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Getting facts straight on the city

September 04, 2003

John H. Von Holle

The Independent has run many articles in the month of August

containing allegations by public employee critics of systemic

problems in employee contracts, a continuing "ever-upward spiral" in

employee compensation and unions run amok. Although it might be

politically expedient to trash city employees and blame them for all

that's wrong with the world, these perhaps well-meaning but

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nevertheless misinformed people should at least get their facts

straight.

In the city of Huntington Beach, as in other cities and private

sector businesses with union workers, employee contracts must be

negotiated. However, unlike private sector unions, the city workforce

can only strike under extremely limited circumstances and therefore

must accept the contracts offered by the city or face getting nothing

at all. If anything, the City Council and administration have

conscientiously worked to ensure that Huntington Beach city employee

salaries and benefits are at or near average when compared to other

public employees. Could this be the systemic problem in employee

contracts? As far as the Public Employees Retirement System goes, the

city has long been able to fund its employer retirement contributions

for nothing. For over 19 years it has enjoyed what the Public

Employees Retirement System calls "super-funded status" for all

non-safety employees. What does that mean? It means the city has been

paying nothing for the city's part of employees' retirement for all

that time. Not only that, the city has received refund checks from

PERS for many years, and it would seem that none of that money has

been set aside to cover future employee retirement costs.

Further, while it is true that city employees seem to be enjoying

first-rate health benefits, that health benefits package was only

obtained from the city when the employees sacrificed nearly 11% in

salary increases they should have received in the mid-80s. Further,

should an employee decide to retire earlier than age 65, he or she

will receive close to nothing for health plan benefits from the city.

The city of Huntington Beach will only pay the employee $121 for a

minimum of 10 years service, to a maximum of $344 for 25 years of

service or more; the employee pays the balance of their health plan

costs. Also, the city's health plans only benefit employees and

retirees who live in Orange County; if they move or travel out of

county, the city's health plan drops the amount of coverage by about

30%.

The truth is that the dedicated city workforce has spent their

lives helping to make Huntington Beach the incredible community it

is. City employees are proud of their work and the community, even

though many employees can't afford to call the city home.

Unions run amok? Baloney! The real systemic problem in Huntington

Beach is the small band of misinformed citizens and reporters who are

spreading distorted facts and half-truths throughout the community,

creating unjust mistrust and resentment between the citizens and the

city employees who serve them.

* JOHN H.VON HOLLE is the president of the Huntington Beach

Municipal Employees Assn. To contribute to "Sounding Off" e-mail us

at hbindy@latimes.com or fax us at (714) 965-7174.

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