Report recommends 1.6% raise for Burbank attorneys union

A state-appointed fact finder recommended a modest salary increase for members of the Burbank city attorneys union that’s far less than what the 11-member association had demanded after five years without a pay raise.

In the fact-finding report released by city officials this week, Don Becker recommended members of the Burbank City Attorneys Assn. be given a 1.6% pay hike this fiscal year, while also picking up 4% of their employee pension contribution, which is double the 2% they currently pay.

The recommendation is nonbinding. City Manager Mark Scott said Tuesday the city will offer to meet with the union again in an effort to find common ground.

Negotiations between the city and the union reached an impasse in June after the two groups failed to agree on 30 issues, the most contentious being salaries and pension plans.

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.

The union had asked for raises and employee benefits that would’ve increased the city’s costs by 20% over three years, which the city had called “well outside” its budget. City officials had proposed giving each member a 3% raise over three years while requiring them to pay their full 8% employee pension contribution over the same period.

When the two sides couldn’t agree, a panel of three jurists — Becker, along with a representative from the union and one from the city — heard presentations from both bargaining groups.

According to the report, the city admitted that a market salary survey it compiled to evaluate the attorneys’ salaries was flawed.

The survey had showed that a majority of the union’s members made 2% more than the top attorneys in 11 other cities. The union had accused the city of rigging the salary survey by choosing cities that were not comparable in size and scope of the legal issues required of the attorneys in Burbank, such as bankrupt San Bernardino.

So the fact finder based his 1.6% salary raise recommendation largely on internal equity, meaning he used City Attorney Amy Albano’s $18,334 base monthly salary as a benchmark to calculate the proposed salary boost.

In a report responding to the fact finder, the city agreed with the salary recommendation, but also noted that other factors, such as the city’s ability to pay during “periods of financial uncertainty,” should have been more strongly considered.

Jeffrey Freedman, who drafted the city’s response, argued that city officials must be financially prudent since they are still dealing with the loss of Burbank’s redevelopment agency and cuts in federal funding.

Freedman also wrote that the city would like to reach a multiyear agreement with the labor group in which it ultimately pays its full employee pension contribution.

The union disagreed with the fact finder’s entire report, arguing in its dissent that Becker blindly accepted the city’s “shop-worn mantra that the city’s financial condition is precarious,” but in reality, it will have a multimillion-dollar budget surplus at the end of this fiscal year.

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

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