ANAHEIM, CA – The City Council has approved a tentative labor contract with its firefighters that significantly reduces the pensions Anaheim will pay out to new employees hired after Jan. 1.
The three-year contract, approved 4-1 with Mayor Tom Tait dissenting, comes after more than seven months of negotiations.
Council members who approved the contract called it historic because it reduces pension payments and alters staffing levels that have been in place for decades.
Qualified employees hired after Jan. 1 will receive 2.7 percent of their highest annual salary times every year worked and could start taking that pension when they turn age 57.
Current employees can receive 3 percent of their salary times the years served beginning at age 50.
City officials say the changes will likely save 6 percent to 7 percent in firefighter payroll expenses – but they acknowledge it will likely take a decade or more to see significant savings because the new pension formula only applies to new hires.
Employees typically are only eligible to receive pension payments after a minimum of five years of service.
“It’s the kind of thing we’ll look at in 10 years and say, ‘Thank heavens we did that,'” said Kristine Ridge, Anaheim’s director of Human Resources.
The agreement also calls for the traditional four-member staffing on fire engines to be reduced to three on 25 percent of the city’s fire engines. That would free up four firefighters, who will put another engine back in operation.
In June 2011, a fire engine was taken out of service as a cost-cutting measure.
Chief Randy Bruegman said it’s not clear exactly where that added engine will be stationed, but it will serve Anaheim Hills – the area previously served by the engine taken out of service.
Bob McClellan, a fire captain and president of the Anaheim Firefighters Association, said that reaction to the contract among firefighters was mixed, with only 56 percent of its members voting to approve it.
Council members said they appreciated the union’s willingness to work with the city.
“I think our firefighters’ association really did step up to convince its membership that this (contract) is good for them,” Councilwoman Gail Eastman said. “They came to a fair and equitable agreement.”
Tait voted against the contract at the Nov. 20 meeting, saying it didn’t go far enough in reducing pension costs.
“This is going forward – it does not affect any firefighters now employed,” Tait said. “We have to take the maximum we can get.”
The contract covers Anaheim Fire Department’s 186 sworn firefighters. It is expected to be finalized on Dec. 18.
Other council members said it was a fair compromise that helps the city avoid a potentially costly arbitration process.
“I understand that Mayor Tait would like to get a bigger cut … but I’ll accept what now has been negotiated,” Councilman Harry Sidhu said.
Referring to how difficult negotiating any pension cut typically is, he added: “We made an impossible thing possible.”