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Workers' union publicly protests city takebacks

Original post made on Jun 9, 2009

The closed-doors negotiations between Palo Alto and its largest workers' union turned public and testy Monday night when hundreds of city employees packed into the City Council meeting to protest the city's latest proposal that includes cutting back some benefits.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 9, 2009, 12:22 AM

Comments (114)

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2009 at 9:32 am

I suggest that all the city employees that are in denial of the current situation and do not agree to adjust their expectations just resign and go find a job elsewhere with the same pay and the same benefits. Good luck and good riddance.


Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 9, 2009 at 9:37 am

Can you blame the union for opposing givebacks when they read/hear about how much money our city wastes and/or uses for non-essential items (senior games contribution, destination palo alto, bonuses to managers that show up and do their regular work, Children's Theater subsidies, Homer Street tunnels, "green" coordinator, options on land to build a new police palace)?


Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 9, 2009 at 9:43 am

Take the cuts or go some where. City employees are very spoild.


Posted by PAmoderate, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 9, 2009 at 10:12 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

The SEIU is a pox on the public. They're the reason why our state government and many other municipalities are in the hole (including San Francisco). Through their influence with elected officials, they've been able to get sweetheart deals for their union members at the cost of taxpayers throughout California. Elected officials don't care, because they don't have shareholders to which to answer.

With all the concern about "evil corporations" influencing our government, how come this piggy union gets a pass? It's ridiculous.


Posted by pecuniac, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Lets hope that the Council has the guts to stand up to the unions demands. It may mean that some council member wont get to inherit the next opening on Santa Clara County Bd. of Supervisors or State Assembly seat. Palo Alto will, however, be able to survive with something like its existing lavish level of services. If a cut in pay and benefits results in passive aggressive employee behavior, then we will need to recruit legions of those bright Stanford psychology students to craft a whole new employee evaluation system for public employees. Who knows, weeding out the lazy and inept may become as easy as it is in private employment. Make them all "at will" employees.


Posted by Millie Enron, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 9, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Retirees get UTILITY discounts???? What a crock when the rest of us get screwed.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2009 at 8:41 pm

From today's Palo Alto Daily News: "A retired Palo Alto wastewater treatment plant worker, Hugo Chabaneix, took the microphone Monday to protest the city's proposal to end utility discounts for city employees hired prior to 1977. He said he had earned the discount in his 23 years of work for the city, in which he devised innovations that saved the city money and won national awards."

What a sense of entitlement! Even in retirement these guys get utility discounts.

In my world (private enterprise), it was expected that employees did great work and devised innovations that saved the company money. For that we got a salary, and maybe a bonus in good years. We did not get lifetime benefits, a pension, or a discount on our utilities.


Posted by Lynn Krug, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2009 at 10:03 pm

In times like these it is well to consider how our monies are spent and to cut back. SEIU is willing to do their part to respond to the downturn in the economy. We have offered to consider furloughs and/or defer raises as did police.

SEIU employees are: Water Quality Control Plant workers, Librarians, Electrical Linemen, Rangers, Adminitrative Staff, Facilities Workers, Art Center, Jubior Museum, Utility Operations, Engineering staff, Police and Fire dispatchers,Planners, Theatre, Parks, and Community Services, Golf, Public Works Streets, Storm Drains, and more. It takes the work of us all to make this city run, and to provide the great services Palo Alto residents receive.

FACT: SEIU Employees already recieve 1.44 less than median wage for the 10 comparison ciites in the area for all compensation.

FACT: Palo Alto is one of the most expensive cities of the 10 local comparison cities.

FACT: Palo Alto Employees do not have Social Security paid into.
Many residents assume that Palo Alto employees have social security benefits paid into...we only have California's Pers Retirement paid into. The city does not contribute to Social Security.

FACT: Palo Alto SEIU workers are the least paid of the Palo Alto union/units.

FACT: The sustainability index for Santa Clara County was $59,960 in Spring 2008 for one parent , one preschooler and a grade school child.

FACT: The City of Palo Alto has ...and owns 5 libraries and MANY properties that it cannot afford the upkeep for.

FACT: The ratio of managers to SEIU is 1 manager to 2.7 SEIU.
What private industry would survive this number of managers to employees?

FACT: The retiree employee Hugo Chabaneix contributed 100's of thousands of dollars to the Palo Alto and industry coffers by his 3 industry inventions. In private industry he would have been rewarded for his inventions and recieved a percentage of profit. He did not.

FACT: Retirees in Palo Alto who were hired before 1977 and recieve a utiltiies discount benefit are few in number - SEIU Employees for many years now cannot afford to buy a home in Palo Alto...much less retire here.

FACT: Palo Alto SEIU employees have picked up the bulk of the work for the frozen or vacant city positions over the last 3-4 years.
without reductions in daily services to the citizens.

FACT: We are grateful for our jobs, and for many years recieved the balance of pay far less than others to compensate for our healthcare and retirement. We take pride in our work and in being the heart of Palo Alto - - - Our participation in the community supports the value of the Palo Alto community in spirit and in quality of life.

Lynn Krug, Chapter Chair, SEIU City of Palo Alto Chapter


Posted by Oldtimer, a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2009 at 10:48 pm

If Palo Alto simply got its data processing costs under control then all this trouble could be avoided. As it is, the computing costs could result in a strike which would make all the residential swimming pools cool down. Not a pretty thought.


Posted by zanon, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jun 9, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Thanks for your comments Esther.

I think your years of sacrifice should come to an end. You are too good and talented to have to deal with the nonsense the City dishes out! You can do so much better elsewhere!

Bye bye


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Let me clear up some points made by others on this thread.

Millie Enron, City employees who were hired in 1977 or prior, and who live in Palo Alto get a small discount on City provided utilities. The numbers who qualify for this, which was a part of the contract of employment when they worked, are very, very few, and most very very old now. In the context of the budget deficit, it doesn't account for anything. If it did, the City would make the numbers public.

Marvin, 100% on target re: City waste. If this were the private sector the useless things Marvin notes would have been gone long, long ago.

Pat, "Sense of entitlement", no. Aspects of employment contract, yes. If you like the perks, you should apply. You sound like "sour grapes" because the path you describe in the private sector isn't the same. I doubt you would have ventured this scenario during the Dot Com boom years.

Pecunac, "passive agressive", I agree, but may I suggest a better term, and one coined in the press: "The Palo Alto Process". If your water heater springs a leak and you have to replace it, you will need a permit and you will learn all about the "Palo Alto Process". Sound absurd - yes. Is it true - yes!

What is really going on here is much more insidious than any poster has said. Palo Alto is using the Utility Discount for elderly retirees who live in Palo Alto as a testing ground. A testing ground to set the precedent that they can retroactively renege on contractual agreements. It has NO basis in the budget deficit. It has everything to do with setting a precedent to do this on a much larger scale.

For the private sector, let me make this analogy. You and your employer have jointly contributed for 20-30 years to your retirement account as a contractual agreement between you and your employer. Now, after your retirement, your former employer decides they will retroactively remove all of the contribution they have made (with interest) from your retirement account.

What I describe for the private sector is exactly what the City is setting up for their employees. The "Utility Discount" is just a ruse to set the precedent. The Union is wise in seeing this for what it really is and trying to eliminate it.





Posted by newyankee, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2009 at 11:23 pm

In my last 15 of 40 years in Palo Alto, I have not encountered an even remotely competent city employee.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2009 at 12:26 am

Lynn Krug,

The management to worker ratio has been bought up before in the council meeting, and City Manager Keene says that the "manager" count also includes "professional" workers, so the ratio is not as low as what the city auditor has found... can you shed some light on this?

It would be good to know how much city management is contributing to the deficit reduction of $10 million - both in positions that are cut, and what salary/benefit give backs that city management are proposing.

Finally, the union right now is in position of saying no give backs, but is not proposing any alternatives. It would be good if the union were to propose where they would propose saving money to reduce the deficit - the cuts need to be "structural". Would you have the city layoff people instead of doing give backs? if not, where would you cut spending?


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 10, 2009 at 9:02 am

Also, Palo Alto stop payouts for Sick Leave hours on all employees hired after 1984. San Jose and many other cities still have sick leave payouts when a employee retires, costing thousands of dollars.


Posted by PAmoderate, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 10, 2009 at 9:54 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

FACT: Everyone is dealing with cutbacks.

I love the excuses Lynn gives as reasons why SEIU members should continue to get our tax money. I also love how the entitlement oozes from that posting.

So what if Palo Alto is expensive. There aren't checkpoints on roads in and out of Palo Alto. You're free to live anywhere in the Bay Area.

As for "balance of pay" -- let's see some numbers. I'm not going to take your posting at face value. Let's understand the fully-loaded cost for each SEIU employee, and that includes pensions and benefits.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant.


Posted by Millie Enron, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 10, 2009 at 10:53 am

Regarding the worker to management ratio, it's also the fact that workers aren't listened to if our experience with the park workers at Mitchell Park are any indication.

When we complain about how ludicrous and expensive it is each year for them to sod the dog park -- closing it for months -- and then neglect to water it, the workers admit that it's the case. When we tell them to tell their bosses, they agree with our complaints but say they won't be listened to if they convey our complaints. The workers sound concerned and responsible.


Posted by LosingPatience, a resident of University South
on Jun 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm


There was a time when the Unions were necessary. Now they just hold all of us hostage. It's time to break them and get back to rewarding people for a good job done - and not simply just for showing up.


Posted by Wilson, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm

A response to the previous SIEU posting:
---
Web Link
Posted by Lynn Krug, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, 11 hours ago

In times like these it is well to consider how our monies are spent and to cut back. SEIU is willing to do their part to respond to the downturn in the economy. We have offered to consider furloughs and/or defer raises as did police.

