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Manhattan Beach City Council Imposes Firefighter Contract

Sep 21, 2022 04:13PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Photo via Manhattan Beach Fire Department

The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to impose its last, best, and final contract offer for its firefighters' union.

The imposing of the contract closed a chapter on more than 18 months of often-acrimonious negotiations, with what Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano called "no happiness here on either side."

The city and its firefighters' union have been at impasse since May and went to fact-finding on August 5. The fact-finder's report, released September 9, called for concessions from both sides.

At Tuesday night's meeting, numerous members of the Manhattan Beach Firefighters Association said that they would accept the fact-finders report even though the report appeared to give more concessions to the city. They also asked for the City Council to pause their vote on imposing a contract, and instead to meet directly with MBFA representatives.

The meeting exposed some of the anger and accusations that have simmered for the past few months, although both sides claimed to want "labor peace."

After several hours of comments and discussion, councilmembers voted 5-0 to impose its last, best, and final offer from April (which can be seen at Item #8 on the City Council agenda), effective September 24.

"It’s not about revenge or retribution," said Napolitano. "This is a very emotional issue for everyone. Everyone has a firefighter story, everyone has a call that they made, and the response was made in minutes - and we are in constant debt to these folks."

Nevertheless, he said, "We have a job to do on Council, and what that comes down to is that these issues are complex, and they involve a lot of nuance."

Contract Aims to Reduce Overtime

By way of a press release, the city has said that its goals are to:
  • Enhance fire services and increase staffing by removing the restrictive prescribed staffing language in the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that limits the number of firefighters within the Fire Department to a maximum of 8 per shift.
  • Reduce excessive overtime within the MBFA and provide much needed department management discretion and oversight.
  • Uphold the City Council’s commitment to keep fire services local now and into the future.
Major contract items in the city's last, best, and final offer (versus what the fact-finder had recommended, and what MBFA had sought) include: 

1. A 1-year term with a 3% COLA. (The fact-finder had recommended a 5-year term with varying COLAs, and MBFA had agreed with the fact-finders recommendation.)

2. Changing the current constant staffing level of 8 fire suppression personnel per shift to a minimum, rather than a prescribed, staffing number. (The fact-finder had recommended moving to a minimum number rather than a prescribed number, and MBFA had agreed, as long as the city would drop its 1 employee per shift vacation restriction - which it did not; see below.)

3. Limiting vacation use to 1 employee per shift - although employees would be allowed to trade shifts. (The fact-finder recommended keeping the status quo instead, and the MBFA agreed with the fact-finder.)

4. Making the Fire Marshal and Fire Inspector positions civilian positions, and sending the existing employees in these assignments back to their fire suppression assignments. (The fact-finder had agreed, so long as the city would allow current incumbents to finish their terms, and assure MBFA that they would not eliminate those positions. The MBFA agreed with the fact-finder.)

5. Eliminating a "sick leave conversion," which would have allowed firefighters to convert up to 144 hours of accrued sick leave each year to vacation time if unused. (The fact-finder recommended keeping the status quo; the MBFA agreed with the fact-finder.)

6. Adding two new salary steps for employees hired after 1/1/22, and reducing pay on the salary steps for Fire Engineer with Paramedic and Fire Captain with Paramedic positions hired after 1/1/22. (The fact-finder recommended the status quo, and the MBFA agreed with the fact-finder.)

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