Tentative agreement ratified by CMCEA

Members of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA) recently ratified a tentative agreement with the City of Costa Mesa to extend through June 30, 2016. Normally this would have been on the agenda for City Council adoption at the Council meeting following ratification. However, under the City’s new COIN ordinance, two public meetings are required before the Council can vote to adopt the agreement. Both the City and its employees will therefore have to delay the effective date of their agreement until at least Sept. 16, 2014.

CMCEA proposes pay freeze and more pension reforms

Costa Mesa City employees continued their efforts to collaborate with the City during another bargaining meeting this morning, submitting a new comprehensive proposal that both reduces employer costs and promotes transparency, accountability and efficiency in government.

Although the City has reported record sales tax revenues this year, CMCEA understands the reality of the City Council’s desire to achieve some limits on the cost of employees. So in addition to proposing that the City and its employees consider the collaborative government efficiency model LEAN, which has saved other public entities millions of dollars, CMCEA also proposed increasing employees’ contributions to their retirement plans, eliminating any potential wage increases, and freezing all merit pay for CMCEA members.

With respect to pension contributions, we made proposals that continue to demonstrate CMCEA’s leadership in pension reform. CMCEA members were the first employee group to collaboratively lead with reforms in 2008. Today, we proposed further concessions, including:

  • Paying the maximum employee contribution share toward pensions, and
  • Paying one-half (1/2) of the increase in 2013-14 employer contribution rates from the date of the agreement through the balance of the proposed term.

This proposal represents a significant sacrifice for Costa Mesa employees, who would see their take-home pay reduced by approximately 3 ½%.

“CMCEA employees have historically stepped up and made sacrifices to help the City through its challenges. City revenues are strong, but we have always respected and supported reasonable measures that promote both a strong workforce and economic stability. We know it’s so much better for the community if the Council, City executives, and City employees are focused and working together to deliver first rate services and value to residents,” CMCEA President Helen Nenadal said. She added, “So with this proposal, we are extending a huge olive branch as an investment towards that objective.”

The proposal also reiterates CMCEA’s commitment to transparency in government by requiring the disclosure of potential conflicts with certain private contractors. And it proposes partnering with the City to reduce health care costs by working together on a wellness program and other potential cost saving initiatives. The full bargaining proposal is listed below:  Continue reading

Report: Costa Mesa employees report low morale, toxic work environment

A long-awaited report that summarizes interviews of Costa Mesa employees by Chip Espinoza, expert on milennials in the workplace, was finally released to employees last night — months after a draft was first completed in June and after being sanitized by City
executives. The report confirms what employees have been feeling and saying for nearly three years – “[t]here is strong sentiment that the City of Costa Mesa has slipped from being an employer of choice to an employer that simply does not care about its

You can read a full copy of the report by clicking here.

The interviews, which were anonymous to encourage employees to disclose what they truly thought and felt, revealed a work force victimized by a repressive and dysfunctional culture. They were conducted in the wake of the Council’s decisions to lay off nearly half the city workforce and to propose a contract that slashes employee security, pay and rights. For example, employees listed among the problems they face a lack of leadership (“mistrust,” “not being backed up by management,” “uncertain about the direction we are going,” “there is no ‘big picture'”); lack of communication (“breakdown in communication with management,” “we are kept in the dark,” “hear about changes through peers”); a toxic work environment (“decision makers don’t care about us,” “we feel like we are always walking on eggshells,” “culture of distrust,” “adversarial climate between employees and management,” “decision makers don’t care about us”); and an unsupportive City Council (“employees are disposable,” “don’t feel valued,” “lack of respect for what we do,” “being attacked in the media”).

The report acknowledges the fact that “[t]here remains strong energy for positive change,” that “there remains a firm commitment to serve the citizens of Costa Mesa,” and that “[Costa Mesa employees] love their city and they want their city to love them – that means citizens, management, and council members.” And it concludes that the barriers to that still exist: “Most of what you are reading in this report is the result of the failure to create a safe environment in which people can change.”

Yet commitment to collaboration that benefits all Costa Mesa residents are values that Costa Mesa employees poured into our many bargaining proposals to partner with the City. The City’s employees are eager to partner with the city on initiatives to make Costa Mesa more efficient and transparent. We want to go back to a place of collaboration and trust through all levels of City government. Unfortunately, so far, the City Council’s approach at the table has continued to be adversarial. They refuse to move away from proposals that would undermine financial security and rights for employees who have already been through so much and who clearly feel attacked on a daily basis. The City’s employees demonstrated true leadership in sharing their opinions with the City’s consultant in a climate where they continue to feel so much fear.

