City & Unions Agree On 3-Year Contracts

The South Pasadena City Council unanimously approved new three-year contracts with each of the city’s three labor unions — police, fire and municipal employees — during the council’s regular meeting at City Hall on July 17. 

The pacts affect pay and benefits for some 40 police-union members, all 13 fire personnel and around 175 municipal employees. Some salaries will remain the same while others will see increases. 

The previous contracts with all three labor unions were signed in 2017 and expired June 30. Those contracts lacked salary increases over the last two years, and previous contracts had provided only marginal increases. As a result, city employees were compensated “significantly below average” for small cities, a city report said. 

The new contracts will result in an annual fiscal impact of approximately $800,000, with $750,000 coming from the city’s general fund, the report said. The contracts will be funded by user fees and restructuring savings. A local sales tax to cover a budget shortfall is on the ballot in November. 

Mayor Marina Khubesrian praised the teamwork, collaboration and transparency that she said was woven throughout the process. 

“I’m thrilled with the agreements,” Khubesrian told The Review. “I’m looking forward to being on the other side of it and moving forward with all the work we have to do.” 

She said the city took care to not take a one-size-fits-all approach and worked to consider the various needs of each union. 

“As much as possible, we wanted to really hear and listen to their concerns and see if we could at least address those,” said Khubesrian.

“It’s a competitive market, with a lot of folks hiring, especially public-safety officers right now, and we’re not going to be able to compete with some of the bigger cities, never, but we were able to be creative in some ways and offer some of the things that they really wanted and bring them as close to the median (in terms of salary and benefits) as we possibly could without breaking the bank.” 

The contracts passed without comment from the public or deliberation from the council as part of the consent agenda. 

“I think what you saw with the ease of the vote was a united council, and really the lack of controversy really speaks to a good outcome for the city,” said city Public Information Officer John Pope. 

The sides had agreed to the new deals following weeks of negotiations. 

The city conducted a survey in February 2019 of compensation among comparable small cities in the San Gabriel Valley and found that 80 percent of South Pasadena employees were paid 10 percent to 30 percent below average for small cities, according to the report. 

This impacted the city with challenges to recruit and retain qualified staff. There have also been high turnover rates, unfilled positions with no applicants and reduced customer service. All three full-time employee groups (Police Officers’ Association [POA], Firefighters’ Association [FFA] and Public Service Employees’ Association [PSEA]) were involved throughout the negotiation process. 

According to Pope, the goal was to get all employees to a level of about 90 percent of the average of similar workers in comparable cities in the area. Some positions already make more than the average and they did not get raises. Some made less, and they received fairly significant boosts. Negotiations were finalized with all unions by late June, before the prior contracts’ expiration. 

“The fact that South Pas did the labor negotiations as a unit and now has three years of contracts I think is really positive for ourselves and the unions,” said Pope. 

Pope said a major focus of the city is sustainability. With more competitive salaries, the city hopes to attract and retain highly qualified people. In the past, the city has had difficulties in recruiting and maintaining its workforce, particularly in police, where some officers have left for neighboring cities, Pope said. 

“This is a major step toward getting our salaries to a more competitive level versus the other cities in our region,” Pope said. 

For the Police Officers’ Association, the agreement included salary increases and new benefits in additional to structural changes in the department. As a part of the negotiations with the POA, the city commissioned a study of the existing department structure and as a result, a management realignment is being proposed to provide better resource allocation and more promotional opportunities. 

Recommendations include reclassifying the existing police captain to deputy police chief. The creation of two lieutenant positions will be made for promotion opportunities. This change will decrease the total number of full-time employees by one, as there exists a vacancy in a second police captain position that has sat unfilled and will be eliminated. 

For the Firefighters’ Association, the proposal includes a new full-time inspector position, salary increases and new benefits. The city currently has two part-time positions for the fire-inspector role, and that will be changed to one full-time position. The city also agreed to provide captains and engineers specialty pay equal to 5 percent of base salary to go toward maintaining their paramedic certification. 

For Public Service Employees’ Association, full-time and part-time employees receive salary increases in addition to the city providing a cash-out option for vacation leave of up to 80 hours, in comparison to the prior agreement’s up to 54 hours of sick leave. 

The city’s 28 management employees are also proposed to be provided with the same salary and benefits as all other full-time employee groups.