SEIU employees are: Water Quality Control Plant workers, Librarians, Electrical Linemen, Rangers, Adminitrative [sic] Staff, Facilities Workers, Art Center, Jubior [sic] Museum, Utility Operations, Engineering staff, Police and Fire dispatchers, Planners, Theatre, Parks, and Community Services, Golf, Public Works Streets, Storm Drains, and more. It takes the work of us all to make this city run, and to provide the great services Palo Alto residents receive.

FACT: SEIU Employees already recieve [sic] 1.44 less than median wage for the 10 comparison ciites [sic] in the area for all compensation.

And you cite what documentation to back up this claim?

FACT: Palo Alto Employees do not have Social Security paid into [sic].

Many residents assume that Palo Alto employees have social security benefits paid into...we only have California's Pers Retirement paid into. The city does not contribute to Social Security.

What in the world can this poster be talking about? CalPERS pensions are generally more generous than Social Security. Is it not true that all SEIU full time employees have City provided CalPERS contributions paid from the General Fund into their personal accounts?

Post-retirement benefits have become so unsustainable, that the Governor has recently begun to talk about the impact on the State's finances. Vallejo has already declared bankruptcy, and now Oakland is considering the possibility.

FACT: Palo Alto SEIU workers are the least paid of the Palo Alto union/units.

And your point is? The SEIU jobs require the least education, the least accountability, the highest amount of management, and are jobs which should be outsourced to the private sector to reduce costs.

FACT: The sustainability index for Santa Clara County was $59,960 in Spring 2008 for one parent , one preschooler and a grade school child.

Again, your point is?

FACT: The City of Palo Alto has ...and owns 5 libraries and MANY properties that it cannot afford the upkeep for.

FACT: The ratio of managers to SEIU is 1 manager to 2.7 SEIU.

What private industry would survive this number of managers to employees?

FACT: The retiree employee Hugo Chabaneix contributed 100's of thousands of dollars to the Palo Alto and industry coffers by his 3 industry inventions. In private industry he would have been rewarded for his inventions and recieved [sic] a percentage of profit. He did not.

How exactly did Mr. Chabaneix contribute to the "coffers" of Palo Alto? Perhaps the poster could clarify exactly how this money came to Palo Alto? As to being rewarded by private industry for "inventing something", the poster should perhaps provide some documentation to cover statements like this one. The reality is that 9 out of 10 "Venture" backed companies go out of business before ever getting a product to market. Employees usually sign over their intellectual property rights to their employers, in consideration for their salaries, and sometimes stock options. Since most stock options end up being worth nothing, employees in many Silicon Valley employees who do develop ideas that lead to patents, or products, are not "rewarded" for their work beyond their salaries. Did Mr. Chabaneix get a salary, benefits when he was working for the City of Palo Alto (and a pension for the rest of his life)?

FACT: Retirees in Palo Alto who were hired before 1977 and recieve [sic] a utilities [sic] discount benefit are few in number - SIEU Employees for many years now cannot afford to buy a home in Palo Alto...much less retire here.

Most people who buy into Palo Alto are not "retirees". Why should SEIU retirees be any different than the rest of the world?

FACT: Palo Alto SEIU employees have picked up the bulk of the work for the frozen or vacant city positions over the last 3-4 years. without reductions in daily services to the citizens.

This is one of the bigger "red herrings" that often is interjected into this sort of discussion. Labor unions generally force over-staffing on their employers, have high absenteeism on the job, and typically do not work at the same level of productivity that one expects from similar folks in the private sector. Walk into any office at City Hall, and you see people standing around talking, not at their desks, or can't answer even the simplest questions. Sometimes it is a wonder that services ever get rendered at all. All one has to do is read the Children's Theater (CT) Police Report, and the CT Police Investigation Probe Report to get a sense of how incompetent the people associated with the CT have been in the past, and how mismanaged the Police Department has been in the near-past.

Sorry .. but asking people to actually do their jobs should not be too high an expectation of municipal workers.

----


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Wilson - excellent work. Nice point by point analysis.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Hard to fault Wilson's analysis. The entitlement mentality of the SEIU is hard to take sometimes.


Posted by Lynn Krug, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2009 at 4:20 pm

If you would like to meet up with me for coffee to discuss your concerns, please join me on Saturday June 13 at 9am at Phils Coffee corner of Loma Verde and Middlefield.

Thank you,
Lynn Krug


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 10, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Wilson,
Great post. The union always points out "great service" to the residents as a leverage point. However, I must ask...compared to what? Look at the number of city vehicles "cruising" the streets, or congregated at Mitchell Park and elsewhere. Is there no oversight?


Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 10, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Wilson,

Thank you for taking the time to write your excellent post!


Posted by Marie S., a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2009 at 7:16 pm

It took me years to save up to move to this lovely city. I am proud that we worked so hard to be able to live in a town lined with trees, schools and libraries in every neighborhood (or so it seems), and services that residents from others cities would die for.

It sickens me that so many residents seem to begrudge a vital group of workers, what have fought so hard for what they have. For those of us that work, in either the private or public sector, we have all benefited for what the unions fought for so many, many years ago. It seems that most of us have lost some or many of our benefits - how many of us would jump at the chance to have a union fight for us? Would you be saying the negative things about a union that got you benefits and a safe work environment? Folks - stop with the plantation mentality. City workers are not slaves that should work for slave wages. They are the folks that worked 24/7 during the floods -- remember that? They are the folks that sweep your streets, fill potholes, climb power poles, go underground to do god only knows what, work week-ends at the libraries and so on and so on. Do you want to do some of those jobs? If so, what do you want to be paid? What benefits would you want, to keep you coming back day after day? Don't they have the benefits we all want and many of us may have had, but lost? Some of the comments written sound like sour grapes -- boo hoo I don't have this, so neither should you.

I have no doubt that the city has a lot of cuts that need to take place. That may be with Fire, Police, the worker bees (SEIU) and all mgmt. Remember the bonuses that were published? For what? Did they save money for the city and were therefore rewarded? What could mgmt do in Palo Alto to demand those bonuses? And guess what folks, they get even more benefits! It is time for the city to tighten it's belt, but it needs to be across the board and that means us too. In how many cities do residents get sidewalks fixed for free? Have someone come into their own backyard and get a dead rodent picked up for free? Yup-my neighbor called to have that done--go figure. And so many more things we all take for granted.

We live in a fabulous city and I personally believe that much of that is because we expect and demand greatness. I for one think we get greatness given to us because of the workers of this city. Thank you to the worker bees -- SEIU, Police and Fire. You are the glue that holds it together.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Outside Observer: Sorry, my comments are not based on sour grapes. I just happen to believe in meritocracy. What would you call expectations of a guaranteed salary increase every year for everyone across the board? I call it a sense of entitlement.

People should be evaluated individually, based on performance, whether they're managers or union employees. Those who do well get raises (IF the economy is good and the company is doing well) and those who don't perform get no raises and maybe get fired. People get promoted on merit, not on seniority.

Where's the incentive to work hard and excel when raises are guaranteed and everyone – from the worst performer to the best – gets the same increase?

"Employment at will" is not always fair. There are those who get rewarded for sucking up to the boss. But the best companies rely on excellent employees for their success and reward them appropriately. Part of the success factor is the ability to get rid of non-performers.

Wilson pointed out the fallacy of Krug's argument about Mr. Chabaneix not getting a reward or a "percentage of profits" for his inventions. She clearly doesn't know how the real world operates, where employees sign over rights to inventions and patents to their employers.

I agree with Losing Patience that there was a time when unions were essential. Workers were cruelly exploited. Now the unions are exploiting citizens.

Marie S. wrote, "Folks - stop with the plantation mentality. City workers are not slaves that should work for slave wages." There are many books about slavery in the US and other countries that would help you understand how ill-considered your comparison is.


Posted by Jarred, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Yes, Marie, the unions have indeed fought hard -- for the right to extort money from the citizens of Palo Alto, and use it to fund above-market-rate salaries and retirement benefits for themselves. Of course the unions have gotten some help from the City Council on this matter, but I'm sure they paid good kickbacks for the assistance.

Although I'm sure SIEU are proud of this "accomplishment", it doesn't mean the townspeople are forever obliged to continue meekly subsidizing the SIEU sloth and waste.

Fire every third Palo Alto SIEU worker (if that's even still legally possible), and reduce the salaries of the remaining workers by 10%.


Posted by MoreOnServices, a resident of University South
on Jun 10, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Marie -

I agree with your sense of tone, and that there should be a market dynamic for city employment rather than a slavery dynamic that depends on the good will, good judgment and wallet size of the employer.

But what are these services to die for? (BTW, Palo Alto required that I pay to fix a sidewalk, and I couldn't find any help with live rodents, which is a much bigger problem for me than dead ones. Is there a part of the city that will help with live rodents?).

Seriously. I haven't heard people talk about how great Palo Alto is because of its city services. I hear that it has had good schools so don't worry about city services. And it has had a population that for the most part has had enough money to take care things that make a city better by themselves. But now, with a rapid increase in population and a weak economy, this is no longer as true, and the impact of city services is more visible.

Filling pot holes and keeping libraries open would seem to be a weakness of the city rather than a strength.

What are the great or unique services?


.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2009 at 9:16 pm

The city posted this opening for "Assistant to City Manager for Sustainability" Web Link

"Close Date: Jun 15, 2009
Control Point Salary: $87,225.00 - $116,300.00 Annually

ASSISTANT TO THE CITY MANAGER for SUSTAINABILITY
Palo Alto, CA (62,000 population)

Assistant to the City Manager for Sustainability: up to $116,300 DOQ + excellent benefits. The City of Palo Alto is committed to sustainability and being a local government leader that turns ideas into action and results. The City Council initiatives of Environmental Protection and Economic Health are two key drivers that have led to the creation of this new position. The Assistant to the City Manager for Sustainability will be the point person in our organization for our efforts to restructure the American Dream into a viable and lasting model for communities world-wide. A special focus will be on our climate change goals; further progress toward our Zero Waste target; green building and innovative urban design; and promoting Palo Alto as a center for green technology and innovation. Working with the City Manager and Deputy City Manager, there is considerable leeway allowed for independent judgment, decision making and initiative."

