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Palo Alto fires back at fire union president

Original post made on May 22, 2010

A heated dispute between the City of Palo Alto and its firefighters' union -- even before the two sides sit down to negotiate a contract -- went up a several degrees Friday during a press conference outside City Hall.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, May 22, 2010, 6:57 AM

Comments (74)

Posted by Restructure City Hall, a resident of another community
on May 22, 2010 at 7:33 am

More controversy and scandal in Palo Alto City Government. When will it all end?

Restructure Palo Alto City Hall! Start by downsizing upper management and deputy city managers. Put the money saved into fire fighting, police protection, libraries, and parks not bureaucracy.


Posted by jack, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2010 at 7:35 am

Overpaid unions. Eliminate the positions. We can't continue to have the city in debt.


Posted by RT, a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2010 at 7:55 am

It all comes down to pension costs.
Our previous City Council's (indeed every jurisdiction in the State including the State)handed out lavish pensions knowing that THEY would not have to deal with the costs in their current year budget......and now all of those costs are coming home to roost.
The #1 cost that MUST be addressed is pension costs. During the last 25 years, private employees have seen employer funded pensions virtually disappear in favor of employee funded 401k's, etc. - but for whatever reason, government pensions continued to rise, creating a massive current cost (pensions) that results in zero current public services. That pension, that golden egg for the unions, that none of the rest of society enjoys, MUST be severely reduced to correlate with the benefits provided by the private sector.


Posted by Common Sense, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2010 at 8:49 am

If the police department has less staff on duty during the night when the activity level is less, why can't the fire department? The fire department can't use the argument that they may need to respond to a major incident at night therfore they need all their rigs fully staffed, because the police department may have to do the very same thing. Apparently, the police department functions adequaetly at night with reducing staffnig while no doubt responding to major incidents at times, so perhaps the fire department needs to look in to how they do it. I hate to say it but I'm sure the PAPD has to deal with more critical incidents that suck their resources dry than PAFD does.


Posted by I wanna be a consultant, a resident of another community
on May 22, 2010 at 10:20 am

So who would the City Council choose to do such a study on the Fire Department? doesn't the consultant to give oversight on police complaints for the police department have a police background? If I want to have my plumbing studied, I hire a plumber, need my car worked on...a mechanic, etc.

Jim Keene has made it a point to bust the unions since day one. Take a look at how he still has not settled with SEIU. He fights dirty, and is doing what council hired him to do. THIS WILL BITE HIM IN THE BEHIND after all is said and done. Most hatchett men are tossed away when the job is done.


Posted by GougedInMidtown, a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2010 at 10:30 am

RT is so right about the inordinate burden on taxpayers from public sector pensions that are unbelievable. At some point in the past such pensions were justified on the basis that public sector salaries were lower than what their counterparts in the private sector earned. While that assumption is no longer true, public sector pensions are the cream on top of an already rich cake.
Property owners will need to rise against this exploitation of our resources when all of us in the private sector neither make what the public sector makes nor has the ability to unionize and make unreasonable demands.


Posted by John, a resident of Southgate
on May 22, 2010 at 10:31 am

The purpose of the fire department should be to fight fires, period. They should not be involved in first aid or emergency medical calls...that is an EMT issue. It is a huge waste of money and resources to have a big fire rig, fully staffed, show up in our neighborhoods to deal with a heart attack or asthma attack. Same thing for rescuing cats in trees ...the owner of the cat should hire a tree service to get his/her cat out of the tree, if they are desperate to get kitty back in their house.

PAFD is grossly overstaffed to do its essential job.


Posted by Dalzell, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

Hurrah for Antil, she's the first member of the administration in many years whose had the guts to take on the firefighter' union boss.

Why is it that the Police Union has cooperated with the City over the last two years and accepted a pay freeze. Meanwhile, the firefighters' union continues to be uncooperative.

Spitaleri blames the City for encouraging residents not to sign their petition. He's got that wrong, it's the residents themselves who've got the word out to discourage their neighbors from signing the petition.

We don't need the firefighters' union to take over portions of our city budget by attempting to amend the City Charter in the their favor, and we don't need a costly election in November to accomplish this.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm

GougedinMidtown,

While it is true that firefighter, police, and prison guard unions have negotiated pay and benefits that are bleeding cities dry, this is not true for all public employee unions. I belong to a union where our pay has historically been lower than comparables (by quite a bit), and well below private pay, so our pension is the only saving grace. When city workers get bonuses just for doing the job they are already paid for, and firefighters with AA degrees and minimal service years are making well over $100k a year and can retire at age 50, THAT is excess. I thought it was important to convey that these benefits do not apply across the board for public servants.


Posted by Todd, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

The Fire Deapartment does NOT "rescue" cats from trees.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

"has never recommended a staffing reduction to any municipalities for whom he's consulted."
This statement is not exactly true. It is right in that this company has never recommended reducing staffing, but this company has recommened (many times) closing fire stations and/or reducing fire units which is the same as reducing staffing levels.


Posted by bill, a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

The fire department personnel are employees of Palo Alto, not elected officials. By trying to amend the City Charter to freeze employee staffing, they are gutting the job of the elected City Council.

It's the Council's responsibility to ensure the City remains financially healthy by negotiating with all employees to keep the City's finances in balance. Removing one union from this effort will destroy any chance of reining in excessive cost wherever it may be.

All responsible analyses show excessive salaries and pensions of state and local governments have brought them very close to bankruptcy. Every union and individual is part of the whole and should help to prevent this.

So far the police department by cooperating with City government has shown responsibility and civic pride. I can't believe fire department personnel don't have the same sense of responsibility.


Posted by 1st Volunteer, a resident of Downtown North
on May 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Hows-a-about we fire "all" the fire people. Then start anew. This process would best for all.

Why does Palo Alto need full-time over paid fire people? Most communities in the US have a volunteer fire department.

I will put my money where my mouth is and be the first to volunteer. Hows-a-about you?


Posted by Jeffrey, a resident of University South
on May 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm

The term 'firefighter' becomes a gross misnomer when only 3% of their job is actually putting out fires.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The time for Palo Alto fiscal discipline is long past, starting with fire and ambulance services. With their current city charter stunt, fire has convinced me they are the most self-serving department in the city.

Clean house. Outsource fire and emergency services. Anything to get away for the most selfish union management on the planet.


Posted by Restructure City Hall, a resident of another community
on May 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Its about time to clean up, clean out City Hall. Start at the top and cut down the management layers. Elect a strong mayor who runs the City and make the City Manager merely an assistant to the mayor.


