By now, you have most likely received the official notification that following a long and very frustrating negotiation process, the City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) could not reach an agreement. Therefore, the City was left with no other option than to lay off 80 police officers.
What is important to know as you evaluate this situation is the following: Each fiscal year the City of Oakland has a legal and charter mandated responsibility to balance its budget. Prior to the June 24 Special Budget Hearing, the City of Oakland faced an unresolved shortfall of $31.5million for Fiscal Year 2010-11. In the last year and a half alone, the City Council approved recommendations which cut more than $100 million from the City’s general fund budget. That total includes significant cuts to staffing and services in Park maintenance, Libraries, Senior Centers, Public Works, the office budgets of all elected officials, and more. This process has not been easy, but we had no choice.
Due to the devastating ongoing economic crisis we are facing, my colleagues on the council and I have had to make many unpopular decisions which have had a tremendous impact on each and every agency and department in the City. More importantly, these balancing measures have impacted the quality of life for residents and businesses who, as you know, are the ones actually paying for the services in the first place.
Throughout this process, I never wavered in my position that my primary objective has been to preserve only the most core basic services the City is responsible for providing. To that end, everyone needs to share the pain including the police department which, along with the Fire department, accounts for more than 75% of the annual General Fund budget.
Over the course of this year’s budget balancing process, we have met with all of the labor unions in an attempt to come up with the necessary solutions to balance our structural deficit. Currently, every City of Oakland pays a minimum of 9% percent into their pension. The lone exception is our police department which, as it stands now, does not contribute to their pension at all. A 9% contribution from police sworn personnel would save the City approximately $7.3 million per year. With every municipality in the country feeling the impact of unprecedented levels of unfunded liabilities related to retirement compensation and benefits, it is absolutely irresponsible and unfair for the OPOA to cling to a posture that threatens the economic viability of our city and, as of this week, has cost 80 of their own members their jobs.
For several months we have been in negotiation with the OPOA, considering a host of offers and counter-offers. Unfortunately, they have been completely unwilling to recognize that their existing contract - as it pertains to their pension contribution - is totally inconsistent with the contracts of other law enforcement agencies in California or, for that matter, those of other agencies nationwide. Any movement they made in the direction of labor concessions came with a provision that there be “No layoffs for up to 3 years”. For them to even propose this type of condition shows me that they do not understand or simply do not take seriously the magnitude of the economic crisis we are facing. We cannot, under any circumstance, make a guarantee of this sort when we know the deficit in Fiscal Year 2011-12 is projected to be $48.3 million and $64 million in Fiscal Year 2012-13.
If they would have been willing to commit to the 9% contribution, they could have prevented these layoffs for at the very least a year. In the meantime, the Council could have collectively supported a ballot measure to sufficiently fund these positions. I have been saying for a year that I will not support a ballot measure unless we reach an agreement that is equitable and fair; meaning the police officers make the same 9% contribution that every other employee of the City makes. Unfortunately, I believe their short-sighted approach during the negotiation left us with no other option and could even require us to lay off more officers in 2011.
From the council and the mayor’s perspective, the initial hope was that the OPOA would agree to pay the 9%, thus preserving these 80 positions and buying us time to craft a ballot measure that would begin to generate additional revenue to prevent additional layoffs down the road. My hope now is that these layoffs serve as a wake-up call to the OPOA who has had every opportunity to come to the table and agree to this very straightforward concession of a 9% contribution to their retirement. To this point the OPOA has not viewed this as the long term crisis that it is, even as every fiscal projection we have been shown portrays the next several years to be even more difficult than the current one. My greatest frustration has been that their decision to walk away from the negotiation table comes at the expense of both city’s viability and the job security of their own members. Even after the City presented their last-ditch offer on Tuesday, the OPOA did not go back to their full membership for a vote. Instead, the proposal was rejected by the union’s Executive Board, comprised primarily of officers whose jobs were not in jeopardy of being cut.
Many people have asked, “What do these layoffs mean for a police chief who now has to manage a department with fewer officers?” First of all, when the Oakland Police Department last week was staffed with approximately 776 officers, only 240 of those sworn officers were assigned to work in a patrol capacity; responsible for responding to 911 calls and others non-emergency calls for service. That alone should tell you that the police department is not using or deploying our resources efficiently to address the most pressing needs of residents and businesses in Oakland. Secondly, the Chief has said since the day he accepted the position that he would make it his number one priority to be responsive to the citizens of Oakland. To most people, that means having the most number of officers available on the street, not behind a desk, ready and able to respond to calls for service. I am in total agreement with that expectation, and I look forward to seeing what the Chief will propose to offset this unfortunate loss of.
Meanwhile, the list of crimes the Chief said would no longer be considered a priority which was disseminated to the media and the public early this week in the lead up to the layoffs - much like the recent comments from OPOA - was done for no other reason than to intimidate the public, encourage further uproar, and, lastly, to influence council members and City officials in advance of this past Tuesday evening’s “final” negotiation.
I was very disappointed by this tactic because I believe it sends a bad message to residents and the many people who make personal sacrifices and invest daily in our city; all with the goal of making it a better and more livable place for all segments of our population. And they are all doing this under very difficult economic circumstances.
While I recognize that laying off police officers is a very unpopular decision, I simply wish to remind all Oaklanders that the ongoing economic crisis left us almost no alternatives. Residents need to remember that cuts have been made in all City departments. Had the OPOA agreed to a 9% contribution to their pension, the cuts to sworn personnel in our police department could have been avoided.