasons the two sides were so far apart.

My belief is the suggestion to "engage in mediated settlement negotiations" was simply a political play by a City Attorney who is no different than the one he beat out for the job. Remember when shortly after being elected, Aguirre called a meeting of all labor groups and said if all the groups agreed to his changes to the retirement benefits there would be 600 million dollars on the table for negotiations? There WAS NO REAL intent on reaching an agreement then or now. The initial letter signaled the intent of the so called negotiations. First there were items of a high priority for ALL of the Labor Groups that were "OFF LIMITS." There would be no discussion or negotiations regarding Retiree Medical. Who is he kidding?

Now that the so called "Mediated Negotiations" are in the toilet where they belong, what is next? Will those responsible for setting policy in this city step up to the plate and enter into legitimate, good faith negotiations with these same Labor Groups? Will the City Council members sit back while one of their own furthers his own agenda by paying for signatures to secure a place on the ballot for HIS "reforms" for everything he views as wrong with employee wages and benefits? Who will make the first move?

Additional changes loom to Retiree Medical. Hiring continues to be frozen and attrition continues to shrink the ranks. Tomorrow begins the SDCERS vote for proposed changes to DROP. I would strongly encourage EVERY City Employee to take the few minutes it will take to vote. I am voting NO and would ask each of you to do the same. The proposed changes are not necessary and will do nothing to solve any of the perceived problems with the retirement system. PLEASE VOTE NO on the proposed changes.

Be safe and do the right thing out there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March Maddness

Many of you know the title as that time when college basketball playoffs hit a frenzied peak. I steal the title to describe the politics of the day. I have sat back watching the idiot Governor of Wisconsin, the goof in the city attorneys office and the little rube on the city council, as well as the others and could find no other way to describe their words and actions. The age we live in, with information technology the was it is employed, the truth is no longer required. The press and politicians have deployed a relentless and unchecked assault of government workers and their wages and benefits for over five years.

When the "Governmental Accounting Standards Board" (GASB) changed the standards of reporting  in 1994 for financial disclosures related to Defined Benefit Retirement Plans (GASB Statement 25), it opened the door for those with an agenda to begin the attacks. This new "rule" required cities who had defined benefit retirement plans to list as debts the "projected" retirement benefit each and every employee would receive if they were to work to maximum retirement age and live to the "life expectancy" age. The GASB added an additional "rule" in GASB Statement 26, that required similar reporting of "Post Employment Healthcare." 

When GASB changed the rules and required cities to list on their financial disclosures these "Debts" they opened the door for the likes of the little rube, Scott Walker, Jan Goldsmith and Mike Aguirre before him, to spin the meaning of this information and use it to further political agendas. Some will ask why now, when the law went fully into effect in 1996. One reason is most people did not understand the rule and many cities, counties and states carried the information in the notes section of the financial reports or as a separate report all together. As information technology began to emerge and reporters looking to make a name for themselves began to cull information from reports and financial disclosures looking for a story, they latched onto this information and the spin began.

Not one of the reporters to use this information cared to educate themselves about the realities of what the numbers meant nor to print the truth when they were given it. The numbers appeared to be so large, they knew they hit on something they could use to win a prized Pulitzer. Win they did, the truth be damned. Enter politicians with a bent to destroy unions and an economy that fell flat on its face and we find ourselves in March Madness. 

A simplistic way of explaining the "unfunded liability" as it relates to GASB 25 & 26 is simple enough. Yet when the press and politicians control the time allowed to provide an explanation and the truth, the rhetoric and spin becomes truth and reality. If you have a mortgage on your home, you most likely know what you owe if you want to pay it off or sell it. Do you know what you would "pay" for the home at the end of say a 30 year mortgage with compounding interest and principle payments? When you list your "debts" do you list what is owed on your mortgage or what you would ultimately pay with interest and principle at the end of 30 years? This is what GASB 25 and 26 is all about. Listing what will be owed (payed to the employee) at the very end of a persons benefit. Logical? Realistic? Accurate? Meaningful? The answer to all of these is NO.

The reason the "Unfunded Liability" has become such an issue, is it is a huge number that most people do not understand. The same would hold true if you listed your mortgage in the same way when applying for any other loan. Try getting a car loan on a police officer salary and having to list your mortgage as a one million dollar plus debt. The fact your monthly payment is within your means, you owe $300,000, the home is valued at $425,000, matters not if you apply the same rule and logic used by the press and politicians.

The rhetoric spun as truth and reality have created such a hate storm toward government workers and their wages and benefits, there is no defending them. In today's "Dialog" the little rube and Jeff Jordan faced off debating the question, "Spare Public Safety Officers From Reforms?" The little rube in his opinion, "Yes, It should include everyone" says the defined benefit retirement plan should be eliminated and ALL employees should be given a 401K style retirement plan, including public safety members. Jordan in his opinion, "No, It pays to exempt Public Safety" says the elimination of the defined benefit retirement is poor public policy and legally and fiscally flawed.

The truth is we as public employees can no longer defend our wages and benefits to the masses. That includes public safety employees. The DOT.COM bubble burst, the economy tanked and millions have lost their jobs. People everywhere have taken a hit to their 401K retirements, their investment savings plans and the equity in their homes. The average taxpayer reads every day that government is having to cut services and eliminate resources to pay for bloated benefits and wages for employees. We are all painted with a dirty brush and labeled greedy. Our wages and benefits are characterized as excessive, bloated, not sustainable and a relic of the past. No opinion piece, letter to the editor or 60 second interview on KUSI will change the perception or reality of the taxpayer to the contrary. Forget the money made by those DOT.COM baby's and the millions upon millions made by workers in private industry. None of that matters today. 

What Scott Walker is doing to Wisconsin is just the beginning of what is to come for government workers across America. The assault on government workers in San Diego began a long ago and shows no sign of ending. The little rube's, Craig Gustafson's and Jan Goldsmith's of the world will continue the onslaught of lies and spin to reach their intended goal of eviscerating the wages and benefits of government workers, including public safety members. We continue to have little recourse and no leverage to stop the bleeding. We do not help ourselves when one of our own betrays the public trust. We cannot continue to defend our current benefits and simply say by reducing or eliminating them we will lose experienced officers and struggle to compete for qualified candidates. As the war against government employee wages and benefits spreads from Wisconsin, we need to offer up reasonable changes to our current benefits. The "status quo" is not acceptable.

I don't know what those changes need to be, but I know they need to be made. We need to explore modifying even those benefits for existing employees to begin to garner some support from taxpayers. We have to preserve the core defined benefits of our retirement as well as retiree medical. To do this will require sacrifice and changes, even to existing benefits for current employees.

In the interim we must act professional and take care of each other.