Posted by Bruce, a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

As a PANDA, I have long admired the job done by our local fire department.

That said, as fire incidents head toward zero year by year, our fire department has evolved into a glorified, really high paid ambulance and sweep-the-streets-after-an-accident service.

A fresh look at how Palo Alto emergency response teams are structured, trained, managed, and compensated is in order. One indication that fire comp may be out of line on the high side is the tremendous number of qualified applicants each time a fire opening is posted. The comp will be about right when the qualified applicants per job posting moves closer to 1:1.

Today, I believe it is about 30:1.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

One of the interesting items spotted by an audience member during a recent presentation on the budget cuts by the City Manager was that the _increase_ in the budget for the Fire Dept (overtime, pensions) was roughly the same as the _decrease_ that the Police Dept was absorbing ($1.9M). While they aren't _directly_ tied, Police and Fire are such a huge proportion of the budget that such decisions are necessarily intertwined.


Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Could Palo Alto partner with a nearby jurisdiction to consolidate fire service?

Or could Palo Alto put its fire service out to bid to nearby jurisdictions?


Posted by Cynthia, a resident of Mountain View
on May 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

As the wife of a Palo Alto firefighter, my children and I are proud of the services their father/my husband performs.

Something has come up that is getting him down. He is not happy with the union president's strategy of seeking a Palo Alto charter amendment to embed staffing numbers.

My husband and his colleagues are out gathering signatures the best they can, but my husband tells me many people in the community seem turned off to the charter amendment idea. In some cases, really turned off.

We are no longer feeling the same love from the community we had grown used to.

When Mr. Spitaleri retires, which may be imminent, maybe this rift will heal over time. We certainly hope so, my husband has at least 16 more years to serve. We are depending upon him and we want him to love his job like he used to.


Posted by It has nothing to do with COMMUNITY LOVE ..., a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Cynthia,
The healing will begin when the Fire department pensions are in line with the PENSIONS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR.

It has as nothing to do with Mr. Spitaleri !!!!
... AND it has NOTHING to do with COMMUNITY LOVE etc. etc.

Everybody does their job and so does your husband. Lets not emotionalize this and lose track of the gist of the argument.




Posted by Will things change?, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Cynthia says: "When Mr. Spitaleri retires, which may be imminent, maybe this rift will heal." I have often wondered why the rank and file firefighters keep reelecting Spitaleri to be their Union President. He has headed up the union for as long as I can remember; hopefully our firefighters will have their eyes opened and vote him out.

On another subject: Why do we need 31 firefighters on duty during the day and 29 firefighters on duty at night. At the same time the City pays for 29 school crossing guards!!! This is a huge redundancy of personnel.

The day the power went out I walked passed Station 4 and there were three firefighters just watching as the traffic lights failed and a huge traffic mess developed. Why didn't they help direct traffic, because it's not in their job description!!! However, it was an emergency situation.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 22, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Cynthia:
If your husband wonders why he is "no longer feeling the same love from the community we had grown used to", he need only look in the mirror.

In a budget crisis, the firefighters are not only refusing to take a share of the cuts, they are taking a larger portion of the budget. Their conduct throughout this period has been one of selfishness and arrogance to the larger community.

For example, because of insistence on ridiculous overtime rules, the City has _already_ exceeded the overtime budget for whole year by $200K.

Your husband cannot blame the union president because your husband is out circulating a petition that is a stick-in-the-eye to the taxpayers. As others have pointed out, there is already a substantial amount of featherbedding in the current union contract and the proposed initiative would not only make it very difficult to fix, but would likely increase the amount of featherbedding as current trends continue.

And when school crossing guards were on the chopping block (recently tentatively rescinded), your husband and his union think nothing of imposing a $200K expense of the city for an election on that initiative.


Posted by Ian, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm

If the firefighters refuse to help participate in the budget discussion, the city should get rid of all firefighters and outsource. Then start fresh with new training with pay and benefits in line with the public sector. Firefighters are making the city bleed.


Posted by Julia, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2010 at 8:46 am

Firefighters may not rescue cats from trees, but they sure did save my son's life. I say they are worth every penny! Thank you firefighters!


Posted by yes, Julia!, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2010 at 9:29 am

That's right. How much is your child's life worth? The minimum salary for firefighters should be $500,000. You should never penny-pinch where safety is concerned.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Tony Spitaleri is no longer working for the City of Palo Alto. He retired on December 30, 2002, after working as a firefighter for over 30 years.

Spitlaeri has been union president for as long as he has because nobody else wants that job.

On January 23, 2003, Council Members Beecham, Burch, Freeman, Kishimoto, Kleinberg, Lytle, Morton, Mossar, and Ojakian voted 9-0 to approve Resolution 8262 entitled "Resolution of the Council of the City of Palo Alto Expressing Appreciation to Anthony Spitaleri Upon His Retirement".

None of those nine people are on the City Council now.

Here is a link to the resolution of appreciation adopted by the City Council in 2003:
Web Link


Posted by you can do better than that, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm

It's very sad to see misguided citizens pushing for public employee benefits that equal the gutted benefits in the private sector. The private sector has betrayed American workers over and over again. We stood by and watched thieving and incompetent senior executives and various corporate roll-up artists gut what used to be a system of employment and post-employment pension based on performance and loyalty - a system that created a decent retirement benefit for those who had labored over a lifetime. Those who are calling for a reduction in public sector pensions are feeding directly into the "every man for himself" notion that we currently find ourselves in, in the private sector. The whole thing comes out of envy, and trying to force public employees to "have it as bad as we do", because "you shouldn't be getting what we don't get in the private sector". Why don't some of the critics here start lobbying hard for the American corporation to contribute its fair share? I recognize some of the more so call "analytical" and strident voices in this thread; it's far too much easier for them to push their public-employee-misogynistic philosophies on hapless public servants than it is to do the much hard work of moving the larger mountain of trying to change the private sector.