What is the city manager thinking? asking the unions for give backs,
not filling positions in the police department, asking for a business license tax because of a "deficit", yet hiring for this position.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Pat,

You send a mixed message here, much of which I agree with.

Yes, there are a large percentage of City employees that are incompetent, and an even larger share of City managers.

That wasn't always the case. The quality of City employees is one point where I agree with former CM Benest. His concern was where does local Goverment get quality employees. His take is that they don't come to government service because of a hostile populace. That is true, but what's more true is a hostile, politically motivated and manipulative management structure. The recent Childrens Theater fiasco is a good example.

21st Century Palo Alto government is a disaster, but my point was about violating a condition of employment and retroactively stealing from elderly retirees who have nothing to do with the 21st century "status quo" of Palo Alto city government.

All of which was done under the guise of "budget balancing", yet the dollars involved are so inconsequential, more money has been wasted on the process than will be realized in the savings.

I think you would probably agree with me on my take on Unions. They are basically protectionism for many who are incompetent. But that view doesn't take into consideration an environment where Management is incompetent, irrational and politically vindictive. In that sort of environment, you need all the help you can get.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 10, 2009 at 10:20 pm

I love Palo Alto, its a great city - but to any would-be city council candidates - run on a "I have common sense" platform. Please. Pretty please. Pretty, pretty please. And actually use common sense if you are elected.

We have become a laughing stock - a town full of incredibly smart people who are willing to fire policemen and traffic safety people, but hire someone to be the "point person in our organization for our efforts to restructure the American Dream". I would just like streets without potholes, sewers that work, libraries open during normal business hours, a website that is functional, employees that are there Monday-Friday during business hours (and don't disappear at lunch, the time many people can take time to go to city hall, the bldg department, etc.) Common sense.

Common sense which includes our schools, roadways, transportation systems and other infrastructure in our housing goals. Common sense which realizes we are not Chicago, San Francisco or Boston, we will not use public transportation, because we can't get there from here. We will drive. Unless the public transport for day to day stuff changes (not HSR to LA, but BART to the grocery) we are going to continue to drive. If you build it, they will come, but they will still drive. Even if you don't give them enough parking...


Posted by chrisk, a resident of University South
on Jun 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Why should city employees be exempt from the reductions that almost everybody in our society is taking? City employees should quit their jobs and become self-employed if they do not want to be subject to the financial restriction their employer is operating under.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Outside observer: you raise a good point about retroactive responsibility. The flip side is why should today's taxpayers who played no role negotiating unfunded 30 year old contracts be saddled with paying for them? Isn't that taxation without representation?


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Anonymous,

I acknowledge your point, however, the utility discount given to retirees hired prior to 1977 and who also live in Palo Alto (all of 12 maybe) is fiscally insignificant.

I'm quite sure your children will ask you the same question you have posed here, when Obama's debit spending comes due on that generation.... And like you say, they played no role in what our government is doing now.

Is either scenario fair? Absolutely not, yet the commitment for both is in law.


Posted by Marie S., a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 11, 2009 at 6:27 am

Sour grapes, sour grapes. Ungrateful folks. Why do you hit SEIU so hard? What about the other workers. What is the employee to manager ratio? One manager to every 3 employees? Who decides the high salaries of mgmt? City Council? Seems to me that in the end it is those that we continue to elect that should be looked at. Maybe if the worker bees are eliminated, then you will get it. Contractors brought in that really don't care and when there is glass in the roadway it will get swept up when they get around to it. Again, this wonderful city is full of spoiled brats --- yes, residents and I concede some employees. But I for one know a good thing when I see it and the endless services we receive are because of the worker bees that keep them running. For goodness sakes, stop the elitist attitude and be grateful for the work that is performed for you.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2009 at 7:12 am

The SEIU is a corrupt organization that uses its influence through GOTV drives and "donations" to influence elected officials to get these deals that are bankrupting our government.

That's why we're hitting the SEIU. And because they're a union, they're getting a pass from a lot of folks here. If you change SEIU to, say, Fannie Mae, more people would be up in arms. The SEIU knows this, and so they're playing the reflexively pro-union stance of a lot of people like a fiddle.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2009 at 8:12 am

Outside Observer: more good points with a root cause that future retirement benefits weren't accounted for in past budgets.

Whether we can change old contracts is a matter for negotiation and courts to decide. As the UAW has learned, contract retirement benefits are as enforceable as the ability to pay.

If I were an SEIU rank-and-file member I'd be pretty unhappy that my union negotiated retirement that relied on future taxpayers and city council's willingness to fund it.

As far as the level-of-service argument, we're at the point where something's gotta give. We probably need charter reform and an elected mayor to make any meaningful changes. Our big-ticket budget items are Police, Fire, Community Services, Parks&Rec. We have a bunch of sacred cows like CT, lawn bowling and branch libraries, but they account for less than 10% of the total budget. The green programs are less than a 1% of the budget even if it looks like 50% of the City Council's time! That's because the Council and Mayor have far less influence over day-to-day than you'd like.

As far as the federal deficit, David Leonhardt had a good piece in yesterday's NYT. Obama's programs are responsible for less than 10%. Web Link


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2009 at 9:51 am

Outside Observer: Yes, I do agree with you. I don't know if union workers are all fantastic or if some of them are incompetent. But they are certainly not well-managed and there are too many managers/employee. And they certainly don't have any incentives to perform with a guaranteed salary increase every year.

Palo Alto is a disaster. There is a sense of elitism from the city council all the way down. Think about Drekmeier's remark, "Make Palo Alto the leader that the world is waiting for." Meanwhile, the city's infrastructure has been rotting for the past 30 – 50 years. But at least we tackled the plastic bag problem.

anonymous, I agree that the sacred cows don't cost a lot amount of money, but consume a huge amount of Council and staff time. But I disagree about Council influence. I know they can't manage the staff. But they set policy, e.g., insisting we have 5 libraries. And they have oversight, which they NEVER use, e.g., in the case of the Children's Theater disaster or the various utility department scandals.

They also have the power to fire the city manager.

Council has no sense of priorities (think "civic engagement") and no sense of accountability. The problem starts at the top and runs through all levels.

As for the renowned city services, I've been asking for years what's so special about them, and I've never been able to get an answer. If you go to Mountain View's website Web Link you can see lists of Library, Arts, Parks & Rec services. If Palo Alto's website wasn't so pathetic (at a cost of $250K and no one held accountable), I would direct you to a similar page to compare services. Or you can just take a walk along Castro Street and see how it compares to University Ave.

Mountain View has just over 600 employees compared to Palo Alto's 900+. And I'm not including utility department staff.

Marie: Gratitude for services performed? We, the residents are paying the city workers. They are being rewarded with good salaries and fantastic benefits. They should be grateful to us for having a good job at a time when so many are unemployed.


Posted by Marie S., a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 11, 2009 at 10:36 am

Taxpaper - Of course SEIU and other unions use gov't influence -- don't you when you contribute to a political party, a church, a school, etc, etc, etc. How naive can you be? Again, sour grapes all in the name of misery loves company.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2009 at 11:49 am

"Of course SEIU and other unions use gov't influence -- don't you when you contribute to a political party, a church, a school, etc, etc, etc. How naive can you be? Again, sour grapes all in the name of misery loves company."

The difference is that the SEIU gets a pass while other organizations get a lot of attention here. People talk about evil corporations -- how about evil unions?


Posted by Working Hard, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm

As an SEIU member, I am saddened by some of these remarks. There is dead wood in any organization, and more so in a union shop. But the majority of my coworkers are dedicated to their jobs. They greet you when you come in to pay a bill or check out a book. They spend nights and weekends keeping the city working. We work hard for the money and share the good times and the bad times.
I believe SEIU needs to make concessions during these hard times. I know most of my coworkers agree. During the good times, we are lucky to get a 3-4% raise. Yet we continue to give you good to great service. Please support us now.
And I take great offense if the city manager explains all the management as "professionals". I have 6 years of college education, including a BA and masters degree. Someone should look into how someone can be a manager and yet not manage anyone else. There are many professionals in SEIU.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 11, 2009 at 6:31 pm

I'm sure that Working Hard does indeed work hard. But that doesn't mean the city should pay as much as it does for his/her services. As pat notes, working hard is what is expected of employees everywhere else but in government work without paying above market rates, granting retirement and benefit packages that are crazily unaffordable,granting bonuses for average job performance, and larding union contracts with pork like shoe allowances (which some workers in PA get) and the utility discounts above discussed.

The purpose of city government isn't to make life financially secure and otherwise cushy for our workers. IT's to provide services to us residents in the most economical way possible. Clearly the SEIU members have a different philosophy. Is there no one in our city leadership who will take them on?


Posted by start from scratch, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Lynn, your facts are so naive. These "facts" are very poor arguments for keeping your benefits. Simply consider what sort of contract you'd be able to negotiate if you were starting again.


Posted by Another Hard Worker, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2009 at 8:34 pm

To Anna:
I too am an SEIU member, who has 2 degrees and chose, many years ago, to work in the public sector and have been through good and bad years with this city. I agree that one of our responsibilities is to do our jobs as effeciently as possible. Not all of us have the philosophy that we should simply be handed benefits or raises, and give nothing but our best in return (which is something that my coworkers and I pride ourselves in doing). I also believe that the union is going to have to make concessions in this current economic climate. Believe me, I am very happy to have a job and a career that I love. I wish that you and others could understand how frustrating it is to read the hateful comments from people who seem to begrudge us a decent living. Just know that from our little corner of the world, you are getting your money's worth.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 11, 2009 at 8:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by start from scratch, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2009 at 10:06 am

AHW, No-one begrudges city workers a decent living. On the other hand, we don't want SEIU bankrupting the city through previously negotiated benefits that are unsustainable.
This isn't simply forgoing a pay increase in tough times, this requires complete re-negotiation of employment contracts.
As a hard worker, you should have no problem increasing your salary if SEIU will forgo the benefits. In fact that would be an interesting option for SEIU to put on the table. What salary increase would they be willing to accept in return from removing health, pension and other life-long benefits? Anyone? Anyone? Lynn?


