By: Will Buividas Treasurer / Chief Contract Negotiator
It seems every day that the attacks on public employees are growing. What started back East and in the Midwest has most certainly made its way to Arizona, in particular, Phoenix. It’s not just public employees; American Airlines recently declared bankruptcy for one purpose: They want to shed $800 million of “on-going” operating expenses. Translation: After they emerge from bankruptcy, their employees will be receiving $800 million less in pay and benefits. When it’s over, our 3.2% cut we took two years ago will look like Christmas to these workers.
In Detroit, an independent auditor has predicted the City will run out of money sometime early next year. The only question is, “Will it be in February or April?” At that time, the City will not have the funds to make payroll. Currently, the employees are refusing to negotiate their pay and benefit packages, so the Governor is on the verge of appointing an emergency manager, which will void all employee contracts. I might not be the smartest guy in the room, but 100% of zero is zero. Come April, I guess that is what their paychecks will be.
Every day I read the Arizona Republic, it seems there is another attack on City of Phoenix workers. In case you have forgotten, we all work for the City of Phoenix and at this point, it does not appear that the public is separating us from the civilian city worker. Hell, even the Goldwater institute is suing the City over your benefits and your RIGHT to be represented by a competent Association. Everything we negotiate in the contract is items that WE pay for. The City doesn’t give us anything for free and if one day you get run over by a bull-headed supervisor, you will be glad you have PLEA on your side and are not left fending for your job on your own. Ironically, our esteemed Councilman Sal DiCiccio has stated that he will vote against the City paying to defend this lawsuit, even though he voted “yes” on the contract. Apparently, it was OK for the City to pay to defend a double-dipping former Chief, but not to uphold the contract that he voted for. Sal is also requesting that the City spend at least $400,000 to hire an outside law firm to negotiate against us in upcoming contract talks. Can you say “slap in the face to City Manager David Cavazos and the hard-working Human Resources staff?” Last time I checked, that money could pay for 3 new Police Officers to be hired. Thankfully, the City of Phoenix is currently not in the state that American Airlines, or the City of Detroit are in, but, it also isn’t 2006 when revenues where projected to increase 15% each year for the rest of time. It appears we are slowly getting back to normal revenue growth projections; however, the economy is still extremely fragile. We also know going into negotiations that healthcare and pension costs for the City (the amount they pay for our healthcare and pensions) is going to increase into the foreseeable future. That money has to come from somewhere and there is not much that can be done to change it. We already went through pension reform last year, which will cause the rate of increase to slow, but the City will still be paying more. Healthcare rates are set by usages, so the more healthcare we use, the more it costs and the City pays 80% of that. The other major hurdle in the future is the food tax. Like it or not, the food tax puts over $30 million into the Police Department budget each year through the General Fund, Prop 1, and Prop 301. There is no way to cut $30 million without reducing our compensation package. That is why even acting Chief Yahner in one of his recent videos talked about the importance of the food tax. As you may know some on the Council are proposing to eliminate the food tax immediately. On top of compensation cuts, that would also mean we probably wouldn’t hire until 2018.
Back to the point of this article: As most of you saw in a recent Arizona Republic article, PLEA is asking for a raise. I would imagine that ALL of you support this, because I have yet to receive one phone call or email saying that we don’t need one. What I am discouraged about was the amount of negative comments on the online version of that article, with many of them directed at Police and Fire. It is concerning that it appears at least some in the public feel that we are overpaid. I think we can all agree this is not true. So, as we start negotiations, we will be fighting for you and looking to increase your compensation. Over the past couple of years, the cost of living has continued to increase, while our wages haven’t. I don’t know what the outcome will be. Obviously, we need to be reasonable and we will keep you posted throughout the process. It will not be an easy fight, but our goal is to ensure that we stay fairly compensated for the job that we do.
Stay safe out there and remember, as patrol staffing continues to decrease, please wait for your backup!