That said, we do need solutions,, and they're out there. The main problem is that we're all divided up into these tiny little municipal units without really accountable elected leaders. Why do we have to duplicate administration of municipalities over and over again. It just doesn't make sense. Municipal identity is something that is overblown, especially in urban regions where we all essentially fall together as one big place. Try working with surrounding communities to create real efficiencies. Here is where I would fault not only our, but all near-region City Councils, and their respective City Managers. These groups have been on a merry-go-round of mutual self-reinforcement for a long time - and that was OK during a time when surfeit was with us. the latter is no longer true, but we see no adaptive behavior coming out of that, other than to threaten one of the last bastions of the American dream we have left - a decent pension for a lifelong service to others. This should be a *right* for *all* Americans. Shame on those who want to take it away, no matter their intentions. To be blunt: open your eyes, and innovate! Slicing the bottom line and cutting services is something a 5th grader could do; there's no challenge in that except for finessing the politics involved (and not that those who end up finessing the politics still end up maintaining their jobs and political positions (City Managers, and City Councils, that means *YOU*). Wake up and smell the innovation! And lest this appears as too harsh a message, let it be known that my idea is not a new one - nor has it not been brought by others, prior. Where is the political and senior administrative will to look outside the box? Sirs, Madams - now that America is in a truly adaptive phase that deals with rather permanent constraints, it os *your respective jobs* to move outside your comfort zones and innovate, instead of simply sharpening your pencils to delete entries to the bottom line. Frankly, if you can't get the job done, let someone(s) who can come aboard to do it. our public employees, and our general population, deserve far more than they're getting from established political administrations today - even though the latter are well intended. I wish you well.


Posted by I support firefighters, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I have nothing but respect for the rank and file members of the Palo Alto Firefighters union. They are out there right now doing their job regardless of all the negitive press they have received. They provide a service that no one wants to use. But when we want their service we want it right now. When was the last time the Press Outlets in Palo Alto actually published a story on what a great service these men and women provide? I'm sure that either today or yesterday they saved a life or protected someones valuable property from further destruction. You might not need these fine men and women today, but when you do, I think you will be glad that they are at your house at 3:00am ready to do whatever they have been trained to do. They are professionals and we residents are lucky to have them.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2010 at 5:41 pm

>"It's very sad to see misguided citizens pushing for public employee benefits that equal the gutted benefits in the private sector."

I won't argue the point that many corporations treat their workers very badly, while those at the top rake in multi-million dollar salaries, bonuses and benefits.

However, the world economy is very different from what it was even 10 years ago.

Deficit crisis threatens European social model Web Link


Posted by Check It, a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2010 at 8:26 pm

"Those who are calling for a reduction in public sector pensions are feeding directly into the "every man for himself" notion that we currently find ourselves in"

Well, that is our world now. You are completely out of touch with reality if you believe that with some lobbying we are going to force the American corporation "to contribute its fair share," whatever that is.

The economic pie is smaller than we thought, and public sector employees have staked a massive claim on an unjustifiably large portion. It is a win-/lose approach that puts them at odds with everyone who does not work in the public sector.

Over the next decade, salaries and benefits within the public sector will be cut dramatically--that's pretty easy to predict.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2010 at 9:05 am

Check It is right. Los Angeles is looking at pension payouts increasing by $2.5 Billion in the next four years. The mayor says the city "is facing a terminal fiscal crisis. Between now and 2014 the city likely will declare bankruptcy."

See Pension issue balloons with soaring costs at
Web Link

Pointing to $6.1 billion in state worker retirement costs, Schwarzenegger said that's more than the combined cost of "CalWORKS (a welfare-to-work program), child care, mental health services and in-home supportive services."


Posted by Everyone gets a resolution, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2010 at 9:09 am

"On January 23, 2003, Council Members Beecham, Burch, Freeman, Kishimoto, Kleinberg, Lytle, Morton, Mossar, and Ojakian voted 9-0 to approve Resolution 8262 entitled "Resolution of the Council of the City of Palo Alto Expressing Appreciation to Anthony Spitaleri Upon His Retirement"."

These measures are routine for city councils. I mean, the city council also voted a similiar resolution for Pat Briggs even after all the issues with her.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on May 24, 2010 at 11:49 am

It is encouraging to see so many residents speak up about the excessive staffing and compensation of the PAFD. I don't know why it took so long but I guess this is the silver lining of a budget crisis and a union power grab. I won't restate all the arguments but will highlight a few:
1.) PAFD fire staff have been over compensated and under worked for years. They have allowed a union boss to dictate their behavior and now that behavior is coming to roost in the form of a negative opinion of fire staff by the citizens of PA.
2.) Every person I have talked to about the petition is against it, and the ones who signed it wished they hadn't. They trusted the firefighters who handed them the petition, but now that they understand it they are disgusted by the blunt power grab and greediness of the union and firestaff. They all plan to vote against it.
3.) In the short run I hope the city reduces every PAFD staff salary by at least 20%, and reduces staffing by 30%. No more sleeping on the job, shopping at Costco, bbq'ing, etc.
4.) In the longer run I hope the fire service is completely restructured and outsourced. We could have the same level of safety and service for 50% of the cost.


Posted by Firefighters' Petition is Bad Policy, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm

If you are sorry you signed the Firefighters petition, you can legally take your name off of it. Just call the City Clerk. Their office can assist you in having your name legally REMOVED from the petition.

Never sign a petition that you don't have time to completely read AND fully research. Adding your name to any petition is a significant legal act. Give the act of signing appropriate serious consideration.



Posted by Wha?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm

As a member of the SEIU group in the city, I can say that many of my colleagues and I are very disappointed by the actions of the firefighter's union. They have made zero sacrifices during this very tough time. SEIU had offered many options for cutting the budget, which were rejected, and then the City imposed their contract on us.

No one disputes the need or courage or hard work of the fire department and the firefighters. But they should take a long look in the mirror and recognize that their actions are viewed as selfish and self serving. They get raises while others take major cuts? They used to stand beside the other unions, now they stand alone.

I have trouble sitting in the same room with them.


Posted by stop that whining, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2010 at 1:58 pm

anyone who says anything about restructuring the fire department, going to a volunteer department, changing who handles EMS or anything attacking the job of the fire department is simply ignorant on what the fire department does and how the system operates.


Posted by Lee Thé, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Being a public employee is honorable work, and necessary too.

However, there is a crucial difference between private sector work.

In private sector work, your employer is someone who employs you to make money--to enrichen hiumself. In large corporations your boss could be a billionaire. Such people routinely exploited workers, and the union movement formed to resist this exploitation.

The irony is that this adversarial spirit has often carried over into public sector work where you boss is...me, and Joe down the street living on a fixed income, and the hotshot lawyer driving a Bimmer, and the single mother with three kids...in short, all of us Palo Alto residents.

So when a union "sticks it to the Man" ---in this case, we are "the man" and we don't appreciate a public employee union sticking it to us.

The attempt to lock firefighter advantages into the city charter--especially when we're looking at a huge city deficit PLUS a pension time bomb that threatens to bankrupt the city--and at a time when many of us are either out of work or underemployed--well, that tears it.

