Average Pay for Manhattan Beach Firefighters is $328,000 Per Year

Compensation and benefits for public safety personnel is a fraught topic

Negotiations between the Manhattan Beach Firefighters Association and the Manhattan Beach City Council have been stalled since May, when an impasse was announced. As reported in a local publication serving Manhattan Beach and nearby cities, firefighters and their supporters packed a July 19 city council meeting to urge the council to alter its stance in labor negotiations.

In the article, “Firefighters from Manhattan Beach and their supporters storm City Hall,” some of the firefighter union’s positions were noted. One of them was for the firefighters to receive “the same cost of living salary increases the other city unions received over the last 3.5 years, a period during with MBFA has not received an increase.”

In that regard, it would be useful to report what full time firefighters with the Manhattan Beach Fire Department earned in 2021, using data downloaded from the State Controller’s website.

A few things should be called out in the above chart. First – the employee compensation data the City of Manhattan Beach reported to the State Controller did not include any allocation of the payment the city makes towards the unfunded pension liability. This means the numbers you see in the “pension” column are for the so-called “normal cost” and therefore no argument can be made that they are inflated. One could make the argument that since no allocation whatsoever is made to active duty firefighter compensation to account for the city’s substantial unfunded pension debt, the average per firefighter pension costs reported here are understated. But that’s material for another story.

Next, the context in which Manhattan Beach firefighters claim they have not received cost of living increases commensurate with what other city unions received over the last 3.5 years might reasonably include how much firefighters earn in other cities. Here, using 2020 data, is average compensation for full time firefighters in the 25 largest city departments in California. The yellow highlighted top four all include payments on the unfunded pension liability in their reported data and therefore probably overstate the total compensation. As can be seen, however, even taking that into account, only one city, Santa Clara, reports total compensation in excess of Manhattan Beach. None of the other cities are even close. This data is one year old, but it is a safe bet that Berkeley, for example, did not increase its total firefighter compensation by 28 percent ($71,000) in one year [(328/257)-1].

Finally, what stands out with respect to Manhattan Beach firefighter compensation is the large amount of overtime they’re earning, $94,000. None of the major cities have anything close to that in overtime expense. Why is this?

In a letter the City Council released on July 19, the city attempted to explain this, writing:

The Firefighters’ Association has repeatedly stated they receive overtime for hours worked beyond their normal hours. This is not true. Just because a firefighter receives overtime does not mean they are working time over their regularly scheduled hours. For example, a firefighter can be on vacation for two shifts but work another shift in the same week and receive overtime. Similarly, two firefighters can work each other’s vacation shifts and receive overtime without working any additional hours. This is because vacation, holiday leave, and injury pay count as “hours worked” to qualify for overtime.

One of the City’s proposals to reduce overtime addresses the current system in which every shift taken as leave is automatically backfilled with overtime by allowing shift trades (two firefighters working for each other). This proposal allows employees to take the same amount of time off while reducing the payment of time and a half overtime when firefighters are not working any additional hours. This, in effect, limits the number of shifts that will be backfilled on an overtime basis. The City is also proposing to remove the ability to convert unused sick leave into vacation, which creates further backfill of overtime. The Association has not agreed to these simple provisions because it will reduce the amount of overtime pay they receive.

In plain English, what the city council is saying is that Manhattan Beach firefighters game the rules to collect overtime even though they aren’t working extra hours. It is reasonable for the city council to attempt to rewrite the rules so this will stop.

Compensation and benefits for public safety personnel is a fraught topic, and hyperbole does nothing to foster constructive outcomes. How much should a firefighter make? It’s fine to throw out statistics that prove the average life span of a retired California firefighter is actually somewhat greater than that of the public at large, or that statistically, a cashier behind a liquor store counter is more likely to die on the job than a firefighter. But that fails to take into account the fact that a horrific conflagration, such as the World Trade Center bombing, could alter those statistics overnight, and firefighters go to work with that knowledge every day. Liquor store clerks, as we have learned, provide essential services, but they’re not the ones who come running to help when our house is burning down, or a family member is having a medical emergency.

