Burbank and union at impasse

The union representing Burbank city attorneys is accusing the city of dragging out new contract negotiations and digging in its heels to the point there is "no possibility" for resolving the dispute without a neutral third party.

Negotiations between the city and the Burbank City Attorneys Assn. have reached a stalemate as union members — having gone five years without a pay raise — push for what city officials say would be a 13% salary increase retroactive to last November and an additional 2% salary increase for the next three years.

City management officials call the request "unreasonable" and "well outside" what the city is able to afford or what bargaining groups have settled for.

The union claims it was formed four months ago after management officials told the attorneys they would need to unionize to discuss salary increases.

Of the union's 11 members, eight senior assistant city attorneys make $14,156 a month, two deputy city attorneys make $9,555, and a litigation paralegal makes $7,786, records show. Together, they help comprise a city attorney's office that prosecutes more than 5,000 cases a year, union officials said.

A city-commissioned survey — which the union called sloppy and misleading — showed that a majority of Burbank City Attorneys Assn. members make 2% more than the top attorney salaries in 11 other cities.

But the union accused the city of rigging the salary survey by "intentionally selecting cities that were not comparable in size and scope of the legal issues required of the attorneys in Burbank," according to a letter to Interim City Manager Ken Pulskamp. The letter also expressed concerns about the length of the negotiation process.

Included in the salary survey were Inglewood — which the union argued "has no electric utility, no airport, and no fire department" — and bankrupt San Bernardino, whose top attorneys work 36-hour weeks due to furloughs. Neither city was included in a separate city survey that concluded Burbank City Atty. Amy Albano was under-paid by 14% at $18,334 a month.

After changes to Albano's health care plan in May, she's making an additional $464 a month, and is up for a 2% raise pending her next evaluation.

According to the union, the last time a survey was conducted for the city attorneys was in 1998 because, historically, their salaries are bench marked against that of the city attorney.

But in 1998, the survey compared Burbank's figures to those of just Inglewood, Glendale, Pasadena, Torrance and Santa Monica. Today, a salary survey using those cities would show that Burbank's top attorneys are 8% under-paid, according to the union.

Interim Management Services Director Betsy Dolan declined to comment on the salary surveys.

In negotiations, the city offered union members a 3% raise over three years if they picked up an additional 6% of their pension contribution.

The attorneys have — against their will — covered growing portions of their pension contribution for the past two years. But they claim this practice is illegal.

Last week, the union filed a claim alleging that the city is reneging on its contractual obligation to pick up the whole member contribution.

By doing so, the union argued, the city "substantially changed" not only the salaries of its members, but the cost and structure of their retirement and benefits plan and the benefits they will receive on retirement.

In a statement, the city disagreed with the union's assertions in the claim.

Moving forward, a fact-finding panel of three jurists will hear both sides and make a settlement recommendation. A public-hearing will follow, after which the city can still impose its final offer, according to the union.


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.


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