Posted by Hard Worker, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Perhaps what this is really about is the frustration we all feel about the major companies, banks and investment firms that have brought our economy to the brink of failure. Union members don't walk away with million dollar golden parachutes after running a company or city into the ground. None of our members that I know of make a million dollars a year.

I know this will cause a rukus. I know it is off point and probably pointless to bring up. But we are not the culprits just because we are some of the last men standing - i.e. we still have jobs. Maybe more unions is what we need, where people are paid an honest wage for honest work.

I personally will not be willing to give up what I have worked 20 years for - a pension and health care when and if I retire.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Pat,

I've watched the process for nearly 20 years, and Council after Council have been unable to make much progress. We have a governance problem. The sacred cows consume less money and staff time than we might think, but they do fan public anger. ("Why do we have a CT if we can't even fill potholes?") Each service has strong backers ("Community gardens don't cost the City much and they teach the children where food comes from," or "Branch libraries are important so other people can walk to them.")

The elitism and lack of accountability you complain about are a bit more complicated than you give them credit for. There are only a handful of Palo Alto-sized cities that are visible on the national stage. Berkeley, Boulder, Princeton, perhaps Austin. We have assets we can leverage: smart, engaged population. Business and investment leaders. High technical awareness.

We need the community to discuss how and where we want to and can affect national policy. Some of us will want to leverage our visibility and many of us would prefer to fill the potholes.

Overall I'd describe our Council as enthusiastic second-movers. Our city managers do a good job of restricting oversight and bullying Council ("That's my responsibility under the city charter.") Our department managers are very good at finding the white space between the Council and the City Manager. They always have an award or survey in their pocket to prove we have superior services.

Where's our framework to talk about the big ticket items? With fires down 40% in the last 30 years, did we ever discuss whether to shrink our fire department or did we just quietly expand its mission beyond fire? Do we still need an ambulance service now that the county has its own? Can we transfer thousands of acres of open space to the county or to POST? Why are outsourcing park maintenance, HR and other back office functions off limits for discussion? Can anyone even suggest how to benchmark police staffing, costs and productivity?

Can all the smart people on PA Online suggest constructive and non-shrill ways to make progress? Are there ways to cut that split the pain between taxpayers, residents, current staff and retired staff? How do we allocate services across our residents and geography? If we overreached in salaries and benefits during the boom years can we dial some of that back during the bust years? Do we have surplus property we can sell? Do we fully report and disclose what role nonresident SEIU members play in our city elections? With so many Council vacancies does anyone agree it's time to put more of it on the table?

For AHW: over the past 20 years did you ever worry your retirement was underfunded?


Posted by Hard Worker, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Your points are refreshingly level headed!

I have not worried that my retirement was underfunded because PERS is one of the most successful retirement systems around. They have weathered bad times and flourished in the good.

Web Link




Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Human Resources, the City Attorney's Office, and Public Works functions should be out-sourced and the bloated bureaucracy at City Hall should be trimmed down, beginning with the directors of these departments.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2009 at 4:22 pm

PERS has done well but retirement health isn't in PERS.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Anonymous,

"PERS has done well but retirement health isn't in PERS."

You've got it right on this reply to "Hard Worker", but it contradicts some of what you replied to me in a prior post.

Yes, the PERS contribution pre-retirement is one of the benefits of City employment, and all other city/state/county employment. Years ago City staff contributed part of this, but the City picked up the full tab in lieu of a 5% COLA back in high inflation years. Why? Because it was cheaper for them to pay the 5% contribution than to pay a 5% COLA.

I might also add that during the dot com boom years, PERS was doing so well with investments they stopped charging employers their part of the contribution. Now what did the City do with this windfall? Did they put the money away in a reserve for a rainy day? Of course not, they squandered it on touchy-feely garbage.

And then there was 1992 when Pete Wilson robbed 1.9 billion from PERS to balance the state budget.

If there is a case for PERS pension abuse, it's one of the City and State, not of PERS retirees.

You are correct about health insurance. The City pays for that, but not to worry, it will be dumped, and dumped retroactively for elderly retirees once Obama-care is instituted. When that happens the cost will be spread to all taxpayers, not just Palo Alto. Why would non-Palo Alto tax payers want to pay for Palo Alto retirees who already have health care? Cuts both ways, doesn't it.

My take is that the fiscally insignificant "Pre-1977 Palo Alto retiree resident" Utility discount is the precedent they want to justify dumping their health care commitment onto non-Palo Altans.




Post retirement, the City pays nothing. Retirees get their pension from PERS, the City has nothing more to do with it


Posted by Darwin, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Outside Observer-

Thank you for your intelligent and well written post. It's a beacon of light amongst these loud and ignorant troll posts.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Yes, fires are down 40%, but 911 medicals are up each year. 6900 calls last year.
With more housing added each year, they will keep going up.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2009 at 7:16 pm

What did the city do with that retirement money they didn't have to give to PERS during the dot com boom??


Posted by Brian Wilson, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2009 at 7:48 pm

$300,000,000 in combined city reserve funds, a city manager with $2,000,000 in taxpayer money (awarded to him by the current city council) in his back pocket to buy a new house in Palo Alto, $500,000 to support the Stanford Senior Games, $200,000 for a new "Green Coordinator", $1,400,000 bonus's to city management employees, $$$unknown amount for consultants, endless number of red,blue,green ribbon committees,contract workers,city council investigations of police, fire, and management employee actions, $450,000 for two assistant city managers, $750,000 loss on option to buy one acre site for $85,000,000 police station, $200,000+ for non-city management consultant to negotiate employee contract....so who wants to point fingers at the perceived problem? It's fun to rely on the print media for misinformation or neglect to print complete facts, but sometimes it's fun to actually do your own research! If only I had the perceived money problems of Palo Alto!


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm



The question is, are we getting our moneys worth from city/police workers?,
We can outsource a lot of this activity,we can have more productivity and accountability


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Tim,

The moneys that would have been budgeted for Employeer PERS payments went into the General Fund. That, and tax revenue surpluses during the dot com boom lead to a huge expansion of "discretionary" services in Palo Alto. Services that still burden Palo Alto after that bubble economy collapsed.

If the City Council were serious about balancing the budget, they should look at the years just after Prop 13. See what services the City was providing then, adjust for population, and use that as a budgeting basis.

Would people get laid off? - Yes. Would any of the "green" money sink holes exist? - No. Would the pot holes in the roads get fixed? - Yes. Would elderly retirees be robbed to pay for anything? - No.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Outside observer: Perhaps you can clarify who guarantees the retirement payout: city or PERS?

If the city contracted for a defined benefit then paying in more than the PERS actuarial tables required would have been fiscally unsound.

If the city contracted to make a defined contribution, then I agree with you.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2009 at 12:50 am

Anonymous,

PERS guarantees and makes the payout. Once an employees retires, the City has nothing more to do with that individual's retirement.

It's not a "ponzi" scheme like Social Security, where current workers pay for the benefits of current retirees.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 13, 2009 at 3:11 am

"Post retirement, the City pays nothing. Retirees get their pension from PERS, the City has nothing more to do with it..."

If I am not mistaken, this is not accurate. PERS invests the money that cities contribute on behalf of its employees' retirements - mostly in the stock market, but also as it was recently revealed, in very risky investments such as undeveloped land.

If the PERS investments earn enough to pay the guaranteed payments, it is true that nothing more is required of the taxpayers. But if the investments sour, as they have recently, PERS can dun each city to make up the difference.

PERS managers recently have stated that if the stock market does not recover, they will have to do this in the near future.

The city of Palo Alto's exposure is based on the number of its retirees and the amount they're receiving. It's to our advantage to reduce exposure to this scheme by limiting the number of retirees and their pensions. IT may not be a "Ponzi" scheme, but it's not stable either.

And in the long run, the city and state should move towards a defined contribution system, like most of the rest of us have. We can't afford to be paying large numbers of government employees to retire at large percentages of pre-retirement pay often in their 50's.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2009 at 10:58 am

anonymous: Thanks for another thoughtful post. I too, have watched the governance problem for many years. There are too many non-essential sacred cows and the council fosters them.

If the city had a priority list – with a budget that matched priorities – it would be easy to draw a line and say, "Sorry, we don't have money to fund anything below this line." Then, whenever anyone came forward and said, "But we MUST have X!" council could say, "OK then which item above the line do you want to cut?
I realize I'm making it simplistic, but you get the idea.

As for being "visible on the national stage," I'd rather we were visible for running a clean, efficient city than banning plastic bags – or our utilities scandals.

Yes, we have a smart population, but how many are engaged? I maintain that it's impossible to get most people engaged unless the problem is right in their own backyard, or a personal sacred cow. Look at the HSR march on city hall. I think only about 50 – 60 people showed up.

How about the constant increases in our utility rates? How many people wrote letters protesting the increases? A handful. How many people know about the equity transfer from the utilities department to the general fund every year?

You ask, "Where's our framework to talk about the big ticket items?" Good question. All we've got right now – in spite of the council's #1 priority of civic engagement – is the Open City Hall website. Web Link The current topic is FY 2010-2011 Budget and there are only 14 posts! Is it because people don't care about the budget? Or they don't know about this fabulous tool for civic engagement that they're paying for?

You ask, "Can all the smart people on PA Online suggest constructive and non-shrill ways to make progress?" About 5 years ago I joined a group of 5 other residents to try to get people engaged in discussing and impacting the city budget. (See below.) We asked our friends and neighbors to join us and got ZERO response.