The firefighter's union is treating Palo Alto's residents as adversarially as if we were some ruthless billionaire boss. So don't be surprised if we react in kind.

As for what firefighters should make--I'd like to see that tested in the open market. Do you really think we couldn't staff up fully with competent firefighters if we paid compensation in keeping with the private sector?


Posted by Bernie, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm

The knee-jerk, hysterical reaction by firefighters is unfortunately typical. The profession proudly bucks change, management, performance measures, cost reductions. All they have, and use, is emotion. Kudos to all in Palo Alto management that are trying to bring rational review and requirements to modernize a very expensive critical service.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Hey Taxpayer?

"excessive staffing" "over compensated"?? According to whom? how did you come to that conclusion? any supporting data? studies? statistics? to back up your claim?
Diana Diamond is not an expert on public safety issues, she spreads non facts and slanders people with false facts.
Taxpayer says reduce staffing by "30%" that equals 9 people on a daily basis or three Engine Companies ie three fire halls closed down. Which three Fire Halls do you propose to shut down?
Like several people have already pointed out, the Fire Dept is already smaller than it was 30 years ago, even though they respond to thousands of more emergencies every year. While most of the other City departments grew in size the Fire Dept got smaller and has made many reductions through the years and eliminated positions. It's much easier to make cutbacks or reduce your departments budget when your department grew in size and added positions, as almost every other PA department did. But now everyone is expected, regardless of need or true cost make reductions.
Taxpayer? I'm curious as to how you could "provide the same level of service and safety for 50% less"? Wow!! I think you might be missing your true calling in life, I'm sure some major city needs a mayor or city manager.
Many people on this board are stating opinions about what firefighters and paramedics do or don't do. The plain fact in most of the cases is, they have no idea! None.
Many people keep bad mouthing the Union or Unions in general. How many union members do you see living in mansions or driving Bently's?
People always seem to drag up an isolated example of some "union rule" etc to paint all unions as bad. How many kids went to college because their Union member parent had a decent working wage to afford sending them to college? Today more than ever executive pay is higher than ever. Companies have figured out they can dump their employees medical insurance and retirement programs onto the taxpayers, ie the average worker. But instead of looking out who is really gaining wealth these days many people fall into the "I don't get that" or "I lost my benefit so you should to" mentality. Works out perfect for the people at the top who are really making millions of dollars per year.
I really like the "outsource the work comments" outsource it to whom?
or turn it over to the private sector comments. The political machine is attempting to use these harse economic times to make major anti labor gains, period. It's got nothing to do with public safety in their eyes. They just want to take away staffing and make reductions to punish those who are perceived to have it so great at their expense.
It's funny almost, but when the boom times were happening and the economy was moving along at it's normal pace many people in Palo Alto could care less about public workers or just look down at them.
Public workers don't get stock options, bonus's, options, cars, food, etc. Many work holidays and long hours. But now the public union workers are being made out by the City of Palo Alto Council people and City Managers Office to be the bad guys.
The City Council past and present needs to look in the mirror for part of the blame! They are the ones who ran many companies out of the City with their half baked pet projects. Instead of fostering a varied economic tax base of goods and services that people need, they ran companies out of the City. Instead many residents of Palo Alto spend money in surrounding cities for goods and services you simply can't get in Palo Alto, period. So instead of the sales tax money staying in Palo Alto, supporting many services and programs, their tax dollars support those programs in Mtn View, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, etc.
I have seen elected officals shopping for food in Mtn View and Menlo Park, because they even realize people need the basics and Palo Alto has seen to it that you can't get them in PA. Try to find lumber, auto parts, gasoline, cheap food, sporting goods, etc in Palo Alto? can't, hard or very costly. The simple truth is people from Palo Alto need those things and routinly shop outside the City to find them, help those other Cities out financialy in the process.
Tax revinue and good jobs help Cities to provide services. Any high school kid can tell you a healthy financial economy is based on balance.
The petition being circulated is not about pay, benefits or medical insurance. It's about letting the people of Palo Alto decide if they do or do not want their neighborhood fire hall closed down or emergency units eliminated. The people would vote yes or no to proposed reductions in service, that directly affect their lives and property.
Trying to turn this into a pay or benefit issue is simply a tactic by the City Council and City Manager to divert attention away from their goal of reducing emergency response by firefighters and paramedics. Firefighter pay and benefits are pretty much the same in this area for all agencies. If demands for emergency services are going up year after year, along with increased response times, etc why is it the City is blindly (they killed the study on emergency response delivery) moving forward??
The City of Palo Alto studies everything! at a huge cost for many things that have nothing to do with public safety. But now all of a sudden they are racing ahead to reduce staffing and possibly close fire halls. Many Cities have four people on a unit, Palo Alto has three. Three is the minimum, so reducing staffing to a number below three will mean shutting down units and closing fire halls, period.
Two people can hardly care for a injured, dying or person suffering trauma let alone three. Try doing CPR, defibulating, administering IV medictions, etc with just two people? good luck. We are talking real life situations here, not Hollywood, movies or TV. Many Cities garbage trucks have more people on them then their emergency response units do!
Most informed people promote letting the people have a vote, voice and say in important matters that will directly impact their lives.
Signing the petition only puts the proposal on the regular ballot to THEN be voted on. The petition does not put any laws or limitations into place, it only puts the issue to the people to vote yes or no on.
If the City Manager is going to close the fire hall on my block and reduce my paramedic and firefighter service or eliminate it! I would hope that I would have a say in my life and property protection levels, not some City Council person who lives across town! I would hope most people would question the authority of elected officials instead of letting them make blind decisions on my safety.
Voting them out of office after fire halls are closed, property sold off and service levels reduced is after the fact and too late.
Look at the schools that closed? in most of the cases what happens to the property? it gets sold off. We are not talking about reducing bird watching classes here, it's about paramedic and fire protection.
The rest is just smoke and mirrors.


Posted by and, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2010 at 6:14 pm

"Signing the petition only puts the proposal on the regular ballot to THEN be voted on. The petition does not put any laws or limitations into place, it only puts the issue to the people to vote yes or no on."

It costs money to put it on the ballot.
If you know you are going to vote NO, you should not sign the petition.
If you know you are going to vote YES, you should sign the petition.

Pretty straight forward.


Posted by Kai, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Since most firefighters calls are non fire related, we should shut down a few stations and hire more paramedics. Paramedics are only paid less than 45k a year while firefighters easily pull in over 100k and get generous benefits.


