Oxnard’s rocky negotiations with its fire and police unions have hit what might be a first: impasse.
The city on May 6 declared impasse with the two public safety groups, said Human Resources Director Tabin Cosio. On May 18, it declared impasse with a third unit, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501, which represents skilled employees in water, wastewater, code compliance, animal services and other divisions.
Cosio called the move “just the next step in the process of public sector labor relations” as regulated by state labor laws.
Jeff Donabedian, president of Oxnard Firefighters Association, said this is the first time in the union’s history negotiations have gone to impasse. The association was formed in 1967.
Police and fire contracts expired in June 2014, with negotiations running amid a background of confusing and ever-changing statements about the city’s financial condition.
Donabedian said while the city is saying cuts to salaries and benefits are absolutely essential, “they still can’t produce a single sworn financial statement or document yet.”
The city still has not completed its annual audit for the financial year that ended in June 2015, even as it is about to start the budget process for the next fiscal year that starts July 1. At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the latest update shows additional general fund reductions for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
“It’s frustrating more than anything,” said Mike Johnson, president of the Oxnard Peace Officers Association, who believes impasse is also a first for his group. “All we ask is they prove their position. Show us the numbers.”
From Johnson’s point of view, the city hasn’t even been able to show why it needs $4 million in employee concessions included in the current fiscal year’s budget, making the figure “basically sound like an arbitrary number.”
He’s also frustrated that the city’s crime rate has risen 67.4 percent in the last four years and the council’s only action “has been to cut 18 bodies.”
Both Donabedian and Johnson said before they ask members to make sacrifices, they want to be able to verify the city’s numbers.
Separately, the group that represents many white-collar workers, Service Employees International Union Local 721, on May 18 narrowly voted down a tentative agreement, said union spokesman Jesse Luna.
The city does have a tentative agreement with the group that represents police department management, said Cosio, the HR director.
The impasse declarations inch the city closer to one possible outcome: unilateral imposition of a contract by the city.
Cosio said Oxnard is not at that stage yet as impasse procedures have not been exhausted.
First, the unions can request fact-finding hearings before a state-issued chairman or chairwoman who functions as something of an arbitrator, he said. The chair would issue a decision or recommendation and the City Council would hold a public hearing.
If the city decides not to implement the chair’s decision, the parties can go back to the negotiating table, Cosio said. It could also ultimately impose a contract.
“The city is committed to working with the unions on this so that we can move forward with our city operations,” Cosio said.
The police and fire union presidents said fact-finding hearings have been requested.