Hopefully it was not for nothing. Hopefully the Council and management will take the Espinoza Report to heart, acknowledge the amount of damage that has been done, and commit to the rebuilding work that must be done. A good start would be for the City to reconsider its extreme negotiations proposals and instead engage employees at the bargaining table in a way that promotes a culture of cooperation, collaboration, and mutual trust and respect. “That future is not possible without a commitment from every individual to move from self-protecting to self-giving,” the report says. “Trust must be established. It requires suspending feelings of the past and acting on hope for the future.” We’re there. Is the City Council?

City rejects employee transparency reform proposal

The City of Costa Mesa on Monday rejected transparency and lobbying reforms proposed by city employees during its third round of contract negotiations.

The City employees’ proposal would have required City Council members to disclose discussions with lobbyists and donations by campaign contributors before voting on contracts that could benefit those lobbyists and contributors.

“We are disappointed that the City Council majority once again rejected transparency reforms designed to protect taxpayers from corruption in public contracting,” CMCEA President Helen Nenadal said.

The City also changed its initial proposal to cut City employee salaries. Under the City’s amended proposal, approximately 65 percent of current employees would see a salary cut of 7.5%. Newly hired employees would start their jobs at the City at an approximately 7.5% lower wage. And about 35% of current employees would see an immediate salary cut of 2.5%.

“City employees are committed to partnering with the City to deliver the most effecient and high quality services for the public,” Nenadal said. “Unfortunately, the City’s proposal to unnecessarily slash salaries only shows the Council is more interested in continuing its political attacks on employees than working together to deliver the best services at the best value to Costa Mesa residents.”

Click here to read the City’s full amended proposal.

How the economic collapse is still affecting families in Costa Mesa and beyond

As the Costa Mesa City Council goes into closed session tomorrow to discuss their thoughts on our bargaining proposal to partner with the City, we wanted to  share this important story that ran in the LA Times on Sunday about how families are faring five years after the massively destructive 2008 Wall Street crash.

At the table last week, the City’s lead negotiator told City employees that as much as a 20 percent pay cut and massive reduction in sick leave would not have a significant impact to their families.

The story in the LA Times illustrates why those statements are so wrong. Increasingly, families across this Country are struggling as the economy struggles to recover. Many of our members are now taking care of elderly parents who lost their savings in the crash or supporting children who have graduated from college but who have still not found adequate work. Some are now the sole breadwinners in their households as the State’s jobless rate continues to remain high.

A deep pay cut would force some to make impossible choices: Do we buy groceries or medicine? Pay tuition or the mortgage?

Slashing sick pay so deeply could spell the difference between financial ruin or a recoverable hurdle for a family who has a sick child, parent or breadwinner.

The family in this story is just like many of the families who work for the City of Costa Mesa. The sole breadwinner in this household is a teacher who, just like the Costa Mesa employees, has a modest salary, retirement benefits, sick leave and health care plan.

The City’s employees believe there is a better way than the slash and burn attack the Council has proposed. We want to partner with the City to deliver the highest quality, most efficient services in Orange County. We will continue to pay increasingly more toward our retirements and help the City make common-sense changes to sick pay. Most importantly, we want to partner with the City to make it more transparent and accountable to the residents we serve.

The Mayor has said he does not want to partner with the City’s employees. It’s hard for us to understand why engaging with employees, treating them with respect and dignity, and partnering with them to make an efficient and accountable government could be anything but extremely positive for the residents of Costa Mesa. We hope you agree.

Employee proposal promotes partnering with City


The Costa Mesa City Employees Association met with the City of Costa Mesa this afternoon for the second session of contract negotiations. CMCEA made its initial proposal to the City during the meeting.

“The City’s employees have made a proposal that conveys our desire to work collaboratively with the City,” CMCEA President Helen Nenadal said. “Our proposal focuses on partnering to help make Costa Mesa work better, work more efficiently, and deliver the best service possible to the community. It also includes some common-sense reforms aimed at improving accountability and transparency for the public. We truly hope the City will consider our proposal in the same spirit of collaboration.”


September 12, 2013



 All Costa Mesans can benefit from an approach to negotiations that seeks to restore trust and cooperation between the City Council and City employees by underscoring mutual respect, fairness, common sense, and accountability.

The initial CMCEA bargaining proposal has been deliberately crafted to convey the desire and willingness of employees to embark on a genuine collaborative effort with the City focused on making Costa Mesa work better, work more efficiently, and deliver the best possible service to the community.


PROPOSAL NO. 1            TERM – Two (2) years, commencing September 1, 2013, and ending August 31, 2015.


PROPOSAL NO. 2            PARTNERING ON EFFICIENCY – Establish a Citywide Lean program to facilitate the adoption and application of Lean process analysis and improvement methods to City government.