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Jake (or is it Spitaleri).

Go ahead just keep ranting, and raving and spinning. but it is too late. You have completely turned the city of PA against the fire union. You were doing a pretty good job of fleecing the city but then you lost perspective and got too greedy. Now we are all on to you and watching carefully. The city management is going to fix the budget mess and the PAFD is going to come in to line.

I hope the backlash you have created results in two items not mentioned yet:
1.) a petition to limit union pension costs and increase the retirement age to 62 (fire staffers included)
2.) a vote by the PAFD union members to remove the union boss who caused PAFD staff to lose the respect of the PA citizens.


Posted by opus, a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2010 at 10:18 pm

ah, too many experts on how government should be run. maybe we should ask the city manager and mr. klein on why they beleive it is necessary to discredit any city employee performing public service and bring onboard an assistant manager who feels she has a grasp on local issues after being on the job for a month and adds discouraging comments regarding employees who have spent 20-30 years of their lives serving palo alto. unfortunately the end result will only be distrust in local government and public discord. what a pity. I can only hope you all get what you want and can enjoy the consequenses of your decisions.


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm

From Mercury News: New database shows $12.2 billion in Bay Area public employee salaries....

Quote: "Within city governments, fire department employees are often the highest paid."

Web Link


Posted by what the heck?, a resident of another community
on May 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Check It, a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

"which one is ripping off the public?"

Both.

The economy will support neither, so they're hanging on to as much as they can for as long as they can. It's in their short-term interest, but in the long-term you can expect that kind of greed to sour the public.

Over the next decade, you can expect benefits and salaries to be stripped to the bone, and no one will be worried about the human consequences to the public employees because of how they are behaving now.


Posted by dichotomy, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 25, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Interesting reaction to the economy:

Police:
"[A number of law enforcement unions] are going back to the bargaining table, even though their contracts are still in force. They are saying, 'Is there any way we can help?' "

Palo Alto firefighters:
"Filed papers for a November ballot measure that would block the city from laying off any firefighters"


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2010 at 12:17 pm

"A firefighter might work 3000 hours in a year and make 150K gross."

According to the city's 2009 Gross Salaries, there are 142 employees in the FIR department. Of those, 63 earn over $100K/year in REGULAR pay. Five make over $150K. Total overtime for the department was $2.095M.

Total pay to the fire department (wages, differential payments, bonuses, overtime, vacation or annual pay, sick leave pay, holiday pay as well as all other types of paid leave, mileage payment, end of employment leave payoff, vacation and annual leave cash outs.) in 2009 was $15,106,433 or about 15% of the total city salaries.

"A city Manager might work 500 hours a year and make 148K…"

Do you really think the city manager works only 10 hours/week? I'm not defending anyone's performance, but high-level managers typically work a lot more than 8 hours/day and do not get paid overtime.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm

PA Firefighters with petitions are targeting seniors going into Safeway, CVS, Walgreen's and other stores- using scare tactics about 'closing a fire house near you' if you need a 911. Scared seniors sign the petition. Minivans from retirement centers are fair game. They seem to carefully scan who may or may not live in Palo Alto and may or may not be legally eligible to vote. And remember that the Union boss is a high level official in Sunnyvale. Go figure. This outfit has to be reined in now one way or the other.


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community
on May 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Many seniors don't care, because of Prop13.

Outsourcing Firefighting is the only long term solution.

Pool tax revenues allocated for firefighting from surrounding cities. Contract firefighting to private, but non-profit companies.

Blue Cross is non-profit and private. Kaiser Permanente is non-profit and private. If they can do a reasonably good job to treat people and save lives, so can some company do for firefighting.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

>"I think being at work does not always mean one is working."

Fire department personnel work 56 hour shifts. Although they are on duty, they are not always working all of that time.

>"A firefighters might work 3000 hours…"

If fire personnel worked 56 hour shifts every week for 52 weeks, they would work close to 3,000 hours/year. But they don't. I think they work x days on and x days off.

>"Keene has how many people to do his work for him. His performance would get any normal working person fired."

I said I was not defending anyone's performance.

Are union members evaluated on performance? If so, how come every member gets the same rate of increase when increases are granted?


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on May 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

The sense of entitlement of the unionized PAFD is incredible! They actually had to work while getting paid, and sleep on their own time.

The May issue of US News & World Report has a whole section devoted to careers. The national average salary for a firefighter is $44,260. Somehow in Palo Alto we have been fleeced in to paying three times that. Yet during a budget crisis the PAFD union needs more. In the short run, the city should reduce all the PAFD salaries to the national average and then factor in a 20% Bay area premium. In the long run the entire operation should be outsourced.


Posted by Pro FD, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Everyone wants to complain about how much the Fire Department makes. That is until their house is on fire. Yes they make a lot of money, but if they get hurt (or worse) protecting everyone else (fire, medical service, whatever), then their families suffer the loss. Not the ones who were saved because of the quick action of the PAFD.

It always seems they are getting over on everybody until they are needed. They don't pick and choose who they help. Until those complaining step up and offer such a selfless service to total strangers at the expense of their own families, why don't you try a different approach and support those who risk it all for you.

It is surprising how indifferent the community is. I saw someone mentioned a volunteer service. If that were the case, tack on another 15 minutes to get in contact with the volunteers, have them drive to the station to gear up, and then get moving towards the scene.

God Bless the Palo Alto Fire Department. If you feel different, then shame on you for being so ungrateful.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 25, 2010 at 4:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Pro FD says "They (PAFD staff) don't pick and choose who they help". Sure, and when the power is out and the kids are having a difficult time crossing at Newell and Embarcadero, the union PAFD staff can't walk over and help. Why ... not interested in helping the kids, or not allowed by union rules. Would that be a new job definition and require additional compensation?

fireman says this blog "should be banned" because he disagrees with the opinion of the citizens. So if you can't deal with reality and facts, it is time to "ban" the discussion. Sounds like a union tactic but it isn't going to work here.

Look in the mirror guys. You are way overpaid and underworked. Instead of continuing to selfishly defend the greed, start doing something positive. Begin by having the courage to demand that the union boss be fired. Then start digging yourself out of the mess you have created.

It is probably too late. I think outsourcing to a non-profit is the solution


Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on May 25, 2010 at 5:10 pm

It's nonsensical to have to "negotiate" with employees over how many of them are needed. Tear up the contracts, make the cuts, and deal with it. These contracts are, primarily, what almost destroyed the Big #.


