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President’s Message, First Quarter of 2012

It is hard to believe that 2011 has already passed so quickly. I remember sitting down to write the President’s Message for the start of 2011 and listing some of the challenges and battles which would likely come with the start of the new year. I jotted down cuts to City services in order to address the budget shortfall, Carl DeMaio intensifying his assault on public employees, challenges to the retiree health benefit and the implementation of the Managed Competition Guide. Yet just as these obstacles were easy to anticipate, so was MEA’s response to each of them; we organized our coalitions, rallied support and fought hard!

In the midst of the significant budget cuts and layoffs proposed for the City’s FY 2012 budget, MEA’s leadership met individually with Councilmembers to discuss our concerns and to present budget alternatives. We also had organized presentations and individual members testified before the full City Council to demonstrate just how these cuts would affect both City services and the City employees who have dedicated their professional lives to providing these crucial services. As a result of our Union’s resolve to not accept the cuts and layoffs and our courageous members who spoke on behalf of all City employees, almost all of the proposed cuts were restored.

Just like 2010, Carl DeMaio spent 2011 attacking City employees whenever he had the opportunity. Although he might have won the air-time battle (thanks in large part to “fair and balanced” KUSI), we waged our own assault on his questionable arguments and tactics. General Manager Mike Zucchet debated Carl in well-attended public forums every chance he could get and also held KUSI accountable to their claim that labor unions had rejected their invitation to participate in the station’s special “Sign-A-Thon” which was essentially an infomercial for the “Comprehensive Pension Reform” (CPR) ballot initiative.

Although MEA doesn’t receive half the air time or newspaper headlines as sound-bite-grabbing DeMaio, we continue to take advantage of media opportunities while also working behind the scenes to challenge the legality of so many of Carl’s ill-conceived policy claims, especially the CPR initiative. That is why MEA has filed a claim with the State’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) which details how this measure is a City-sponsored initiative which means that the City’s refusal to meet and confer with MEA violates State law.

No one would dispute that negotiations with the City over retiree healthcare were complicated and drawn out. At more than one point, I was convinced that no agreement would be reached and we would end up in litigation once the City attempted to take away the entire benefit. During negotiations, two court rulings came out which confirmed that the landscape in the courts on our issues is about as bleak as it is in the political world. Not surprisingly, the Mayor’s last, best and final offer to MEA was dismal and would have been a heavy blow to us all. With all of this as the backdrop to our discussions with the City, our Negotiating Team (led by the always amazing Ann Smith) persevered and tried to address the areas of contention while also scrapping together points of compromise. As a result, an agreement was eventually reached which provides MEA members with a level of certainty (rather than ongoing legal debate and prolonged litigation) as they make plans for their retirement futures.

Managed competition is like that sinus headache you get every year when the weather changes. It’s there, it’s inconvenient but it’s also manageable. After three years of negotiations, litigation which ruled that the City had bargained in bad faith and an eventual agreement, we now have the Managed Competition Guide. The bidding process is time-consuming, stressful and frustrating for those employees who must demonstrate (again!) just how lean and efficient their departments already are. Yet the managed competition process has also affirmed what we already knew- nobody does it better! Our employee proposal teams have won handedly over the private bidders in the first two competitions because City employees have adjusted to difficult times and have found creative ways to do more with less. In doing so, we will continue to demonstrate to the privatization proponents that quality City services are most efficiently and proudly provided by City employees.

Although there are always areas where MEA can improve, I am especially proud of our organization and the strides that we made in 2011. Undoubtedly, 2012 will bring its own challenges for us to face and overcome. Yet with each challenge, we strengthen our resolve to unite and fight for what we have worked so hard for. So bring it on 2012, we are ready for whatever comes our way!