As for the shrill nature of some comments, I think it's because people are fed up with the LACK of civic engagement. Our council doesn't like "disgruntled naysayers," as those who disagree with them are labeled. They're too accustomed to being surrounded by folks who tell them how wonderful they are. That's why the same people are recycled through all the red/blue/green ribbon commissions – and why nothing will ever change. And that's why the sense of elitism persists. Remember Peter Drekmeier's comment: "Make Palo Alto the leader that the world is waiting for."

If you have any ideas on how to get residents engaged to influence the city government, I'd love to hear them.

Here's the flyer we did back in January 2005.
-----------------------------------------
Who We Are
ElPaloAlto is a group of Palo Alto residents concerned about the city's financial crisis; inadequate fiscal accountability; and a budget process lacking public input, direction from elected officials and transparency.

The Catalyst for Our Inception
For many years the City of Palo Alto has been spending beyond its means. The staff-to-resident ratio exceeds most Bay Area cities by 50% and has ballooned well beyond the rate of population growth. The cost of services has greatly exceeded inflation. Spending is often double that of nearby cities offering services of similar or higher quality. As a result, the city is faced with significant problems:

* A projected budget deficit of $5.2 million for 2005-06
* Continued deterioration of core infrastructure
* Additional levies imposed for projects that should be financed from the General Fund
* Services moved from General Fund to Utilities, resulting in increased utility bills
* Vague priorities, without quantifiable objectives to measure success
* Council adoption of non-essential projects that are not given high priority by residents

Our Mission
ElPaloAlto's mission is to advocate for fiscally responsible city government, accountable to Palo Alto residents.

The Solution
ElPaloAlto will accomplish its mission by proposing significant and comprehensive fiscal reforms that will benefit the city and its residents as a whole. In particular, we will promote:

1. Clear priorities and measurable objectives that reflect the needs of the majority
2. A budget timeline that allows for citizen input and review plus full Council participation
3. A top-to-bottom review of the entire budget, particularly on staffing
4. Transparency in reporting
5. Accountability in measuring and rewarding results
-------------------------------------------------------------------


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Pat -

From talking with other residents who feel Palo Alto has lost its way, I feel many would be interested in being involved with El Palo Alto. Tell us how to contact the group.


Posted by Darwin, a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm

The problem that we have is that we have a City Council that is too interested in pandering to vocal minority of citizens who scream and cry about sacred cows that aren't worth the money. Children's Theater, Children' Library, the College Terrace Library, too many fire stations, etc.

I've been living in the area for over 10 years and I've yet to see a city council with the balls to do anything noteworthy, or even better yet, take a stand against citizens who pledge misguided idea.

Simple solution: Break up the city council positions by districts in Palo Alto.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Elizabeth, the group no longer exists. We gave up after many months of frustration.

Darwin, I agree about the spineless council. But who's crazy enough to run? Who has the spine to stand up and say, "I'm going to focus on the things that are essential to ALL residents, talk to neighboring cities about how they manage with fewer employees/resident, use contractors where possible, cut staff/benefits and be a prudent manager of taxpayers' money."?

And assuming there was such a candidate, could he/she get elected with all the powers-that-be opposing?


Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I would vote for pat!


Posted by Jim, a resident of Portola Valley
on Jun 13, 2009 at 4:03 pm

To the vocal minority above. When people are paying 2 to 8 million dollars for their home in Palo Alto- last on their list is how the city spends the money.
Their busy with work and family and they really don't care!
Do you think they worry about a city employee making $100,000? To them, that is "peanuts".
Wake up to the big picture- MOST citizens don't care!!
When you have a budget/finance hearing (last month) and only four people show up to speak?!
Post all you want now.


Posted by Common Sense, knock ,knock!, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm

I loved Common Sense Mom's post in the middle of all of this.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 13, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Let's thank Lynn Krug for openinng up this discussion.


Posted by Keith f, a resident of Southgate
on Jun 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm

When people pay 2 - 4 million for their homes and due to the city's incompetence, they destroy the quality of life in their city which lowers the value of said home, you'd better believe people care.

It's true, everyone knows, the city wastes money. Just last week the city was out trimming the trees on our street for no apparent reason. When I questioned Public Works management about it, they said it was for "vehicle and pedestrian safety". That's a crock. Especially when one street over there are many, many trees hanging lower and much more likely to impede traffic, vehicular or pedestrian. It's busy work to spend budgeted money, so they can defend their budget for next year.

On the other hand, the city signed contracts with the union to give them what they have. Should we "expect" them to give back what they were promised? Hard to say. I'm not a big fan of unions, but management agrees to it. If an actor is guaranteed $10M for a movie and the movie's a flop, are they asked to give back? Are athletes asked to give back when they have a bad year or the team is losing money?

Can't the city lay off these workers? Everyone else is having layoffs. Is it in the contract that they can't lay any one off? If there are too many managers or too many workers (probably both), then thin the herd and let them find employment elsewhere.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Jim,
Sadly, you're right about no one caring. Or maybe they'd care if they weren't too busy to notice what's going on.

I spoke to a long-time resident last week who was complaining about the latest hike in utility rates. Yet he didn't know that the utilities department transfers millions of dollars to the general fund every year.

We have 3 local newspapers, but apparently many people don't read any of them.

I disagree about people thinking $100K is peanuts. Not everyone in Palo Alto has a $2M - $8M house. There are lots of retired folks, lots of people with jobs that pay less than $100K.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Portola Valley
on Jun 14, 2009 at 8:11 am

I heard that Police and Fire Departments voted NOT to receive a raise this year? It is a start.


Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2009 at 12:07 am

This has been a very interesting exchange of views. Most of these points were brought up during the big dot-com bust. A lot of residents were losing millions due to lost stock options and failed start-ups. These must have been a very scary times for the folks with the big dollar signs in their eyes. It was back then that people turned their attention to City employees and their benefits. These employees chose a career path with stability and benefits. They knew they wouldn't become rich as public servants but they could have a decent life style. They also wouldn't be as vulnerable market swings. It's a risk/benefit decision. I might be a little bitter after reading some of the entries above so mine isn't a nice level headed response. SEIU doesn't have it's head in the sand concerning the current budget crisis. In the past SEIU members have done voluntary furloughs. I know some people that took 10 days off without pay. After the last voluntary furlough the CM got a nice fat raise. SEIU members have lost some faith in management's cries after that. We were being asked to take a pay cut and the top level got a raise. I know things are much worse now.

The question has come up "are we getting our money's worth?"
I have a lot of friends in surrounding cities. It's not uncommon for their power to go out for days at a time. It's a very rare occasion that a power outage lasts for more than four hours in Palo Alto. There have been major manhole fires which took up to 24 hours to repair. I'm often thanked by residents who are having power problems. I'm thanked for my quick response and quick repair time. The infra-structure is aging and is slowly being replaced. Power outages can't be eliminated but our response to them is much better than elsewhere.

As for the comment about City employees just driving around. I was having lunch parked at the end of Colorado Ave. near 101. I watched a car full of teenagers throw all their lunch trash in the middle of the street. They immediately sped off in their BMW. Before I could finish my sandwich a parks employee stopped and picked up all the trash. Picking up trash after your kids is not part of his job. I have no doubt that a contractor working for the parks department would have driven right by the trash. My point is that contractors will never care about Palo Alto the way it's employees do.

I can honestly say that 99.99% of the people I've met in Palo Alto are wonderful. Here's something for the .01% who blog here. Web Link.


Posted by start from scratch, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2009 at 8:05 am

Lineman, this isn't just about stability vs. risk. This is about what is affordable. Your "solution" is to ignore the problem and follow Vallejo into bankruptcy! Web Link


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 15, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Lineman,
Good post; however, how do you know that the littering teenagers were from Palo Alto? Was it because they were driving a BMW? If so, that kind of thinking speaks volumes of what city employees really think of us residents: namely, we are all privileged, spoiled, whiny people who don't deserve the excellent service we get from our employees.


Posted by Trisha, a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Since you obviously don't get what it means to "work for a living", let me just tell you....as a wife of a lineman, I can tell you how hard lineman work. The sacrifices they make, especially when they get a phone call at 1, 2, or 3 in the morning because your power is out. Or when they're out in the storms and cold while you sit warm in your mansions, they work in the dark under severe circumstances. The lineman that work for your wealthy city can't afford to LIVE in your city, so some have to commute as far away as Manteca, while you live in your multi-million dollar house and ooh, your lights flicker and you call to have someone check your power. You have no idea what it means to get on a pole day in and day out, or do underground repairs and how dangerous it is. Lineman need to be paid AS MUCH AS a fireman or policeman. They need to be separated from the other workers in Palo Alto and have their own union as they are a specialized group and VERY UNDERPAID. So stay in your lilly white houses, shop on Univesity Avenue, but just ask yourself when your power goes out...."Who you gonna call?"


Posted by start from scratch!, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2009 at 8:29 pm

"Who you gonna call?"

A tradesman that isn't going to send me bankrupt!


Posted by Wilson, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2009 at 9:13 am

The following is a response to "The Lineman's Wife":

Web Link
Posted by Trisha, a resident of another community, 1 hour ago

O.K. all you liberal losers and Dot-commers! Since you obviously don't get what it means to "work for a living", let me just tell you....as a wife of a lineman, I can tell you how hard lineman work.

The sacrifices they make, especially when they get a phone call at 1, 2, or 3 in the morning because your power is out. Or when they're out in the storms and cold while you sit warm in your mansions, they work in the dark under severe circumstances.

> The lineman that work for your wealthy city can't afford to LIVE in your city,

Really? And why not? Most people who have purchased homes in Palo Alto in the last twenty years are two-income families. What is you and your husband's combined income?

> some have to commute as far away as Manteca ..

But this is by choice, is it not? To suggest that these people can not afford to live in Palo Alto, and can only live in places as faraway as Manteca asserts (albeit tacitly), the PAU Lineman can not live in East Palo Alto, or Mountain View, or Sunnyvale, or San Jose, or Morgan Hill, or Fremont, or Newark, or any number of cities, localities, much closer than Manteca—because all of the housing in these places is also "too expensive". This is very hard to believe. Very hard to believe, indeed!