Posted by Tom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 25, 2010 at 10:55 pm

To Dan,

"tear up contracts" Yeah right. Why do you think they call them contracts??
That would really work in the REAL world. Deal with it!


Posted by Steve C., a resident of Menlo Park
on May 25, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Privatize the fire protection services.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 8:02 am

Firefighters work 56 hours per week, just under 3,000 hours per year. That number does not include hours such as MANDATORY overtime for programs dictated by the CITY MANAGER and CITY COUNCIL! The CITY MANAGER and CITY COUNCIL have been staffing PAFD units with overtime every day of the year, for years! NOT THE FIREFIGHTERS CHOICE OR MANDATE. They simply take and follow those orders.
Unless you work in a factory on the line, nobody is working non-stop their entire shift!
How many people reading this work at any hour of the day or night, holidays, kids birthdays, weekends, etc? under many types of weather conditions, spit on, exposed to blood, urine, fecal matter, disease?
How many people have to see major trauma, dead bodies, severed limbs, listen to people scream over dead loved ones/kids? exposed to smoke, fumes, chemicals, etc. Work for 24-80 straight with little or no sleep/rest?
Too many people posting here have no idea what it is like to work long shifts under every condition possible, seeing, smelling, hearing the loss of life and human suffering.
Unless you know 100% for sure what anybody does or does not do at their chosen profession maybe you should not be jumping to conclusions and making statements that are not factual.



Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

To Jake:
"Too many people posting here have no idea what it is like to work long shifts under every condition possible, seeing, smelling, hearing the loss of life and human suffering."

Yes, we do. Are were/are NURSES. TELL THAT TO STANFORD!!!!

And to James Hoosac. What has Prop 13 and seniors have to do with this? Get off your
'pity-pot'.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

Kate,

My opinions and comments were not directed at nurses or yourself. It was directed at the many people who post and profess comments that are not factual or disrespectful towards fire fighters and paramedics that work for the PAFD. The vast majority are ignorant to the true facts or repeat complete false information that is printed by people such as Diana Diamond from the Daily Post.
I have a huge respect for Nurse's and the demanding profession they have chosen. Many people also have no idea how hard nurses work and the critcal job they perform in almost every single aspect of the health care field.
Thank you for your work as a nurse and I hope the issues with Stanford are resolved to some level of mutual agreement with managment.


Posted by DLW, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm

So many times when local and state government is faced with economic crises, the city officials will threaten cuts in public safety in order to raise taxes or fees out of public fear.

I think the ballot measure of putting reduction public safety into the hands of the voters is a great idea!

After all, isn't 'Public Safety' the first concern of the entire community?

You can have the very best parks, libraries, senior services, recreation, after school programs, cleanest streets…but, if it's not safe to use them, why have them? Look at some of the neighboring communities.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Kate - not sure why you were rude to James when he mentioned Prop 13. The revenue necessary to pay public employees is raised via taxes. Property taxes are a large part of the revenue source. If you have inflation, you would expect an increase it public employee pay. But due to Prop 13, there is no corresponding increase in tax revenue . So how do you balance the budget? Seems like James' point is valid. Why do you think that addressing that issue is a "pity pot"? It is relevant here because the PAFD union wants to continue to increase their salaries and benefits, despite the lack of funds.

Jake - You seem to know a lot about the PAFD union issues and you want to deal in "facts". The nationwide average salary for firefighters is less than $45K (US News & World Report, May 2010). That is a fact. Now here is an opinion. PAFD salaries should be based on the nationwide average. If Palo Alto took that simple step we would eliminate the entire city budget problem.

Here is another opinion. PAFD pads the staffing, payroll and overtime by requiring an engine and a paramedic to every emergency. Just send the paramedics who almost always are able to take care of the situation. Call for the second unit in the few instances it is needed. My opinion is that this would eliminate 30% of the PAFD payroll and overhead.

You state that PAFD employees work 56 hour weeks. They get paid 56 hours a week but work much less. Would be curious how many hours (in an average week) are actually spent working (not sleeping, eating, shopping, exercising, reading).

It is really too bad that the PAFD staffers allowed the union boss to put them in this situation. PAFD used to be a good career. Good pay, great hours, rewarding work. Now the citizens don't trust the PAFD and realize they can't afford to have a local fire dept. We'll need a few regional non profits to compete for the contracts and pay market wages. The citizens lose in that we won't have a local fire dept we can depend on and feel proud of. But at least we wil be able to afford the service and know that the employees value their careers and won't be trying to put self serving, expensive, misleading propostions on the ballot.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm

"Taxpayer"

