The city of Lodi is in the middle of negotiations with nine of its 10 bargaining groups to reach new contracts before they expire on Dec. 31.
The city planned for all of the contracts to come due at the same time, city spokesman Jeff Hood said. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is the only union not negotiating because their contract does not end until 2013.
The unions and city staff are meeting regularly, Hood said. He expects some groups will not reach a contract by Dec. 31, so their current contracts will be extended until they can reach an agreement.
For the city of Lodi, employee concessions are necessary to keep Lodi's budget balanced, as revenues have decreased during the last three years while employee costs have increased. For employees, they are negotiating to preserve as much of their pay and benefits as possible.
Councilman Bob Johnson said he thinks almost all of the city's employees understand that employee costs keep rising, especially pensions.
"I do think that the majority of our bargaining units recognize there is an issue. Are they going to roll over and play dead? Probably not. There will be some hard-fought negotiations," he said.
Hood said he cannot comment on what the city is focusing on with the negotiations. Brad Doell, the Lodi Professional Firefighters Association President, said he cannot comment either.
"I reserve comment for later just because of where we are in the negotiation process. I don't want to jeopardize it," Doell said.
Each union has different appointed negotiators to represent them.
Dean Gualco and Steve Schwabauer are the negotiators for the city with all units except the police units. City staff decided Gualco should not negotiate with the police units because of allegations that surfaced earlier this year that he had a business with Lodi Police Sgt. Sierra Brucia, who was a lead negotiator for the officer's union. Instead Deputy City Manager Jordan Ayers and Schwabauer will negotiate with the police officers, police dispatchers and police mid-managers.
One of the main things that Johnson expects to change is the pension system.
"At the very, very, very least, a two-tier pension system is absolutely mandatory. Beyond that, there has to be structural changes to what we have that exists," Johnson said.
He mentioned other cities in California that have negotiated with the unions to pay up to 25 percent of their pension contributions.
State law allows cities to require public safety employees to pay 9 percent of their pension and all other employees 7 percent. But cities can negotiate higher contributions.
"Will we try to negotiate that? I don't know," Johnson said.
Mayor JoAnne Mounce said the city employees have shown that they are willing to work with the city by giving up concessions during the last couple of years.
She said she leaves it up to the city staff to figure out the contracts.
"The staff at the city understands our challenges, and I have every confidence that they are going to help us through. What that looks like, I'm not sure," Mounce said.
Employees have agreed to a variety of concessions, including eliminating the city's match to a retirement plan similar to a 401(k), no longer cashing out overtime hours, and selecting the lowest-cost medical plan.
Every bargaining group in the city has also agreed to pay some of their pension costs, ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent. Previously, the city paid all of the employee and employer share of pension costs for all employees.
Councilman Alan Nakanishi said it is important for the city to have employee costs go down, so that the number of employees will remain the same.
"The employees need to realize it is not going to be what it was like with their benefits increasing. ... The employees have cooperated in the past and I'm hoping we can work amicably in these difficult times," Nakanishi said.