’Tis the season for labor negotiations in the City of Long Beach. Agreements between the city and 10 of its 12 employee unions are expiring at the end of September, and negotiations for new memoranda of understanding (MOU) are in full swing.
Two major unions, the Long Beach Police Officers Association (POA) and the Long Beach Firefighters Association (FFA) have already reached a respective agreement with the city, while negotiations with the Association of Long Beach Employees (ALBE) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are still underway. Talks with the remaining eight unions are expected to commence soon.
On Wednesday, September 18, the city announced that a tentative agreement with the FFA had been reached. The terms of the agreement will remain confidential until it has been ratified through the voting process of the 400-member union. The POA’s labor agreement with the city was approved by the city council one day prior.
Per the new contract, members of the police union will receive a series of pay raises, plus a one-time bonus, in the upcoming years. Effective October 1, 2019, union members will receive a 4% wage increase, followed by a one-time payment of $2,000 on October 1, 2020. Recruits and non-career employees will not receive this bonus. On October 1, 2021, members are scheduled to receive a 3% wage increase, followed by a 2.5% increase effective April 1, 2022. The agreement expires on September 30, 2022. New skill pay was added for officers on the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and dive teams, while new hires in certain investigative and administrative positions won’t receive skill pay currently awarded to incumbents in those positions.
To reduce the city’s pension costs, which have driven its unfunded liabilities to a total of $3.1 billion, the union agreed to increase its members’ contribution to the pension fund. According to the new contract, members will be responsible for paying an additional 3% toward the city’s employer contributions to CalPERS.
The maximum amount of banked overtime for members will be increased from 80 hours to 120 hours by 2021, according to the new agreement. The union’s previous MOU had mandated a reduction of the maximum overtime hours banked by members from 140 to 80 hours in 2017. Overtime pay makes up a large portion of the total pay many officers, sergeants and lieutenants receive, in some cases accounting for half of their annual pay, according to data collected by the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Transparent California database.
The union also secured new parental leave privileges for its members. Full-time employees who have completed at least 6 months of service will be eligible for 30 days of parental leave. The parental leave policy applies to members of all genders who welcome a new baby, complete an adoption or take in a foster child.
The MOU also eases requirements for training recruits. In an effort to free up more patrol personnel, the agreement states, recruits who have completed at least 10 months of supervised training in the field will be able to complete their remaining training hours with a regular officer as a partner, rather than a field training officer, as previously required.
A paragraph detailing officers’ rights to inspect records requested by outside parties under the state’s new police transparency law has sparked some controversy. Senate Bill 1421, which was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown in September 2018, made disclosable certain departmental records – through public records requests – regarding individual officers in cases of alleged use of force or sustained claims of sexual assault or dishonesty.
Under the recently approved agreement between the police union and the City of Long Beach, the Long Beach Police Department will notify active employees when a request for records involving them has been received, a notice that will include: the date of the request, the requestor’s or requesting organization’s name, and the nature of the request.
The agreement allows officers an inspection period of five days before the records are released to the requesting party. In a letter to the Long Beach City Council, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said this provision likely violated the California Public Records Act, which requires agencies to disclose responsive records as soon as they’ve been identified, and prohibits them from delaying or obstructing the inspection of those records.
“Importantly, the proposed [section] is not necessary to allow peace officers access to their own records,” the ACLU’s director of police practices, Peter Bibring, stated in his letter to the council. “Officers certainly will have had access to any files related to sustained findings of dishonesty and sexual assault during the administrative proceeding [that resulted] in the finding and should be very familiar with their contents.”
Further, Bibring argued, the provision would allow officers enough time to file a lawsuit that could further delay or even prevent the release of the requested records. “Certainly, the proposed [section] is much broader than the requirement to simply allow officers access to their own files,” Bibring wrote. “Indeed, it seems designed to abet obstruction and delay of transparency by the [Long Beach POA].”
POA President Jim Foster said the ACLU’s criticism missed the mark on a number of issues related to the public records provision of the new agreement. First, he noted that officers have long had the right to be informed about requests for departmental records about them and that the new agreement simply instituted a proactive notification system in place of the previous, request-based procedure.
Foster also argued that, as Bibring pointed out in his letter, officers with sustained misconduct allegations have access to records about themselves throughout the investigation, long before they become disclosable to the public. If an officer sought to prevent these records from being released, Foster argued, they wouldn’t need the five-day inspection period to take the appropriate legal action.
Lastly, Foster said, officers whose deployment of force was found to be within department policy are not presented with the department’s review of their actions. The five-day period, he argued, allows those officers to review the corresponding records for the first time before they are released. He also noted that this adds another layer of security to ensure that the department won’t accidentally release information that violates the officer’s privacy rights under laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“We have to remember that the rights afforded under the Public Records Act are for everyone, to include the police officer,” Foster said. “An officer has the right to ensure their rights aren’t being violated by the department or the city.”