Negotiators for the City of West Hollywood and a labor union that represents 80 city employees remained at odds as an impasse over a revised contract was in its seventh week.
"I would say that management-labor relations are at an all-time low in the brief history of this city," said Dennis Orfirer, chief negotiator for Local 3339 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The two sides reached tentative agreement on salaries for 45 of 47 job classifications earlier this year, but talks stalled over issues affecting 11 workers in three of the categories, and, more importantly, retroactive salary increases for all employees.
Meanwhile, both sides have drafted resolutions outlining their respective positions that they plan to present to the City Council next week in a bid to break the stalemate.
"I don't think anyone can make the argument that the city has been compensating its employees unfairly, or that its intent is to do so," said City Manager Paul Brotzman.
When its current contract became effective July 1, 1986, the union agreed to postpone salary negotiations until an outside consultant could complete a study of the city's job classifications and recommend salary levels. Ultimately, the results of the study drew criticism from both city and union officials upon its release last July, and city officials declined to make salary proposals based on it.
Says City Has Reneged
Now the union claims the city has reneged on a contract provision that wage increases resulting from negotiations be retroactive to at least March 16, 1987.
The provision, which did not rule out retroactive increases to an earlier date, was offered as a compromise by Brotzman after the union earlier demanded that increases be retroactive to July 1, 1986.
The city has instead offered to pay an amount that the union claims represents only 50% of the retroactive pay it said the employees were promised effective March 16, 1987.
"It is baffling to us that after we already conceded eight months' worth of retroactive increases that the city should take the position it has taken," Orfirer said. "If we can't have our contract enforced, what good is it?"
However, city officials paint a different picture.
"We talked about phased-in salary increases from day one of the negotiations, and nothing has changed with respect to our agreement (with them)," Brotzman said.
"We're saying that one level of increases will take effect retroactively as of March 17, 1987, and that the second level of increases will become effective as of July 1, 1988. It's fairly straightforward as far as we're concerned."
Other Issues Explained
The other unsettled issues affect six administrative aides, four hearing examiners and the production supervisor of the city's cable television channel.
The union has asked city officials to match the $3,878 average monthly salary earned by hearing examiners in Santa Monica, which it has pointed out is well below the average $4,918 a month that state and federal hearing examiners working in California earn.
The city has countered with an offer of $3,582 a month.
West Hollywood and Santa Monica are the only two cities in the state to employ hearing examiners, also known as administrative law judges, on a full-time basis, Orfirer said.
In the dispute involving the production supervisor, the union has asked for $3,227 monthly, and the city has offered $2,910. Union officials say the average salary for comparable positions in Beverly Hills, Hawthorne and Santa Monica is $3,486 a month.
Although salary is not directly an issue with respect to the administrative aides, the city has indicated that an unspecified number of the aides are not working at a level to merit their $2,496 monthly pay, and wants to reclassify them as secretaries.
The union is opposed, insisting that the aides are doing the work they were hired to do and to reclassify them at a lower salary would be unfair.