Using statistics also can overlook the fact that the value of life has never been so precious. A century ago, disease, war, and accidents claimed lives with such frequency that death was a normal part of life. Today, especially in a city as wealthy as Manhattan Beach, death is never routine. Citizens therefore have never had higher expectations of their fire departments than they have today, and better service is going to cost more. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to argue with a firefighter who is a member of the community and believes they deserve a raise. But in Manhattan Beach, with respect, they don’t.

Firefighters that collect a pay and benefits package in excess of $300,000 per year are not underpaid. Maybe they can’t afford a home in Manhattan Beach. But that’s because nobody can afford a home in Manhattan Beach. Maybe it’s gotten harder to recruit firefighters. But that’s because it’s gotten harder to recruit anyone to take jobs in recent years.

Firefighters in Manhattan Beach should ask themselves: Is my job harder than one in San Diego, where the average firefighter pay and benefits package is less than half what it is in Manhattan Beach? Clearly it’s not. Work through a Saturday night in downtown San Diego, and compare that to working the night shift on a weekend in Manhattan Beach. There are over 30,000 full time firefighters in California. To pay all of them what firefighters make in Manhattan Beach, instead of what firefighters make in San Diego, would cost taxpayers $4.5 billion per year.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

These L.A. Police and Firefighters Figured Out How to Double Pay for Not Working


Police carTake a program that lets a public employee earn both a pension and a salary at the same time. Add an extremely generous disability leave and workers’ compensation program that allows public employees to be paid while not working for months or even years on end. What do you get? Massive corruption, obviously.

new report from the Los Angeles Times attempts to quantify the costs and consequences of a program allowing L.A. police and firefighters to collect both salaries and pension returns in the years running up to retirement. But these same employees often spend massive chunks of their final years on the payroll out on medical leave — so they’re costing the city even more money without actually working.

The program is called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), and it allows public safety employees who have reached the age of 50 to bring home a salary while also earning pension returns during that time. The pension funds (with a guaranteed five percent return rate) are then given to the officer or firefighter as a single payment upon retirement within five years. When you hear stories about police chiefs or fire captains taking home a massive lump sum of money when they retire, this is typically why.

The Times calculated that employees who participated in DROP took more than twice as much sick leave and disability time off than other employees in 2016: 296 hours compared to 123 hours. Over the course of nine years, the city has paid more than $220 million for police and fire personnel who had taken a combined 2.4 million hours off for leaves and sick time.

None of the injuries claimed by cops and firefighters in this program happened as the result of intense field activity. According to the Times, they tended to be the medical consequences of growing old: bad backs, high blood pressure, cancer, and a lot of carpal tunnel syndrome. Thanks to state law (and the influence of public employee unions on lawmaking), these ailments are all presumed to be job-related. Apparently one of the most terrifying, dangerous beats for Los Angeles Police Department officers is its own offices. One guy’s injuries stemmed from him falling off a chair.

The corruption that follows is fairly predictable. The Times includes several stories of public safety employees who spend months or years of their final period on the job out on medical leaves. But they’re hardly bedridden or fighting their way through physical therapy. One couple, a captain and a detective in the LAPD, spent around two years each on medical disability, spending some of their time at their condo in Cabo San Lucas starting a family theater production company. A firefighter who injured his knee just weeks after entering the DROP program shares the same name and hometown as a man who ran a half-marathon two months later, but he and his lawyers would not confirm or deny to the Times whether they were the same person.

Unsurprisingly, this easily abusable program was sold by claiming it would accomplish the opposite of what it actually does. City leaders said the program would keep older police and firefighters on the job to serve and mentor new recruits. And they promoted it to voters by saying it would create no additional costs for the city. This is obviously an absurd claim—the city paid out more than $400,000 in extra pension payments in average in 2016 per DROP employee, and the fire department has to pay overtime to fill the shifts of those who take medical leave.

It’s not a new thing for cities to not consider — or to deliberately ignore — the long-term unintended costs and consequences of pension-related commitments. It’s the very reason why cities (and now even states) face bankruptcy over them. The costs of pension-related commitments are often concealed from residents. The Times notes that Los Angeles city officials haven’t even bothered to analyze the amount of medical leave taken by DROP participants.

Public warnings about problems with the DROP program aren’t even new. Check out this piece from 2011 that warns that the program wasn’t even being audited.