First, it is not the PAFD or fire fighters union that require a fire engine with a paramedic on it and an ambulance as well to respond. Where you got your information is beyond me, but it sounds exactly like the story that Diana Diamond printed shortly back saying the exact thing. It's simply not true that the PAFD or the fire fighters union require sending both. It's a Santa Clara County requirement and pretty much how it is done throughout the Country.
The fact is the fire engine will almost always get there sooner and start medical aid many minuets before an ambulance can arrive, if an ambulance is available. Many times the ambulance is delayed because they are on another call, at the hospital already or responding from some other part of the County. The paramedic on the Engine is providing the same level of care the ambulance is prior to the ambulance arriving.
As per salaries on average for the entire US? whats your point? The fact is the SF Bay Area is one of the most costly areas to live in. Housing costs here are way above the National average,gasoline,etc. Are you proposing just fire fighters and paramedics get paid only the National average? or should every worker who's pay includes public funding or every worker period get the National average?
In some areas of the Country $45,000 a year is enough to provide a very good standard of living when you factor in housing cost or rent.
In an area where you can buy a house for $100,000 for example $45,000 a year would be a pretty good salary on the surface.
As for market wages? the PAFD is not paid above the market wage for the area, in fact it's below average for the area.
The fact is the CITY MANAGER and CITY COUNCIL instead of hiring people to staff units properly for Units that are needed everyday,
have instead mandated they be staffed with fire fighters and paramedics being paid overtime. Often those people have no say in the matter! they are ordered to continue working. Holidays, family events, prior plans or obligations are then missed. The CITY COUNCIL and CITY MANAGER use their own mandated programs against the PAFD employess in a smear and slander ploy. The CITY COUNCIL and CITY MANAGER mandated the Units be put into service because of increased emergency calls and try to keep up with 911 calls, they then use the "overtime costs" as tool to cloud the issue of protecting the public. Instead of looking at service provided, is it proper, are delays happening, how to handle increased call demands, growing population etc, The CITY MANAGER and CITY COUNCIL killed yet another study of the types, areas, resources, impacts the increased number of calls per year is having on the PAFD.
Instead they cloud any study into whats really happening or not happening by painting the fire fighters and paramedics of the PAFD as self serving. The powers at be also don't tell you the PAFD is smaller and has gotten smaller through the years, regardless of the fact they are responding to thousands of more calls per year. When most other City Departments, including the City Managers Office and the City Council grew in size and added people! The PAFD was already reduced and has given up position after position, at a time when others were adding employees and managers. Making cuts is much easier when you have added employees and have room to make reductions. Also we are talking about the protection of lives and property. If the PAFD had grown to the extent of other City Departments had then there would probably be potential cuts they could make. I have not heard about the CITY COUNCIL proposing they reduce their number of members? they have more members now that increase the cost to the budget.
As for 24 hour shifts and your opinion on how it contains non working time, that is your opinion. If it was cheaper to have three eight hour shifts covering each day or two twelve hour shifts to save money it would have been done long ago! Having 24 hour shifts saves money! if they moved to some other form of covering a 24 hour day the City would need to hire more employees to cover off duty days? or are you proposing the fire fighters and paramedics work seven days a week? They would need to hire additional people to cover the employees who had a shift off.
If every employee regardless of the work public or private was not paid for the time they were not actualy "working" I'm sure the vast majority of workers would be paid far less. I'm sure nobody reading this has ever taken a bathroom break, coffee break, lunch break, sent a private email, taken a personal phone call, spoken with a co worker about a non work related issue, etc.
The bottom line is it does not matter what they are doing or if they have eaten or not, the PAFD responds to emergencies. Does not matter if they are on lunch break, coffee break, etc. They are at work, when you go home at the end of the day or off on holidays, kids game, family event, etc. They are working.
Instead of repeating information that is simply not true or basing your opinion on information that is not true, ask why those at the top for the City Of Palo Alto have thwarted every study into emergency response, not looked at increased emergency responses but instead chosen to cloud the issue by using overtime mandated by the City Council and City Manager against the fire fighters?
Your response and opinions are exactly the reason, people like Diana Diamond make statements and write stories that are not the truth. Many people take what she writes and fact and also what some City Council person says as the god given truth, more times that not its not true in this case. By spreading non truths and attempting to paint the members of the PAFD as self serving, those at the top are using the time proven method for gaining public support for a political purpose.
Demonize a group of people or painting them as
deserving what they get makes it much easier to justify imposing your agenda on them. History has proven that that tactic works.


Posted by Come On Sense, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

If we could just get people to schedule their emergencies!

Reducing staffing to only those scheduled emergencies time would SAVE MILLIONS $$$$$!!!!. Let's start by…nobody have an emergency Saturday, Sunday or Memorial Day.

$ave-$ave-$ave


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Jake,

So interesting how you talk about "demonizing" people but you spend your time slamming the city council (who receive no salary), the city manager (who is doing a great job), and Diana Daimond (who has the courage to stand up and publish the facts). But if some one objects to the tactics of the PAFD union they are "demonizing". In regards to Diana you are never specific or cite any source to show she has not published the "truth". You would if you could but you can't. So you think readers will are going to accept what you post?

You never did answer my question about how many hours on average (in a 56 hour shift) a PAFD staffer would work. I would love to see that number published.

Love the way you think that the national average wage for a firefighter is not relevant. I think most folks would be willing to pay for a bay area cost of living premium. I think some high tech companies bump up their bay area employees salaries 12-15% above the national average. So mark up $45K by 15% and you get $52K. That is reasonable. Another metric would be to compare what local EMT's and ambulance drivers (non union) are making. Around $50K? The next step would be to advertise for PAFD openings and offer $50K. If you get qualified candidates (San Diego pays less than $40K) you know what you should be paying PAFD staff.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Come on Sense,

That is a great idea ro try to schedule all the emergencies together. Not sure it would work. I have another idea. We could just double the salaries and staff at the good old union PAFD. Then we would be sure to always have lots of happy, overpaid, underworked PAFD'ers for every emergency, and any occasion. Don't worry about taxes. The city has a huge surplus, the state is looking for ways to spend more, and the feds are writing refund checks to every one with a Social Security #.

Spend, Spend, Spend!!!


Posted by Come On Sense, a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Taxpayer,

I too, am a taxpayer and hate government waste. But, you 'can't cut your nose off to spite your face'. When I need them, I want my firefighters and police to be there ASAP, when I call 911.

As far as being 'under-worked'…than God! I hope I never use their services!

As far as I'm concerned government only has three jobs:
1) Public Safety
2) Infrastructure (roads, water, sewage…)
3) Education

Those are the only three things that benefit the entire population…the rest is 'nice to haves' or total waste!


Posted by Too Much Traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm

"slamming the city council (who receive no salary),"

The city council does receive a salary:
Web Link
Plus, I believe they receive benefits as well.
Either way, they are grossly overpaid


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on May 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Hey Come on Sense, a lot of folks would agree with you about limiting the size of government. I think there are other essential functions like libraries, parks, tax collectors etc. Not trying to be critical of what you said. I agree that government has become way too big! Most folks were OK with PAFD when salaries were reasonable. I would consider hiring more and keeping conditions the same if we paid a salary that was in line with demand (ie national average or what similar jobs like EMT's are paid). I just hate wasting $'s and the arrogance of the union has totally turned a lot of people off. It would be foolish of the city to continue to keep that expensive and selfish organization in place. We are always going to be at risk of another Spitaleri coming in and threatening strikes etc. The petition and selfishness (not helping at all during the budget crunch) told me all I needed to know. Now that Pandora's box is open (thank you Spitaleri!, I can see there are better alternatives. The idea of competing regional services by well managed non profits seems like a no brainer.


Posted by Wha?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Firefighers, why didn't you turn down your raises when the SEIU group took a hit and the police declined theres? Not high on the list of good will gestures.

You deserve respect for your work and courage. But your group has alienated not just those stingy with a buck, but other city employees who always supported you.

Just a thought.


Posted by Lee Thé, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

After reading all the comments, I draw the following conclusions, speaking as a centrist who doesn't have an axe to grind for either a left- or right-wing ideology:

1. I greatly appreciate Diana Diamond's efforts as the city's #1 gadfly. That said, I have observed her to be wildly inaccurate in some areas I know about, such as overpopulation issues. So I'm pretty sure her work isn't fact-checked, nor does she appear to do so herself.

Therefore her comments about fire department activities and wages may or may not be true. But until another local gadfly shows up who does better fact-checking, she's the best we've got. I've simply concluded that I always need corroboration of what she says elsewhere--and that she frequently is right.

