Siobhan Braun 2 p.m., Sept. 18
- Community Blog
- San Diego - No Longer America's Finest City
The City, Its employees, their associations.
The story of how San Diego's employees got where they are started around 1960, when the City petitioned the Federal Government for the authority to create their own retirement and health care system for their employees. The did this to avoid paying their matching contributions to the Federal government for Social Security. It's not that the City wouldn't contribute to the retirement, but they wanted a little flexibility in how they did it. The City is required to invest the retirement fund, required to give a guaranteed benefit, and required to do many other things to ensure the City Employees of the pension they are investing in. Just to be clear, the employees have always contributed their fair share of the money for their retirement, just like everyone else. At the time the City petitioned the Feds for this program, they also needed to sell this idea to their employees, so they included some benefits to get the workers to agree. Those are the very benefits that the City Council and the Mayor want to modify now.
The City's workers are represented by three distinct labor associations (associations because unions are not legal for municipal employees in certain circumstances in California - I don't know all the specifics of these laws) - The MEA (Municipal Employees Association), The POA (Police Officer's Association) and the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters). I am much more familiar with the MEA and POA than the IAFF, so I will stay with those two in the interest of accuracy. The POA and IAFF have had similar results and have similar benefits, and those benefits are better than those of the MEA. Retirement is based on a percentage of the employees highest annual pay over their entire career. This is similar to social security, but, because of higher contributions from the employees, the amounts ere usually larger. The Police are given 3% of their pay for each year of service, while the MEA employees are given 2 1/2% per year. At that rate, a police officer who works 30 years will see 90% of his pay upon retirement, while a regular employee will see 75% of their pay for the same period. When this pogram began, it was not capped, so people could work long careers and actually retire on more than they were ever paid. That is no longer the case, but is a remaining myth of the system. Given the fact that it's been years since these employees received a raise, and they are forced to take unpaid days off each year (more every year, it seems), most of these eployees best pay years were anywhere from two to five years ago. The big benefit for employees is the ability to retire younger, with Police allowed to retire at age 50 and the MEA allowed to retire at 55. This is also a benefit to the city, because it makes the careers shorter, resulting in lower retirement pay.
The next big City Employee myth has to do with the DROP program. DROP is a program that allows a city employee to retire, but continue working for up to five more years. When they continue working, the city puts their retirement into a savings account, and continues to pay them as an employee. Sounds like double dipping on the surface, but the simple reality is that someone has to do that job, and whoever it is has to be paid. The benefit of DROP to an employee is the savings account, which gives the a chunk of cash at the end of the program. many employees use that cash to pay off homes, vehicles, etc., allowing for a nicer retirement. The benefit of DROP to the city is getting an experienced employee for five years that they don'y have to pay into retirement or health insurance ofr, saving lots of money over the employee they'ed have to replace them with if DROP was not there. This all means that DROP is actually a money saving program for the city. The big lie is that it's a money waster, but it's easier to justify the lie than to explain the truth.
The last reality we'll discuss here tonight has to do with those associations, again. From what I've seen, the POA does a pretty good job of representing it's officers, and fighting the cuts and lack of respect it receives from the Mayor and City Council. They take out TV ads, block what they can, and, in general, work hard for their members. They are handcuffed in one way, however - they can't legally strike, so they really have no teeth. The MEA has long given up the fight. They don't do anything to assist their employees, to the point of being neglegent in their representation. The mayor says "jump", the MEA says "how high?". Because of the laws against a strike by city employees, there is really no opportunity for the associations to truly represent their members. I never advocate a strike, understand, but they must have the threat of a strike to have any bargaining power at all.
I'm sure this is all just boring information to most of you, but it's important to have the facts in order to make informed decisions about how your City is run. This information is so badly misrepresented every day that it's impossible to see the truth. Worst of all, it's the politicians - the ones I should be able to agree with, like Carl DeMaio and Jerry Sanders - who lie about all this every day, even though they absolutely know the truth. They lie because the lies are more exciting than the truth, and they know the public won't check it out. Well, here it is - your opportunity to read and check out the truth. I hope you do, for the good of everyone in this City.