The increased salary was negotiated as part of union agreements adopted in 2008 and goes to whoever serves as president.The article implies that Arencón's super salary is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the City of Albuquerque and the firefighter's union. The problem is that the CBA does not address the salary of the union president. Our Eyes tell us that Diego's enhanced pay is the result of a side agreement with Mayor Martin Chavez - an agreement that Chief Ortega refused to sign.
It's intended to motivate rank-and-file firefighters to try for the job, said Diego Arencón, the union president. He's held the position for the last 2 1/2 years.
"It's an incentive for the lower ranks to get involved," he said.
Our Eyes also tell us that Arencón makes a bit more than the $81,000 revealed by The Journal. Once longevity pay is added to the mix, Arencón pulls down right around $90,000 - a tidy little sum by any standards.
In addition, Diego is given a Monday through Friday 8 hour a day schedule. More importantly if you have a fire at your home or business while Mr. Arencón is on duty, you can be sure that the Firefighter First Class won't be there to fight it. Diego's days are spent exclusively working for the union.
But wait... it gets better!
The President of Local 244 also receives a stipend, all expense paid trips, and a union debit card. This is where it really gets fun because our Eyes got a look-see at Diego's debit card.
In addition to having a sweet double your paycheck deal from the city, in 2008 Arencón spent over $41,000 on his union debit card - over 42% on food alone. Yannis, Starbucks, Imbibe, The Q Bar, Flying Star, The Gold Street Cafe, Maloney's Tavern, McGraths - they're all on the union dime. Even Lowe's was listed as a food expense and that's just too weird to contemplate. There were even a few unexplained MasterCard reimbursements (view the report here - credit numbers redacted).
Some of the expenses were justified like dinners with The Almighty Alcalde, Imbibe-ing with Commissioner Archuletta or the Mayor's office assistants, and Sushi with Lawrence Torres. There were also a few expenses justified for various fire stations and individual union members. There was even a "labor relations expense" for "mediations" incurred at Jubilation Wine and Spirits for $55.56 (that's one way to lubricate negotiations).
Starbucks was by far Mr. Arencón's favorite caffeinated watering hole visiting the coffee outlet over 152 times. What's concerning about the repeated Starbucks expense, or the bar tabs at Imbibe or the over $4,300 in credit card reimbursements, is the overwhelming lack of expense justification.
A review of the expenditures makes Mr. Arencón look like he's living and partying on the union's debit card - which means that his $91,000 taxpayer funded salary is subsidized by a union stipend and as much as $41,000 in union debit card purchases. That's over $132,000 in potential income. And remember, anything that's not directly attributable to union business could be considered income by the IRS.
Look... as a taxpayer we have a real problem with Martin Chavez buying a union president by doubling his taxpayer funded salary for union only work. This may sound funny, but we kind of expect firefighters to well... fight fires. It may be legitimate to allow the union president to have time to do union business, but we certainly shouldn't be paying him more than other firefighters to do it - that should be the responsibility of the union.
On the union side... What the hell?!! Over $41,000 on the union debit card?! Most disturbingly, there's little justification for many of the expenditures.
IAFF Local 244 members elect their board and their president. We haven't seen the organization's bylaws, but we'd bet that spending by the board has at least a few restrictions. More importantly, anyone who spends union dues for any reason has the responsibility to its members to justify each and every expense. You know... dates, times, who, what, when, and where.
We'd bet that days of Diego's sweet mayoral deal are about to evaporate like a number of Marty's Minions' city jobs. But it's up to the members of IAFF Local 244 to hold their leaders accountable and to demand justification for spending their dues.