2. Outside the civil service, wages are based on demand and not much else, and even within the civil service, if someone can make a lot more in the private sector they'll often go there.

The fundamental social contract with public sector employees has been to trade less compensation for more security. Only now many public sector employees get more of both.

USA Today did an analysis of claims and counterclaims in this area recently, and concluded that the imbalance wasn't as high overall as many say it is in the right wing blogosphere, but that on average public sector employees did receive more total compensation--I think the figure was around 20% more overall.

3. We're in the depths of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, and employment is a trailing indicator of recessions. This means that even here in Palo Alto, an appreciable number of firefighters' bosses (i.e. Palo Alto taxpayers) are themselves unemployed or underemployed.

4. The incidence of fires has plummeted in recent years, due to better home construction standards, less cigarette smoking, and better fire detection technology. I've been following Palo Alto news for 27 years and lately the number of fires I read about is small. Not nonexistent, but small. When is the last time we didn't have enough firefighting capability to meet an emergency?

That said, the biggest emergency will probably come when the Hayward fault goes--which the USGS says is already overdue for a Loma Prieta-scale earthquake, only three times closer (did you see what the Loma Prieta quake did to downtown Santa Cruz?). When that hits, we'll pay a heavy price if we've cut back too much on the fire department.

5. No one questions that firefighter work is like airliner pilot work--many hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of terror.

But we can't give infinite pay to people who do intermittently dangerous or unpleasant work.

And since we the firefighters' employers aren't doing so well ourselves (my household had a 20% pay cut this year--how many firefighters can say that?), we taxpayers expect everyone who works for us to share our pain. City employees certainly shared the good times.

6. The firefighters' union has been the most intransigent of city employee unions about acknowledging the near-Depression we're in, the fact that their bosses are working stiffs like themselves, and the fact that their union has broken the social contract of accepting less compensation for more security.

7. Palo Alto has always been a Democratic town, and very pro-union. it takes a lot to tick us off against a union, but the firefighters' union has succeeded at this difficult task. Congratulations are not in order.

8. We're contractually required to honor the current contracts. We can't break them unless the city goes bankrupt, as Vallejo did--and we won't be able to break those contracts even then if currently tabled state legislation gets un-tabled, requiring even bankrupt cities to honor union contracts.

9. So, taking all this into account, I conclude that the union's hardball tactics mandate a hardball response from the city.

I don't know enough to say whether we should restructure our operation to merge it with those of other cities, or privatize it, or cut the number of stations, or something else.

I do know that the initiative the firefighter's union is probably getting on the ballot will reap a bitter harvest for the union in the long run, and that new hires should expect to get market-determined wages, not the sweet deal current union members enjoy.

Many Palo Altans--even including other city union members--feel betrayed by the firefighters. And as Iago said to Othello, what is your good name worth? It takes a lifetime to achieve, and a second to lose.

A second.




Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on May 29, 2010 at 12:40 am

Just an FYI "taxpayer",

The City Council does receive a salary, they also receive medical benefits and are can sometimes receive retirements benefits as well.
They don't like to talk about or bring attention to the fact they get pay and benefits.

Diana Diamond prints no supporting data, no links to the facts or names her sources. It's all available to the public and the press.
Her last fishing tale stated firefighters were receiving workers comp pay for off duty injuries such as ski accidents, etc. Not true, illegal and insurance fraud. If it was even remotely true as she professes it would be front page news in a real newspaper. The names of the criminals would be in the paper when they were facing charges.
If she is such a great sluth reporter as you state, why is she not getting awards for her reporting supposedly uncovering fraud and a City out of control? Her employer has been given the facts, supporting data time after time. It's their paper, they print what they want to. If a tenth of what she said was true 60 Mins would have been in town years agao. I would think somebody supposedly uncovering such would be working for a larger, mainstream big city news paper. Instead of a free local paper.
Last time I checked, the person accusing somebody of a wrong or a crime should be having supporting data or evidence? how do I provide links or facts for something Diana said happens or happens when it never did? Example workers comp fraud claim? for a person who is not receiving workers comp. Or her statement "most have second careers",
another statement that is completely false. I have no list of second jobs people do not have.
As for the work week? 56 hours per week is just that. Some weeks is 72 hours, it averages out to 56 hours per week. That number does not include overtime, many of that is MANDATORY. You already worked 56 hours? too bad because you can't go home.
Your asking me for what? an accounting of what every single employee does every hour? It depends on the person, job title, skills, training, education, etc. Every single person does not do the same exact job.
Your proof her tactic works, your taking her writings as fact. As I said, if half of what she said was true most of the managment at City Hall and the City Manager would have been fired after the 60 Mins episode.
I dont expect the readers here to accept what I write as fact. I also would hope most people realize non facts and non truths are printed every single day. If a retraction is ever published at all they are very brief and most often in the back of the newspaper or in the letters section of a magazine. Papers are protected for the most part, they print tall tales all the time. Don't think so? look at the checkout stand. Ask anyone who gives interviews or has been part of a report, people get mis quoted or wrongly quoted all the time.
As for paying firefighters what EMT's make? it's not even the same job, same required training, education, workload, risk, skills, etc.
Your trying to compare two different jobs. Yes some fire fighters are also EMT's but that is PART of their job. They do many other tasks as well. Talk to some EMT's, many are young in college living at home still, often they are attending college pusuing their chosen career.
Police direct traffic and people sometimes, are we only to pay them like crossing guards?
Too many people it seems are beyond asking questions, or trying to gain an understanding of certain jobs. Instead they repeat non factual information, jump to conclusions, ie they don't work that often, over staffed, comparing pay for jobs that are different in several key ways to profess why they should get the same pay.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Jake, you post a lot of words with out saying very much. Here is a summary rebuttal to all your typing:
1.) Diana Diamond may not be 100% correct on every fact, but I'm convinced she is accurate and any errors are minor and unintended. Like the other union folks you try to twist and distort what she says. If she had major errors the other papers would be all over it and the union would file a lawsuit.
2.) You don't want to describe what the average FF does for the 56 hours they are paid because (usually) very little of the time is spent working. Most of the 56 hours is spent sleeping, eating, shopping etc.
3.) The relevant benchmark for what PA FF's should get paid is the national average for a FF ($45K as published in the May UB News & World Report), with an adjustment for bay area clost of living.

The citizens are overpaying for the PAFD by a factor of 2-3. it is embarrassing and hopefully is going to change soon.


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