The firefighters’ BFF

What city official has done the most for the financial interests of Alameda firefighters during his or her tenure in office?

If you said Marie Gilmore, or Lena Tam, or Rob Bonta – or even Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft or Stewart Chen — you’re reading the wrong blog.  The correct answer is . . . Ann Marie Gallant!

Gallant is the former Interim City Manager who was dismissed by Council in a 3-to-2 vote after she sicced the Alameda County District Attorney on Councilwoman Tam for allegedly leaking confidential information to, among others, the firefighters’ union political director.  (Tam and the union vigorously denied the allegations, and the District Attorney declined to pursue a criminal investigation).  Even before the Tam contretemps, Gallant had angered the firefighters union by closing fire station no. 5, laying off five firefighters and leaving six positions vacant, and opposing the union’s ballot initiative (later quietly withdrawn) to write minimum staffing levels into the City Charter.

At the bargaining table, however, it turns out that Gallant was really the firefighters’ best friend.  Listening to the stories told at recent Council meetings, one can only conclude that the firefighters owe Gallant a debt of gratitude for the new contract giving them $3.45 million in wage and benefit increases over four years.  And those firefighters who, like IAFF Local 689 president Dom Weaver, worked at the Alameda Naval Air Station before joining A.F.D. likewise have Gallant to thank for boosting their pensions above the amount due them as City employees.

We got the first part of the story last November.

The 2001-7 MOU between the firefighters’ union and the City contained a “me-too” clause ensuring that any wage or benefit increases given to the police would also be given to the firefighters.  According to a December 4, 2012 memo by City Attorney Janet Kern, during negotiations for the next contract the City sought to delete this clause, presumably to forestall a double whammy if it cut a deal with the cops.

According to Kern, the union refused to budge, Gallant caved, and the clause stayed in the 2008-10 contract, which Council approved in August 2009.  And then, a mere two months later, Gallant foolishly triggered the me-too provision by giving police “retention” pay.  The firefighters’ union demanded reciprocity, but Gallant refused and the union immediately filed a grievance.  The City Adjustment Board deadlocked on the claim.

And there the matter stood – for three years.  Just after the November 2012 election brought two more Local 689-endorsed candidates onto Council, City Manager John Russo presented a set of new four-year contracts with the public safety unions.  As the primary reason for Council to approve the contracts, the staff report touted the “savings” produced by the unions’ willingness to pay an additional 1% of salary per year toward the cost of their pensions.  Nothing was said about the long-dormant “grievance.”

Then, on the Friday before the Tuesday Council meeting, the City released Kern’s memo.  After recounting the story set forth above, the memo said that Gallant maintained that leaving the me-too clause in the 2008-10 MOU had been a clerical error.  This position, which was consistent with Gallant’s subsequent conduct, was corroborated by the fire chief and the personnel director who also had negotiated for the City.  Nevertheless, Kern’s “assessment” was that their testimony “would not be persuasive,” and she concluded that the City “had significant exposure” — $7.2 million, by staff’s estimate — on the resurrected grievance.  But if Council approved the new contracts, the firefighters union would graciously forget about the grievance and gladly forego this multi-million dollar windfall.

The grievance became the centerpiece of the staff presentation and Council discussion of the contract proposal.  At the meeting, Local 689 political director Jeff DelBono – the same guy involved in l’affaire Tam — assured Council that Gallant indeed had agreed to keep the me-too clause.  “I was in the room,” he declared.  “So it’s their word against ours, I guess, is the way I can put it.  But I can tell you right now, somebody’s either lying or they’re very incompetent because everybody knew what the me-too clause meant in 2008.”

Staff’s pitch was that, by approving the new MOUs, Council really wouldn’t be giving the firefighters a $3.45 million raise.  Instead, it actually would be saving money for the City by avoiding the budget-busting defeat that inevitably would result when the union sued to enforce the promise made (and later repudiated) by Gallant.  As Russo put it in his peroration, “in the context of a very difficult grievance which our attorneys – and I share their opinion – believe we are likely to lose, and which has a catastrophic outcome for the City in terms of cash flow,” the new contracts represented “a tremendous victory for the taxpayers of Alameda.”