Lean is an approach to workplace improvement that provides proven principles, methods and tools for streamlining the delivery of services while at the same time developing a culture that encourages employee creativity and problem-solving skills. The central objective of Lean is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Lean can be applied at all levels of an organization to review processes from a resident point of view and consider what adds value and what can be eliminated.

Collaboration between all levels of City government is key to the success of any Lean initiative, and CMCEA makes this proposal with the hope that the City Council will step back from its more hostile approach to employee relations and instead dedicate itself to working together with employees to improve our community.

Lean was first developed by Toyota to improve its manufacturing process. In the private sector it soon spread beyond its manufacturing genesis and demonstrated its value across the entire spectrum of corporate operations. Over the past several years Lean has been enthusiastically championed in the public sector by elected officials across the political spectrum, from Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin to Governors Christine Gregoire and Jay Inslee in Washington.

Local governments have also reported dramatic Lean successes, including King County, Washington (Seattle), Coral Gables, Florida, and Denver, Colorado, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Here in Orange County, several County departments have embarked upon and successfully implemented Lean initiatives, including the Sheriff’s Department and the Health Care Agency.

CMCEA would partner with the City to establish a Lean working group to develop internal Lean process expertise, identify service areas amenable to Lean initiatives, and guide the Lean process through to implementation.

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What a real return to “normal” looks like

In case you missed it, the Daily Pilot on Sunday ran a great editorial by CMCEA President Helen Nenadal addressing Mayor Jim Righeimer’s distorted concept of “normal,” and reiterating what real collaboration between City employees, the Council and the community has historically looked like.

Read Helen’s full commentary here.

The editorial was written in response to a piece published by the mayor mischaracterizing the City’s draconian bargaining proposal as an attempt to return Costa Mesa to “normal.”

But employees who have been with the City for decades know that what the mayor described is not normal at all — it’s a radical political attack based on ideology, not what’s best for the residents of our great community.


Leading the way toward leaner benefits?

Last week, in a Daily Pilot story about the City of Costa Mesa’s contact negotiations with its rank-and-file employees, Mayor Jim Righeimer held up CEO Tom Hatch as an example of leading the way toward leaner benefits.

Since the dedicated employees of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association were the first to achieve pension reform – long before executives eventually followed suit – and since they do not receive many of the perks included in executive compensation packages, we thought it would be useful to show how Mr. Hatch’s compensation package compares to what the City has proposed for its lowest paid workers, the members of CMCEA.

For good measure, we also added the City’s executive benefit package. As you can see from the chart below, Mr. Hatch continues to enjoy much richer benefits than what the City is proposing for its rank and file employees, including 80-120 hours of executive leave in addition to his vacation and sick leave banks.


Retired CM Police Captain: “Community doesn’t need divisive leadership”

Retired Costa Mesa Police Captain Allen Huggins recently spoke out about how a politically motivated and adversarial approach to dealing with City employees can negatively impact the community.

His comments were published this week on the community blog, A Bubbling Cauldron, in response to an article about how politics are harming police officer recruitment that was published in the Daily Pilot (Update: The comments first appeared in the comments section of the Daily Pilot story). Here are just a few excerpts. Visit A Bubbling Cauldron to read his full comments.

“There is a significant issue with attracting quality personnel to the (Police) Department, and there has been shortly since the Righeimer and Mensinger were elected and appointed, respectfully. The Department has also been experiencing an exodus that is unprecedented. While there are a variety of reasons, it would be unreasonable to believe there isn’t a connection between the tenor the City Council has set, under the tutelage of the current majority, and the personnel difficulties the Police Department has been and is facing.”

Captain Huggins went on to write that “the economic environment dictates that all expenditures be reviewed, including salary and benefit packages. What isn’t necessary is the rhetoric the City Council majority likes to inject into discussions.” 

The City’s rank and file employees agree that there is a much better way to work collaboratively to improve efficiency, reduce costs and deliver the best services in Orange County. Our proposals, in contrast to the City Council majority’s attempt to completely destroy the years of consensus that are represented in the current contract, will reflect that common-sense approach.

Thank you for reading. And thank you, Captain Huggins, for speaking out.


Meet CMCEA’s bargaining team

Five dedicated employees have stepped up to negotiate a new contract on behalf of Costa Mesa’s employees.

The CMCEA bargaining team sits alongside support staff from the Orange County Employees Association and across the table from City of Costa Mesa executives and two outside attorneys who the City has hired to negotiate.

Combined, the bargaining team represents more than 100 years of service within the city. Here’s the 2013 CMCEA bargaining team!

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