City’s Labor Dispute With IAM Nearing An End?

City MGMT. Expected To Respond To Latest Union Proposal On Monday

By Joshua H. Silavent
Staff Writer

November 15th, 2012 – City management will likely give its response to the latest contract offer from representatives of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the city’s largest non-public safety employee union, when the two sides meet at the bargaining table Monday morning. If an agreement cannot be reached, Long Beach residents might ultimately decide the fate of the ongoing labor dispute.

IAM officials told the Business Journal today that they are ready to make a deal and have a proposal in place that addresses the city’s concerns about spiraling pension costs. “We’re willing to give the city the pension reform that they’re asking for,” said IAM chief spokesperson Ray Rivera.

According to city staff reports, employee pension costs topped $98 million this year. And many believe this unfunded liability threatens the city’s long-term fiscal stability.

IAM members are prepared to pick up the full 8 percent of CalPERS retirement contributions (known as the “employee fee”) and agree to an adjusted wage and pension formula for new employees – which includes raising the retirement age to 62 from 55 and having 2 percent of annual salaries directed toward pensions – Rivera said.

“The sticking point between us and the city is we’re looking for a two-year extension to the current agreement with no wage increases or anything like that during those two years,” Rivera said, “but up to this point the city has only offered a one-year extension.”

IAM also is seeking assurances that no layoffs will be made during the life of the new contract. “That doesn’t seem to be a major issue right now … but we haven’t talked that completely through, either,” Rivera said.

While agreeing to a wage freeze for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, IAM has not budged on rolling back salaries for its employee members. City management reports that IAM members will receive an 18 percent salary raise over the life of their current contract, which was approved before the Great Recession struck and spans fiscal years 2008-2013.

The city council reviewed for the first time on November 13 the language of a ballot initiative that calls for total compensation levels, including salaries, for IAM union members – which include among others librarians, street sweepers and clerks – be capped at 2010 levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The initiative, which must still survive a vote of the council if labor negotiations break down, seeks about $29 million in annual savings. If it goes before the voters, a special election will be held in the spring at a cost of between $1.1 and $1.4 million, according to City Clerk Larry Herrera.

“I will tell you that if we can reach an agreement on pension reform, I do believe this ballot measure will be unnecessary,” Mayor Bob Foster said during the council meeting. “I do not prefer to do pension reform, or any other kind of employment reform, this way. But it does need to be done. I’m committed to it. And if we can’t reach agreement, I will do everything I can to make sure it’s on the ballot. But if we reach an agreement, I won’t pursue it.”

Janet Schabow, an IAM spokesperson, told the council during public comment that the ballot initiative was the wrong way to resolve the dispute. “We’re telling you that you’re doing pension reform wrong,” she said. “You are straining the labor relations with your actions.”

City management and IAM are expected to meet from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday.

“You’re going to get the council’s response to your offer,” Foster told Schabow. “We have been trying to get a response and an offer, that would work, from (IAM) for almost a year and a half now. You’re going to get a response, but it’s going to be our last response. So, I hope it works.”