The City of Long Beach has returned to the negotiating table with its youngest labor union, the Association of Long Beach Employees (ALBE). The union split off from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in 2016 and has since been unable to reach a labor agreement with the city. In June, representatives from the union and the city convened for a series of fact-finding sessions to review several issues at the core of the negotiations. The fact-finding panel consisted of ALBE’s representative, Ralph Royds, the city’s representative, Dana Anderson, and an impartial chairperson chosen through a process of elimination that gave both sides equal rights to eliminate candidates from a list of potential appointees.

A recent report by David Miller, the impartial chairperson of the fact-finding panel, largely supported the union’s demands for equity pay raises, one of the main points of contention in previous negotiations. Citing “healthy reserves” in the city’s General Fund, wages paid by agencies in the region and the most recent Consumer Price Index increase of 3.1%, Miller recommended a 4% wage increase across the board, effective October 1, 2019. For the following years, Miller recommended across-the-board wage increases of 2% in 2020, 1% in April 2021 and another 1% in October 2021, followed by another 2% increase effective April 2022.

Water utility mechanics, whose wages had been front-and-center throughout the previous negotiations and the subsequent fact-finding process, would receive additional pay increases of 10% each in October 2019 and October 2020. “Based on a department study it was determined that Water Utility Mechanic I, II and II [positions] are substantially below their counterparts in other jurisdictions,” Miller wrote in his report. He also noted that in previous negotiations with ALBE, the city had offered a 20% increase for workers in this classification over a contract period of two years, which was later reduced to a 10% raise for a one-year agreement.

“The panel recognizes that ALBE has established a need for catchup; the panel also recognizes that the city has expressed legitimate concerns for maintaining a balanced budget,” Miller said of his recommendation.

Wendell Phillips, the union’s general counsel and representative in the fact-finding process, declined to comment on the recommendations put forward in the report. City of Long Beach Labor Relations Manager Dana Anderson also declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations with the union. However, in her response to the fact-finding report, Anderson opposed the panel’s recommendations on several items, including some of the recommended wage increases.

Anderson expressed the city’s support for a wage increase among water utility mechanics, but insisted that the city could not agree to anything longer than a one-year contract. “In spite of the salary survey data underlying the recommended 10% net increase, the city bases its position on data outlining its own fiscal outlook and condition,” Anderson wrote, citing fiscal challenges expected in upcoming years, including rising pension and general personnel costs. “Any economic increases that drive personnel costs higher will impact the city’s ability to maintain current services.”

The contract term and opportunities for additional negotiations after a contract has been signed have been major points of contention between the two parties. While ALBE is seeking a three-year contract, the city has repeatedly opposed a contract term of more than one year. In his report, Miller recommended a zipper-clause, which would prevent both sides from further bargaining once an agreement has been signed.

“The panel urges the parties to find a better way than constant negotiations,” Miller stated in the report. “There have been enough negotiations.” Since 2016, the two parties have been negotiating without ever reaching an agreement, resulting in the imposition of terms by the city council in 2017.

Anderson disagreed. “I recognize the panel’s interest in advancing labor peace and certainty over the next three years,” her response read. “However, given the status of the city’s financial condition starting in FY 21, it would not be prudent for the city to agree to a term beyond September 30, 2020.” Further, Anderson disagreed with the panel’s assessment that the two parties found themselves in “constant negotiations” and argued that ALBE representatives hadn’t expressed any concerns over the length of the negotiations during the fact-finding process.

“The panel’s conclusion also suggests that frequent negotiations are counterproductive or corrosive to labor relations,” Anderson wrote in her response. “I disagree.”