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who was in charge when the program was introduced, has acknowledged that DROP was “a mistake” and a “total fraud.” But it persists in Los Angeles as other cities and states across the country have dropped it. Even San Francisco dumped the program because it was too costly, and this was after they implemented rules to try to cut back on abuse.

Los Angeles has a big problem with underfunding its pensions to the tune of billions and expecting much higher returns than is reasonable. This DROP program helps make a bad problem even worse.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

Bonus link: Steven Greenhut goes over the ways public sector unions in California push for costly benefit packages that leave taxpayers overcommitted.

Hefty Paychecks for Police Officers and Firefighters in California

fire-truckIn 2015, five San Jose police officers each made more than $400,000.

A payroll error? In fact, they earned every penny by the book.

Hefty compensation, it turns out — including regular pay, overtime and benefits — is not unusual for public safety employees in California.

“It is routine now for firefighters to be up over $200,000, $300,000,” said Mark Bucher, chief executive officer of the California Policy Center, a public policy think tank. “Look at just about any city and you’ll see the same thing.”

Take, for example, the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, which covers a portion of southern Contra Costa County.

The county’s median household income is roughly $80,000.

One reason for the high compensation: It can be cheaper for jurisdictions to pay big overtime — at 1.5 times or double regular pay — than it would be to add staff because of the pension liabilities attached to each new hire.

For San Ramon firefighters, every dollar of salary means roughly one more dollar in pension contributions, said Paige Meyer, the fire chief. “When I’m paying over $2 for a full-time employee and I can pay a dollar and a half for overtime,” he said, “I’ve got a substantial savings.”

As a result, a firefighter paramedic with a salary of $87,700 who puts in long overtime hours can end the year with total compensation well above a quarter-million dollars.

Pensions guaranteed to California police and fire personnel allow them to retire in their 50s and draw 70 percent or more of their peak pay as long as they live. Most private sector employees have no pensions.

Public safety unions say the pay packages ensure a well-earned retirement for workers in bruising jobs. Mike Mohun, president of the San Ramon firefighters union, said the focus should be on lifting other occupations to the same standard.

“When I see someone attacking the benefits the Fire Department receives or the Police Department receives, my concern is: Why wouldn’t you expect the same for yourself?” he said. “We should act as a beacon.”

Public policy experts, however, say safety workers’ pensions are playing a part in pushing a number of California cities toward bankruptcy.

“We already have a crisis,” said Joe Nation, a professor of public policy at Stanford University. “How does it end? It will be a political fix. Or, you’ll have lots of cities that just say, ‘Uncle. We can’t do this.’”

For financially troubled cities, that could mean sharp cuts to basic services, he said.

This piece was originally published by the New York Times.

New Bill Targets Drones That Interfere With Firefighting Efforts

Fed up with private drones interfering with firefighting, a state senator has announced another bill to keep unmanned aerial vehicles away from hot spots.

Courtesy CalFireSen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, said SB168 would indemnify emergency responders who damage a drone during firefighting, air ambulance or search-and-rescue operations.

Earlier this month, aerial fire crews responding to a blaze that swept across Interstate 15 north of San Bernardino had to pull back after five drones were spotted above the fire.

It was the fourth time in a month that a drone had disrupted wildfire response in the region, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. Gaines introduced SB167 earlier this summer to increases fines and introduce the possibility of jail time for drone use that interferes with firefighting efforts. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, co-authored both bills.

“Private drones don’t belong around these emergencies. That is the first message I want to get out,” Gaines said in a news release. “But if one gets damaged or destroyed because it’s in the way then that can’t lead to financial penalty for the people trying to save lives and property. It’s unfortunate, but that’s all it is. People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life. When our rescuers are risking their own lives to protect us, I want them thinking about safety, not liability.”

Courtesy CalFireGaines also said it’s his hope that the advent of effective “jamming” technology could keep drones away from emergency response areas and flight paths.

He went on to say that “public education efforts could ensure that the safest, least-damaging methods for avoiding or disabling unauthorized drones will be the primary methods used in these crises.”

In a phone interview on Friday, Gaines said its his understanding that the federal government is working on a technology that would jam a certain frequency used by private drones.

Some government agencies are already using drones, or have plans to do so, to monitor areas including wildfires.

Contact reporter Chris Nichols at chris@calwatchdog.com or on Twitter @ChrisTheJourno

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com