>Lineman need to be paid AS MUCH AS a fireman or policeman. They need
> to be separated from the other workers in Palo Alto and have their own union
> as they are a specialized group and VERY UNDERPAID.

Newsflash, "Mrs. Lineman's wife" .. PAU lineman are very well paid. If you had taken the time to read the Feb. 3rd edition of the Daily Post, you would have noticed that at least eight (8) of the linemen took home at least $100K last year. Most people in Palo Alto don't make $100K a year—no matter how much you might claim to the opposite.

> So stay in your lilly [sic] white houses, shop on Univesity [sic]
> Avenue, but just ask yourself when your power goes
> out...."Who you gonna call?"

The City of Palo Alto has for some time now been contracting for electrical line work with a private contractor, by the name of Pacheco Utility Line Builders:

Web Link
Web Link

Pacheco's expertise lies in the following areas:

The contractor's services include the replacement of poles, transformers, air switches, connectors, insulators, overhead conductors, and any other miscellaneous work related with overhead line construction. In addition, the crew will be available to assist Electric Operations for general maintenance and restoration of power during emergency and storm situations.

So .. when the "call goes out" .. the PAU is not the only one there to respond.

Palo Alto does not suffer from a lot of "bad weather". It's been a long time since anyone can point to a six-foot snow, or icy power lines that were on the ground, or all of the poles ripped from the ground, like Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland experienced in September of 2003, from a late-season hurricane—which took out the power grid of the eastern seaboard of Virginia for over a month.

Maybe lineman do get called out, from time-to-time, at night, or during the once-a-year storms we have in Jan/Feb, but there really are not that many outages here in Palo Alto to begin with.

Mrs. Lineman's Wife, you seem to be very unhappy, being associated with Palo Alto, its residents, and your husband's working relationship with us. I suggest that you (or he) take the time to unburden yourself of this self-imposed obligation, and look to other employers for your husband's "talents":

PG&E:
Web Link

Journey Lineman:
Web Link


Posted by Now, now, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 16, 2009 at 10:00 am

Lineman's Wife, we want to keep your husband employed here. Don't let disrespect shown in anonymous comments bother you.

We want quality people and want to pay them fair compensation.

We are in a recession of unknown depth, and money is hard to come by. Fair compensation going forward is probably not going to be what everyone thought it would be two years ago. The more people there are wanting to do a job, the less the disadvantages of the job matter.

If there are going to be lots of people wanting and able to be linemen, current linemen cannot successfully demand as much extra compensation.

Even though they have chosen the career and built their reputations during a time when not so many people wanted to be linemen.

A recession can hurt the finances of people very remotely related to its cause.

And few can afford a Manteca-like house in Palo Alto.


Posted by Hard Worker, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I hope SEIU can come up with some practical take aways so we can all feel the pinch but not lose dedicated and valuable employees.

Outsourcing is one answer, but a bad one. As someone already mentioned, city employees have dedication the outsourced individuals probably won't have.

And to Lineman's Wife, I know how hard it was to buy a home in this area, even with two incomes. Don't take the talk here too seriously, and you may want to lighten up yourself.

We will get through this.


Posted by Nat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2009 at 1:00 pm

From the Weekly online: "The [Palo Alto] police union will defer its negotiated salary increases, department managers will forgo bonus payments and about 600 city workers will have to cope with new labor contracts that, by all indications, will be less lucrative than the one expiring at the end of this month." Will department managers forgo salary increases as well?

SEIU had offered to continue the current contract for 3 years with no salary increases, and just the current benefits. In addition, the Union was willing to accept some furloughs.

However, the City rejected this offer. Only the Union members are being asked to accept reduced salaries and reduced benefits. This is grossly unfair and would lead to hardship for Union members accompanied by loss of morale and loyalty to the City. We must not balance the budget on the backs of 600 rank and file employees.


Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Sonny,
"namely, we are all privileged, spoiled, whiny people who don't deserve the excellent service we get from our employees."

I don't know that the teenagers were from P.A. I have great respect for the residents of P.A. They have worked very hard to be able to live in a safe city with wonderful schools. I'm one of the guys that get's called out a lot. When I'm thanked by the residents my #1 response is "that's why you live in P.A. I'm just doing my job".

Wilson,
You must get too many skewed facts from Diana Diamond.

"Newsflash, "Mrs. Lineman's wife" .. PAU lineman are very well paid. If you had taken the time to read the Feb. 3rd edition of the Daily Post, you would have noticed that at least eight (8) of the linemen took home at least $100K last year. Most people in Palo Alto don't make $100K a year—no matter how much you might claim to the opposite."

I was one of those people. We get called out a lot. It's not just the big storms. Here are few few reasons to get called out to work: cars hitting power poles, tree limbs falling on lines, birds or squirrels getting between wires, house fires, contractors digging into our wires, residents not knowing how to reset their circuit breakers at 2:00 a.m.(it happens), big trucks driving down little streets and ripping down wires, and more cars hitting street light poles. Let me make this clear, I'm not complaining about these jobs. I'm just trying to expand your understanding. As mentioned before we have an aging infra-structure. Things that were built 40+ years ago tend to go boom in the night. As a matter of fact I worked 19 hours yesterday. The extra hours were because of night work in the California Ave area. We did this work at night so it wouldn't effect the local commerce. Yes I've made $100k+ for a few years now. I have many friends a local utility that make $50k/year more than me, but they never see their families. Here's a funny illustration: One of the lineman on my crew got home at 5:00 a.m. after working a 20 hour day. His daughter went screaming to his wife "mommy, mommy there's a stranger in our house." Storms are only a fraction of our O.T. earnings. The $100k number is used in the papers because of it's huge shock value. We all know how expensive it is to live around here. Is $100k really that much money anymore?

"And your point is? The SEIU jobs require the least education, the least accountability, the highest amount of management, and are jobs which should be outsourced to the private sector to reduce costs."

Thanks for reading such a long response from under-educated City employee. As for accountability, if I throw the wrong switch or cut the wrong wire people could die. That should be accountability enough.




Posted by Anna, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Does anyone know how much a lineman might make (and what the benefit package is) in the private sector - say at PG&E?

The answer to this would in my mind go a long way toward answering the question about whether Lineman is overpaid by the city.

I'm sure that Lineman is hard working and that the job of a lineman is every bit as arduous as he says it is. But that tells us nothing about what he should be paid. Lots of jobs are tough and don't pay much (Ever work in a convenience store at night for minimum wage?). If the market for linemen really is 100k/year and benefits worth $40k or so, then that's what Lineman should be paid. If it's less then the taxpayers are getting shortchanged no matter how hard lineman works.

I'm not presuming an answer...just asking the question.


Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Anna,

Thanks for bringing this back to the original topic. You have a valid question.

A lineman at PG&E makes $150k easily with OT. Most are in the $175K range. They do pay for some of their medical and the retiree medical is no where as good as Palo Alto's. Being a private company they also have a 401k plan with stock matching. Santa Clara has just signed a contract with their lineman. They're getting a 5% raise retroactive to January, another 5%, then 4.5%, then another 4.5%, and another 6% for a work practice that we do. It's a 25% raise over 4 years. That's the type of market there is right now for lineman. We have not been fully staffed in years. This is due to the fact that it's so difficult to recruit to the silicon valley. We will very likely lose some employees to Santa Clara very soon.

Palo Alto does use a contractor. The company has been a big asset with helping change rotten poles and upgrading neighborhoods. They are not a cheap alternative though. The lack qualified employees willing to work in Palo Alto necessitates the use of the contractor.

We have one other difference with Palo Alto lineman. Most other cities and PG&E employ what are called troublemen. They are exrta skilled linemen that report to emergency calls. Other utilities have a T-man on shift 24/7. T-men also make more than linemen. It's very common for a T-man to make $200k a year. The linemen at P.A. do the exact same job as the T-men elsewhere.

So, to answer your question. The taxpayers are definitely getting their money's worth.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 17, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Lineman,
Good post; however, I must ask why such a talented guy as you would stick around to cater to the whims of an elite class of people like us when you could readily be employed (by PG&E) for much more income. You really must love us. Using this "dedication to the residents" mantra is disingenuous. I don't know if Trish is your wife, but you two really have an us vs. them mentality. Working for Palo Alto is a choice. Freedom to choose is man's greatest responsibility.


Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Sonny,

Most of the people I have met in Palo Alto may be highly educated and successful but they are also humble too. I'm not sure where you got the impression that I think of Palo Altans as elitists. I have not in any post complained about my employment at Palo Alto. If I didn't like it I would leave and have a job tomorrow.

The question was asked about PG&E so I answered it. These guys making that kind of money never see their families. The money isn't worth missing soccer games and birthday parties.
Like right now, I'm off to dinner with the family.

Trish is not my wife. I may have met her once.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 8:31 pm

In response to "Nat" and the other identical posts "Nat" has made in other threads:

Whatever "takeaways" are done to SEIU, Management will also have those very same "takeaways", in addition to the management-only "takeaways" management has already suffered.

For common areas, SEIU and Management have always had the same benefits. The same raises, the same health care and all other benefits that are in common. Indeed, the only difference between Management employees and SEIU are a small number of management-only benefits. All of which have been revoked. Among them performance bonuses, and use-it-or-lose-it minor stipends for education and uncovered health care costs.

Because of the revocations, there is basically no difference between an SEIU'er and a management employee, except that Management employees are "at-will" and can be fired at any time and for no reason. SEIU has a structure for lay-offs and has bumping rights based on seniority. Management has nothing. A 30-year career manager can be "terminated" with no recourse, and lose the pension they have paid into for 30 years.

However the SEIU negotiations turn out, expect a unionization move from managers. It was tried years ago, and narrowly failed then based on the trust that the City would always "do the right thing" in regards to management. That's no longer true.

