After months of closed-door bargaining sessions, this week has brought significant progress toward hammering out a new, five-year labor agreement for San Diego city employees.
But what union negotiators wind up taking to their members to sign off on may be a tough sell.
Confidential sources close to the labor talks tell NBC 7 that two of the city's six labor groups have signed "tentative" agreements, and a third is close to doing so.
The overall deal could save taxpayers a ton of money.
Critics see it as too generous.
But employees say it still traps them behind the curve of living costs.
Members of San Diego's organized labor groups have been anything but happy campers over the past decade.
On occasion, off-duty police officers, fire fighters and clerical workers have marched on City Hall, filled the gallery in the Council chamber, and gathered for angry rallies on Civic Center Plaza – at one point shouting “Shame on you! Shame on you!” up at the windows of then-Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office.
They've absorbed 6 percent pay cuts, salary freezes, furloughs and a 15 percent down-sizing of the entire workforce in the wake of the city's pension scandal -- when required payments to the retirement system began to balloon.
The five-year deal proposed by Mayor Bob Filner includes a freeze on the retirement benchmark known as "pensionable pay", which would yield projected savings totaling $110 million.
Over that time period, salary bumps would add up to nearly 15 percent.
Skeptical union member say rising health care costs would offset most of that, leaving them no better off than where they are now.
But taxpayer advocates aren't comfortable seeing double-digit raises offered.
“We can't just go on a spending barrage with employee salaries and benefits,” says Chris Cate, vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Assn. “We have to look at what we need to give back to our taxpayers and residents in the form of neighborhood services -- because that's also been neglected over the past decade."
With the Mayor's budget revenues up, should Councilmembers insist on holding the line against labor costs -- and risk losing huge savings if the unions walk away from the table?
"We don't know what years two, three, four and five are going to look like,” Cate says. “We need to make sure we move forward in a very cautiously optimistic manner to make sure the taxpayers are getting the best deal."
Informed sources tell NBC 7 that the unions' rank-and-file members aren't thrilled about the deal.
One selling point is, there's a 're-opener' after the third contract year.
It'll take six votes out of nine on the City Council to pass any raises.
And the four Republicans are known to have some real issues.
Cate dismisses suggestions by Filner and labor interests that the GOP councilmembers don’t want to give the mayor a political achievement to crow about – “it’s pure politics,” insists one union boss.
“I don’t think that’s the viewpoint at all,” Cate says. “I think what it is, is that we need to make sure that the intricacies of the deal are to the benefit of the taxpayers, that we’re going to get savings and dollars re-invested in our services.”