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Police, Fire Unions Sue City Over Pensions

A lawsuit was filed against the city for planning to cut back on its contributions to newly hired workers.

Police and firefighters in Hermosa Beach filed a lawsuit against the city Tuesday in hopes of putting a halt to changes in the city's retirement benefits for workers.

Unions representing both the police and fire departments are suing the city to prevent it from altering its pension plan, which will affect future public safety personnel.

The City Council voted unanimously last month to change its plan, seeking to decrease the city's contribution to the CalPERS pension program for new employees. Current public safety workers will retain their existing retirement benefits.

The Hermosa Beach Firefighters Association joined the Hermosa Beach Police Officers Association in filing the lawsuit against the city. 

"The lawsuit is about getting back on track with the correct process," wrote the firefighters association's president Aaron Bush in a statement to Patch.

"The City chose to disregard the legal rights we have to 'meet and confer' and negotiate over salary and benefits," he wrote. "We hope the city realizes it made a mistake and will reconsider their approach on this matter."

For new hires at the police department, the new plan would reduce the city's portion of pension payments from 47.5 percent to 13.4 percent. For fire department hires, the reduction goes from 37.9 percent to 13.4 percent.

The pension plan has been on most of this summer's City Council meeting agendas. Mayor Michael DiVirgilio claimed that those against the plan never expressed concern.

"It's really disappointing," he said.

Implementation for the new pension plan was scheduled to begin around Nov. 1, according to city manager Stephen Burrell. Now both public safety associations and the city could be going to court.

"It's about the money," said Councilman Patrick "Kit" Bobko.

The new plan to cut back on pension contributions was designed to save budget dollars, according to Bobko. He now finds it frustrating that an attempt to save the city money will cost in the form of paying lawyers.

"We truly understand the bad economic climate," Bush wrote. "We are not suing for money."

But the manner in which this request to negotiate was made will still cost, according to the City Council.

"When the city tries to save the money, the union stands up, and costs us money to fight it," Bobko said, before adding that the dollars spent to fight this lawsuit will likely come from taxpayer pockets.

"This isn't a lawsuit against the city," he said. "It's a lawsuit against all of you."

Bush expressed that this legal process is not enjoyable.

"We are not happy that this is happening," Bush wrote to Patch. "I don't ever wish to fight with the City, and I am always expecting to work together to come up with a solution."  

As more information is released about the lawsuit against Hermosa Beach, Patch will report it.

Merna Marshall August 11, 2010 at 05:39 PM
Please tell me that's a typo. "For new hires at the police department, the new plan would reduce the city's portion of pension payments from 47.5 percent to 13.4 percent. For fire department hires, the reduction goes from 37.9 percent to 13.4 percent." Is it really possible that sometime in the past city councils approved contributing nearly half or the employees' salary to their pension plan? What were they smoking?
Jacqueline Howard August 11, 2010 at 06:29 PM
This article was updated with Aaron Bush's comments at 11:26 a.m.
Jacqueline Howard August 11, 2010 at 06:45 PM
Thanks for commenting, Merna. I added a photo and PDF of the proposed pension plan from the July City Council meeting (when a "resolution of intention to approve" was voted on) so you can see the difference between the old and new numbers.
Ed August 12, 2010 at 09:33 PM
I have spent a lot of time on the cities website, and I was at the last city council meeting in which the City Council stated how unhappy they are with the fire and police department unions. What concerns me the most is I was unable to find the salaries of the City Council, City Manager and other city employees. They should be posted on the website for all to see. (City of Bell) I always see both sides of an issue, and if the city council wants to cut pention contributions, I want to see it cut across the board, not just fire and police, but ALL city employees including the city manager and the city council. I have also become aware that the city council cut a Firefighters position from each shift. This concerns me very, very much since the fire depatment already seems short staffed. I'm sure there are other places to cut cost besides public safety. I have often said, someone has their had in the honey pot, when I see cities like Hermosa struggling. Citizens need to take a deeper look at who runs the city.
Jacqueline Howard August 12, 2010 at 09:42 PM
Ed, you bring up an interesting point here. Patch submitted a request to the city for a list of employee salaries. Once we get that information, we'll publish the story.
Jacqueline Howard August 12, 2010 at 11:37 PM
UPDATE -- I was just told that the City should be posting salaries on its website this weekend. When speaking with Mayor DiVirgilio last week, he said that it's very important for the City to push this data out for residents, including making it easy to find online. I just didn't realize it would be happening so quickly! Story soon.

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