Some, including myself, have indicated there will be an employee backlash. Expect it, and from everyone, not just SEIU'ers. So long as "fluff", not community needs are being funded by City Council, and employees are facing layoffs and employment contract "take aways" while unnecessary projects are going forward.....

Well, put yourselves in their position. What would you do?








Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2009 at 8:54 pm


Outsource these jobs to competitive bid, give the unions the alternative, then we will get value for money and great customer service, it is not rocket science


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Sharon,

No, it's "not rocket science", but it's not liberal science either.

For the sake of argument, lets say most City services are outsourced. Now, you will have to support "living wage", equal benefits based on sexual orientation, affirmative action, etc, etc, etc.....

And how would outsourcing be handled by the remaining few managers in City employment.... Therein will be the revenge I expect. How often are CMR's rejected by the City Council?

In a perfect world free market would provide the most cost effective solutions.

That will never happen in a liberal world.




Posted by Hard Worker, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Interesting post from Outside Observer regarding management and SEIU. There is a difference in this city in benefits for the two groups. Management gets more time off, vacation time, over time, educational funds, bonuses, travel expenses etc. I don't believe that any of these things are off the table for management as of right now. And they get paid more. These are not small differences to line workers.

Police and fire have "given back" a pay raise they hadn't begun to see in their paychecks. We are not asking for a raise that can then be sacrificed as a give back. We are asking to not have our salaries cut. Another big difference.

I am sure to hear back on this one. Ready, set, go!


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Lineman,
I got your view about elitist Palo Altans from one of your previous posts. You assumed that the teenagers who littered on W. Bayshore and sped away in their BMW were Palo Alto residents. You clearly stated that city employees are not here to "clean up after your kids?" How do you know these kids were from Palo Alto? Can't kids from Mt.View, EPA and other cities drive BMW's and litter? That kind of narrow thinking gives way to the us vs. them mentality. You're not an indentured servant, so don't play the tireless 24/7 public servant card. You signed on for this. deal with it or look elsewhere.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Hard Worker,

Management and SEIU have the same vacation and sick leave acrual rates. SEIU has floating holidays, and managment has Mgmt leave. Both are essentially the same, as are education funds. SEIU'ers travel expenses are paid from the General fund for sponsored travel.

With the exception of a couple of 1st line supervisors that I believe are in Utilites, Management gets no overtime, yet is expected to work however long it takes to finish the job. SEIU gets stand-by pay, but managers are on standby 24/7 with no compensation.

Indeed, years ago the City pushed to classify many non-management positions as managers so they could save money on overtime.

Do managers make more? That's a good question, and my gut feeling is it's about the same for positions requiring equivalent backgrounds/education. To make a fair comparison, you would have to divide the compensation by hours worked, and that figure isn't available for managers.

Bottom line is this. Both groups are getting screwed. SEIU'ers have at least some strength because they are unionized where Management employees are "at-will".

So, next time you drive by the MSC, consider that those solar panels you see everywhere are your COLA for the next contract. Most likely for many contracts to come. So long as City Council panders to the latest "Green" fads, All employees, and all Residents will suffer.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Sonny,

Yes, "Lineman" "signed up for this", and the City is in the process of reneging on the employment conditions agreed on.

Whatever contract negotiations yield for the future is fine. If that means benefit cuts for current and future employees, that's fine, but the City is trying to renege on conditions of employment retroactively.

If they want to go that route, may I suggest throwing Benest out of his City-owned home. That would generate more income than the 1977 retiree-resident utility discount, and it would only effect one person who certainly has the means to find housing elsewhere.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 18, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Outside Observer,
Good post. You seem to know quite a bit about the SEIU, management and city policies. Would it be fair to say that you are a city employee or ex city employee? If so, wouldn't that make your opinion, much like Lineman, biased? To throw Benest out of his house would be breaking the contract he has with the City of Palo Alto. As for both Seiu and management being screwed equally...I don't see any evidence of this in any post, so I can only assume that it's coming from a disgruntled employee or ex employee. And that is what I have been trying to point out throughout this discussion, namely: the skewed and inaccurate facts that have been presented by city employees. I still don't buy this dedicated employee business and outstanding service given to the residents. The service is adequate and the dedication is lip service. The employees view the residents as upscale, constantly complaining individuals who ruin their day. It's evident in your post, as well as, Lineman and Lynn Krug. To show up at a City Council meeting to air these inaccuracies is shameful. The Police and Fire Department had the decency and thoughtfulness to realize that the recession is world wide and acted accordingly. SEIU is in it's own world and acts accordingly. Is It any wonder that their is an equal and opposite reaction? By the way, the solar panels at the MSC may affect you, but they have a positive effect on me. Green is the future.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Sonny,

I am not a City employee or ex employee but I do have distant relatives on the in-law side who are. Thus my knowledge.

I really don't think we differ much on this. Going forward, as I said, whatever concessions are made are OK, but my pet peeve is the City's attempt to retroactively violate the contract they had made with employees prior to 1977. You say "To throw Benest out of his house would be breaking the contract he has with the City of Palo Alto" You are correct.

Retroactively reneging on the 1977 retiree-resident utility discount is the same thing, and from a financial perspective would yield much less for City coffers than violating their contract with Benest and forcing him out. The City is going after a dozen or so elderly retirees who don't have the means to fight it in court in order to set a precedent, while they could yield 2 million or more by throwing out Benest.

In either case, they are retroactively breaking contracts. Seems to me the one with the greatest financial benefit should be the one they pursue.

As for "Green", the third world strives to attain the standard of living we have, while the "Greens" strive to reduce our standard of living to that of the third world.

We may be close to agreement on City employment practices, but we will never be close to agreement on the "green" philosophy.



Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Sonny,

You're right. The teens could have been from anywhere. Palo Alto is the destination hot spot for teens to come and have lunch. Teens from all over the bay come and dine here. The point was to illustrate that a City employee will go beyond his job duties when a contractor probably won't. Plus, I would never judge an entire city because of the actions of a few careless teens.

Here's a little education about linemen. Linemen by nature are public servants. We would be just a dedicated if we worked for a contractor, a city, or a county(cue Glenn Campbell). When a natural disaster hits linemen show up in great numbers to get the power back on. I know because I've been on a power pole at two in the morning with three inch icicles hanging from my hard hat. That's why I said I'm not complaining about my job or the hours. You're right, I'm not an indentured servant. I'm just a lineman doing my job, but I do get tired.

From Wilson way above:

FACT: SEIU Employees already receive [sic] 1.44 less than median wage for the 10 comparison cites [sic] in the area for all compensation.

And you cite what documentation to back up this claim?

The H.R. department conducts a thorough survey before every contract negotiation. They compare our wages and benefits to 10 local cities. From that study they calculate the mean for each job classification. We agreed that our pay would be brought up to 3% below the mean wage. We did this to offset the cost of our above average benefits. I don't mind making less per hour when it's offset with a good health and retirement package. We have lost a lot of very talented employees because they got better offers. How long can you ask someone to give superior service for below mean wages?

Sonny,

Could you elaborate on which shameful inaccuracies were brought up in front of City Council? The police and fire made a big sacrifice. SEIU has been asked to make HUGE sacrifices. We are in negotiations and are very willing to talk about saving the City money. In the past the H.R. director sat at the table as lead negotiator. Now they pay a firm $200k to negotiate. Here's a cut and paste from the H.R. director's job duties:

Essential Duties and Responsibilities - Essential and other important responsibilities and duties may include, but are not limited to, the following:

The Human Resources Department administers the following functions:
1. Labor Relations. Negotiations with three labor organizations representing City employees. Administration of labor agreements and grievance procedure.

Why are you paying someone over $200k to do the Director's job?


Posted by Hmmmmmmmm, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:22 am

Quick search of PG&E site reveals......

Troubleman: Web Link
Wages start at $1,799.20 per week (~$94,000 pa)


Journeyman Lineman: Web Link
Wages start at $42.33 per hour. (~$88,000 pa)


PA linesmen get over $100,000 + lifelong benefits.


Posted by just dumb, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:56 am

Why the city let it happens in the first place? The ratio of managers to SEIU is 1 to 2.7!!! No wonder the city is in red.


Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Hmmmmmmm,

Compare apples to oranges much? You're comparing the base wage for PG&E to the full overtime wages of Palo Alto lineman.

Palo Alto journeyman: $42.51/hr and about $88,420/yr.

I personally know a 26 year old lineman who works for PG&E. He made over $180k last year. So if you want to compare oranges to oranges use this number.


Posted by Hmmmmmm, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

apple) Palo Alto journeyman: $88,420/yr.
apple) PG&E: $88,000/yr.
Explain to me again why we are paying Palo Alto linemen additional life-long benefits?


Posted by bikes2work, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Hmmmmmm,

According to this link: Web Link

A lineperson for Palo Alto starts at $37.05 per hour (Step 1). That is considerably less than PG&E's starting salary of $42.33 that you linked to above.




Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 19, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Outside Observer,
So, you're only beef is the city taking away utility discounts to pre 1977 retirees? How many retirees are there who fit into this category and how much of a discount do they get? Are your distant relatives on your in law side part of the dozen or so (just guessing) retirees getting their utility discount cut? I agree that this is an abysmally small amount of money to try and save when Lineman points out that HR contracts out labor negotiations to a private firm.

My interest in this stems from SEIU grandstanding a city council meeting to allege they are victims of a city plot to balance a budget on the backs of dedicated, hard working employees. This is my main point of contention. City service is adequate, no better or worse, than in any other community.

I didn't think that Lynn Krug's facts were shameful, only inaccurate, because a following poster refuted each and every alleged fact and there was no further discussion.

What I regarded as shameful was the unmitigated gall of SEIU showing up at the council meeting to declare their victimhood. Why couldn't they take a cue from Police and Fire (who truly serve the community)
and behave in a similar manner.

Finally, and remember this my opinion, whoever orchestrated the SEIU
protest at the council meeting needs to be taken to task. That tactic was ill thought and disgraceful to hard working Americans who are suffering through this recession.