The two newly elected union-endorsed Councilmembers showed up to proclaim their support, and Council approved the contracts by a 4-1 vote. And somewhere, Ann Marie Gallant burst out laughing.

The rest of the story emerged this week.

According to a memo furnished to Council by the union, our own Local 689 led the successful effort to get the State Legislature to permit firefighters who previously had worked for the federal or state governments to buy “service credits” for those years and add them to the years they worked for a local governmental body.  Since the amount of a pension depends on the number of years on the job, this would mean significantly higher pensions for firefighters like Local 689 president Weaver who began their careers at the Naval Air Station.  It would also mean higher required employer contributions for the City, since, according to CalPERS, the amount paid by the firefighter for the service credit is only approximately one-half of its value.

The memo states that, after the unions succeeded in getting the law changed, Local 689 proposed that the City include in the 2010-13 MOU a provision allowing former federal and state firefighters to buy service credits.  Weaver told Council Tuesday that he negotiated directly with Gallant to obtain this benefit and that she was well aware of the potential cost to the City.  According to Weaver, “The bottom line is that Ann Marie Gallant, when she negotiated this agreement, and brought it to the Council before, where it was ratified, in our agreement, our MOU, is that it was a cost item, but not a very big one.”

Weaver must have suffered a temporary lapse of memory about Gallant bringing the MOU to Council, since Gallant was fired in December 2010 and it was John Russo who presented the contract to Council in June 2011.  Likewise, Weaver was mistaken when he informed Council that the contract between the City and CalPERS sets forth the “formula” for determining the cost of permitting firefighters to buy service credits.  It doesn’t.  And if Gallant (or her successor, John Russo) was well aware of the costs to the City, their conclusions didn’t make it into the staff report recommending approval of the MOU, notwithstanding a state law requiring cities to determine and disclose the future annual costs of providing additional pension benefits.  But the “bottom line,” as Weaver put it, is that the provision the union wanted did indeed find its way into the 2010-13 MOU.

Perplexingly, staff did nothing to follow through on amending the City’s contract with CalPERS to include the service-credit benefit before the 2010-13 MOU expired.  The same provision thus reappears in the 2013-17 MOU approved by Council in December 2012.  Again, however, staff took no action – until the union finally could wait no longer.  (Perhaps its patience was running low because of a change in the pension law banning purchase of service credits after January 2013).

Which led to the ordinance adopted by Council Tuesday directing the City Manager to send the long-delayed amendment to CalPERS.  This time, the staff memo stated that the cost of adding the service credit benefit was “unknown.”  But no one on Council cared about cost.  To all but Councilman Tony Daysog, the only issue was whether to honor the promise purportedly made by Gallant and written into the 2010-13 and 2013-17 MOUs.  And that was an easy one, especially after, having been lobbed a softball by Councilman Chen, City Attorney Kern solemnly advised Council that the union would sue if the City didn’t amend the contract.  This time, she didn’t quantify the damages, but how could she, since staff was asserting that the fiscal consequences were unknown?

At the end of Council discussion, Mayor Gilmore told the public and her colleagues not only that the City would “actually face greater exposure numbers-wise if we don’t do this than if we do do this,” but that failure to pass the ordinance would reflect poorly on the City:  “This is something that was discussed over the table,” she said. “IAFF had their reps, we had ours, it was Ann Marie Gallant, I think there’s nobody here that would claim that she was a slouch when it came to numbers, I mean that was her thing, and this was something that was agreed to back then, and I think it’s important that the City of Alameda live up to its agreements.”

Council passed the ordinance by a 4-to-1 vote.  And somewhere, Ann Marie Gallant let out a loud guffaw.

Whatever else her legacy might be, Gallant at least deserves to have her portrait hung in a place of honor at IAFF Local 689 headquarters.  And maybe her successor can learn a lesson from her performance:  If he can be as accommodating to the firefighters’ union as she was, he might even have a future in politics.

Sources:

12/4/12 memo by Janet Kern: Legal Memo Re_ Grievance Dispute

4/14/13 IAAF Local 689 information sheet: 2013-05-07_5-Q letter from Weaver re service credits

CalPERS Optional Benefits Listing: optional-benefits-listing-2012

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Budget, City Council, Firefighters, Pensions, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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