Posted by Hmmmmm, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm

b2w, my value was given by "Lineman for Palo Alto" in the previous post. Your link provides a good starting point. Is LfPA saying that he'd drop his entitlements for an extra 10k?


Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Here is an illuminating story on the compensation issue in Great Britain, which got a head start on us in giving unions their way with pensions and direct compensation. This is us in a few years...

Web Link


Posted by Brian Wilson, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Ho-Hum. Next story. To the same 10 people who continue to post their greivances against the working class,... we got it, you're disgruntled and nothing anyone says will cure your dissatifaction. We are truly sorry for your employment greivances and that your employers are failing in meeting your famalies needs.Sometimes its ok to put on your listening ears instead of trying to yell louder than those with an opposing view. Good luck to all of you in obtaining satisfying employment with employers who reward their employees for a job well done and treat their employees with well deserved respect.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Sonny,

OK, I'll concede your point, the SEIU actions at the council meeting were less professional than they probably would have been under former SEIU leader Phil Plymale. Irrespective, the message from SEIU would have been the same, and I find that message hard to dispute as long as City Council is wasting money on things like "destination Palo Alto", senior games, Sustainability coordinator, indeed anything "green". You yourself mentioned the 200K paid to a professional labor contract negotiator. A task that by job spec is for the HR director, and was always done by former long time HR director Jay Rounds.


Ok, I've conceded your point, but it seems that you don't understand mine, despite having spelled it out twice. So, I'll try again.

It's not the 1977 retiree-resident utility discount, which we both agree is fiscally insignificant. It's the principal behind it, the precedent it sets, and the calculated action taken against a very small elderly and vulnerable group.

The Principal:

To retroactively renege on contractual obligations to retired employees. The City is not in bankruptcy. Even if it were, the contractual obligations would come before all the discretionary spending the City keeps expanding.

The Precedent:

If the City gets away with this, it sets the precedent for reneging retroactively on a host of contractual obligations to retirees.

The calculated action:

The next one I'm sure they will go after is health care for retirees 65 and older. Many of the oldest retirees worked for the City under the contractual obligation that the City would provide health insurance for life. Including after 65. Those people never paid into Medicare, are ineligible for Medicare, indeed couldn't have paid into Medicare even if they wanted to.

This group, like the pre-1977 retiree-residents is a small, elderly and vulnerable group lacking the means to fight such an action in court.

As an aside, you have tried to tar me with the brush of conflict-of-interest. I do not know anyone who gets the 1977 retiree-resident utility discount, nor does any family member. I do, however, have a family member city retiree who would be a victim of reneging health care for 65 year old retirees not eligible for medicare due to their employment with Palo Alto. I don't wish you any ill will, but hope you never find yourself in the position where you are responsible for the health care of an elderly uncle on your wife's side because a former employer retroactively reneged on an obligation they have the means to fulfill.

As for Frank Benest. I used his house as an example where retroactively reneging on contractual obligations to retirees could be used. I would say Benest has reason to worry about what is going down. Once the precedent is set, he is in the cross-hairs too, and after the Childrens Theater witch hunt, he's not exactly held in high regard by City Council. Council could reap a 2 million dollar windfall by reneging on his retirement contract.

In conclusion, you disagree with SEIU's suggstion that the City is trying to balance the budget on SEIU's back. I would agree, but not for the reasons you think. This first "salvo" aimed at the smallest, oldest and weakest of City retirees shows their true intention is to balance the budget on the backs of those least capable of defending themselves.

"Shame on you Palo Alto" is hardly adequate. The words that are adequate would get this post censored.






Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 19, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Outside Observer,
Well said and points well taken. I agree that the city wastes money on idealistic, unimportant issues while the infrastructure deteriorates.

I think everyone who posts, regardless of which side of an issue he or she stands would agree that council is fiscally irresponsible.

But, back to my original point...to hijack a council meeting by 200 purple shirted union members was distasteful and sent the wrong message to most of the community. Hence, the backlash.

Finally, I'd like to thank the Weekly for providing this forum to allow people to discuss their differences civilly and, just perhaps, reach some common ground.


Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2009 at 4:59 am

The downside of not paying into social security means you cannot participate in the Medicare health insurance. My mom worked for City of SJ for over 30 yrs and did not pay into SS. After retiring she worked as a substitute teacher for 5 yrs to qualify for Medicare.


Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2009 at 9:20 am

To Anon: sorry, doesn't pass the smell test. In my 31 years of life as a full-fledged adult, I have never heard of a person over 65 not qualifying for health care in our country, either under MediCare or Med-Cal. Maybe I am mssing something, but is there anyone who can explain this to me?

To the rest: I have to really admire the civil tone (minus the racism of "lilly (sic) white" and the name calling "sour grapes" of a couple posters). Though I disagree with your conclusions Ms. Krug and believe you are looking at the work for SEIU through a narrow lens, I admire your courage in speaking what you believe to be true, and in offering to meet up with any who wish to understand more.

But, not to be mean, just promoting a little realism, as one who has worked for 31 years, and paid the taxes of the city, state, and feds for city, state and fed workers....in the private sector which pays the public bills, we earn more or less depending on our merit and how well our company is doing financially. If we don't like how we are treated in one job and believe we can do better elsewhere..we find a better job and move. We live in the real, free market place where people move from job to job, or from job to nothing, with little security but much freedom to move "up" if they believe they can get better elsewhere.

So, I have to say, to anyone who believes that they would be paid more/better treated etc in the private sector, then why on earth didn't you work for the private sector? Why do you stay now in public if private is better?

It is hard for those of us ( the majority) who pay the bills of the public sector to understand the lack of comprehension on the public sector that our unemployment rate has doubled, many, if not most of us, have lost some pay, and most of us have taken a 40-50% cut in our "net worth" over the last 18 months, with none of the false security that govt employment promises. So, for the majority of us in this position, we can't help but feel a "suck it up and be grateful you have a job" 'tude toward public employees who are complaining about not getting a raise, or being asked to take a small cut.





Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Outside Observer wrote: "So long as "fluff", not community needs are being funded by City Council, and employees are facing layoffs and employment contract "take aways" while unnecessary projects are going forward..... "

I agree that there's way too much fluff. Just remember that whatever fluff gets cut, the employees providing it will also be cut.

Sonny wrote: ". a City employee will go beyond his job duties when a contractor probably won't."

A dedicated worker will do a good job whether he lives in the city, works for a union or not. Behavior and commitment are not determined by a union contract.

My dad worked for the post office and told stories about employees drunk on the job or sleeping most of the day, while the dedicated employees did the work. Ditto for my uncles who worked for the railroad. Ditto for my mom who worked for the VA.

I had a job where I supervised union employees. Some were just doing their "8 and vacate." Others were dedicated, interested and wanted to learn and do more.

This is a problem with unions. The hard workers and the slackers get the same raises and the same benefits.

Lineman: Thanks very much for all your posts and information. It's obvious that you are dedicated and caring.

Perspective: Thanks for "promoting realism." I couldn't have said it better!


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Pat, That was lineman who posted "a City employee will go beyond his job duties when a contractor probably won't" I agree that Lineman is, most likely, a dedicated, caring employee. But, as your post suggests, good workers and bad workers are all part of the mix. Unfortunately, under a union shop, they all happily coexist, so we, as taxpayers, are getting a watered down work force. Not the exceptional service they claim we receive.
The union may complain about takeaways, but the city gave them "union shop" several years ago which resulted in the tepid city workers we are faced with today. Union shop means that it's mandatory to join the union once you are hired by the city. Most dedicated workers don't need union protection So, even if you have no need of the union, dues are still deducted from your paycheck. With union protection, whether desired or not, it becomes easier for a dedicated worker (not you lineman) to do the 8 and vacate, bend the rules somewhat and not provide the exceptional services we should be getting.
The city negotiated this huge benefit to the union; however, it seems like it's never enough for them when the city asks for something in return.
I was criticized in the past for noticing city vehicles "cruising" the downtown streets, or parked at the Baylands or any city park, but this has been my experience and I hold it to be true.

A socialist work force can't succeed in a capitalist society.


Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Perspective - you are misinformed in different benefits offered to different employees. City of San Jose does NOT pay into Social Security. I believe it is CalPers. You cannot qualify for Medicare or Medical unless you have your total Social Security years payed in! So she works as a sub for Mountain View-Whisman school district which DOES pay in to SS.


Posted by Lineman for Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Hello,

Quite a few posts to catch up with. I just got home from my seventh work day in a row. Looking forward to Lake Tahoe next weekend.

I'm going to defend SEIU a little bit. Someone mentioned that our Union promotes on a seniority basis. We actually hold fair interviews and hire the best qualified applicant. If applicants are determined to be equal, the job is given to the senior person. We don't want less qualified people moving up. I'm a shop steward. One thing I say to people in my department is "I'm here to protect you from management misdeeds, I can't protect you from yourself". We have two levels of Union membership. The first pays a reduced amount and can't vote on contracts. The second is a full member, they get full representation.

Sonny,
I can concede (off the record) about workers at the Baylands and driving around. I won't say more and incriminate anyone. The City auditor does a city services survey every year. If memory serves me correctly we haven't been doing that bad.


Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Lineman,
You're O.K. in my book. Enjoy Tahoe.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2009 at 5:10 am

On the Medicare issue above:

Even if you have never worked for a Medicare employer, you can buy coverage at a highly subsidized rate: it's around $200 per month, I believe for Part A (hospital coverage). You're eligible for Part B like everyone else. The city could pay this on behalf of retirees and come out better than it does by staying in the state of CA benefit plan for them.

And most married people are eligible through their spouses coverage if their spouse has worked for a Medicare employer.

Given the cost of medical care for our retirees, I don't see why the city doesn't join the Medicare system at least for future retirees and get out of the state plan that is going to bankrupt every city that participates in it before too much longer.

It's true that Medicare benefits aren't as good as the benefits received by 99 percent of other retirees, but can the city afford to offer this gold plated benefit any longer?


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