City employees aren't guaranteed work for life! Diana Diamond's Blog, posted by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Mar 22, 2007 at 12:10 pm Diana Diamond is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"Guaranteed work for life." That sign could be hung on the front doors of Palo Alto's City Hall, courtesy of some of our council members.
Yes, there seems to be a mind-set of late that somehow the role of our council is to guarantee full lifetime employment for anyone working for the city.
Last week at the council's study session on the budget, several council members said they simply did not want to explore contracting out more of the city's park maintenance.
Contracting out would save the city $400,000 -- money that could be used to defray a $3 billion deficit or spent on needed road repairs. But Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell said she was absolutely opposed to the idea; Councilman Jack Morton said he was too because he wants the fields to look good. They were joined by council members Judy Kleinberg, Larry Klein and John Barton, who all expressed opposition to outsourcing park maintenance.
Seated in the council chambers were purple T-shirted SEIU (Service Employees International Union) members who objected to the outsourcing, saying they could do a better job than outside gardeners. Their presence apparently caused the council to backpedal, even though the reason for the meeting was to come up with budget cuts.
Ironically, half the park maintenance work is already contracted out, so the city knows it works. An inspection by City Auditor Sharon Erickson showed there was "no discernable difference. The quality was the same."
But the union is powerful in town, and it is flexing its muscle and even seeking resident support. Last weekend some residents found a flier in their mailbox from the union saying, "Palo Alto's clean and safe parks could be endangered by budget cuts. ... This proposal will create more problems for residents than it will solve, including serious safety issues and a decline in the quality of park maintenance."
Really? What kind of problems when we already know outsourcing works?
While no actual layoffs were on the table, the $400,000 translates into four full-time employees out of a work force of more than 1,100.
This no-outsourcing argument came up a couple of weeks ago when the council was discussing turning over the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo to a nonprofit organization. Some council members said they feared that such a turnover might result in a loss of 18 or so city jobs. Cordell, in fact, urged that any public-private partnership contain language that would "highlight the importance of keeping city employees rather than outsourcing or hiring new, cheaper staff."
I think we are developing a city policy that once someone starts working for the city, his or her job must be protected. In other words, city employees must never be laid off.
Is this what we want? Is this reality?
The number of city employees has been at the 1,100 level for a couple of years, despite budget deficits.
And we have more employees than most other cities, even those with double the number residents. Overall, there has been about a 1 percent drop the past year in Palo Alto in the total number of employees.
A recent research report published in The Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal (for whom I work in my day job) listed the employees per city.
City Population # of city employees State ranking
Palo Alto 58,598 1,079 13
Santa Clara 102,361 889 15
Fremont 210,445 884 16
Sunnyvale 131,760 881 17
Santa Cruz 54,593 731 20
San Mateo 92,482 583 22
Mountain View 70,708 578 23
Salinas 153,386 577 24
Redwood City 75,402 558 25
The numbers speak for themselves. Palo Alto has twice the number of employees as Redwood City, and two-thirds of the population. In fairness, Palo Alto does have its own Utilities Department, which counts for about 220 employees, although not all do exclusively utilities work.
Subtracting utilities workers would bring Palo Alto's total to 859, but our population is still much lower than other cities with approximately the same number of employees.
As a responsible employer, it's nice for the council to take care of employees -- but what if we don't need their services anymore? Or what if we find that we can deliver the same quality of service for less money? That's the issue here in terms of contracting out park maintenance.
What's more, with the skyrocketing cost of health and retirement benefits for city employees, Palo Alto has to become more efficient and streamlined in providing services, the same as any other employer. Our city simply cannot afford to pay out increasing wages and benefits to city workers and retain full employment.
We already know the city doesn't have enough money for street repairs, libraries and a new police station.
To maintain an attitude that all city employees are automatically entitled to keep their jobs is inappropriate. Such comments from council members also interfere with the city's ability to negotiate union contracts.
It is not our council's responsibility to make sure the city staff has lifetime employment and benefits. It is the council's responsibility to be sure our city is run in a fiscally responsible way and that our tax dollars are being spent properly.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 2:50 pm
Where are the guarantees for lifetime employment? Is that written down somewhere, or is this just another straw man innuendo that Diana created in order to raise ire and doubt regarding the way our city operates?
There are differences of opinion among residents and policy makers regarding the way our revenues are budgeted, and so on. That said, Diana Diamond inevitably manages to merely scratch the surface of municipal constraint problem by creating another straw men - this time it's "City employees aren't guaranteed work for life!". Again, who said they were? Seems like Diana is the only one - Diana and a few rabid "cut the budget" handwavers who march to Diana's drumbeat. It's a gathering of about 100 Palo Altans, with Diana leading the parade.
It has to be said: (Diana's "solutions" for improved governance - cut, outsource, shrink, lean out, etc. etc. are mostly defeatest - as are the residents who who agree with her in the extreme. The latter are in the VAST minority. Diana's and their arguments are *tired*. Who needs to hear the same siren song over and over and over again?
Sadly, in a time when our city needs most to consider ways to repair aging infrastructure, and at the same time keep an excellent service array on an even keel, we have Diana and her tiny phalanx crying like Chicken Little - - "the sky is falling!", they exclaim, as they run around with their spreadsheets trying to preach to the 10 Palo Altans who will listen, that we need to "cut the budget".
Mind you, what we *never* hear from Diana and her group is "what can we do to help Palo Alto grow?", or "what can we do to make our current array of services even *better*?", or I'm proud of the level of oservice delivery we have, and the people who deliver those services". Nope, not a word or phrase, just a droning whine that - if one listens long enough - is a relief to tune out, because it's a "downer" message, full of blame, accusation, finger-pointing, and other negative innuendo that most Palo Atans look askance at.
If we do have long-term employees that are doing the job, why not keep them around? What is the *tangible* advantage of employing people who are dedicated, loyal, and proud of their work? Or, would Diana prefer that we simply fire good people and replace them, en masse, with mercenary outsourcing firms?
It's true that we have outsourced some parks maintenance, and it seems to be working. Has Diana asked what other reasons - other than her latest invented concpiracy (this time between the unions and City Council) - might exist to maintain those employees? Nope. INstead, she attacks the City Council and the people who make our city run.
In all - and who knows, maybe it's because Diana is writing this column for free - the keen insights that Diana once brought (even those I disagreed with) seem to be missing from her latest missives. I see a kind of "cheap shot" journalism eveolving from her pen - a journalism that more and more resembles the minority fringe extreme in our city, many of whom have the time to stand up in front of Council during oral arguments, week after week, railing about this and that - as our city continues to run, and our citizens lead their lives - the latter mostly happy with the way things are.
The latter are looking for a better community, a community that's led by people with positive ideas, who offer messages of hope, who understand more than simplistic solutions (like "cut" and "outsource"), who want better schools, police protection, parks and libraries.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 7:57 pm
Regarding council members and the union, some excerpts from news articles:
(1) February 17 or 18, the PA Daily reported that some council members said, "Retaining city staff must be a top priority when forging public-private partnerships." Councilwoman Cordell is credited with leading the effort "to insert language into the new public-private partnership guidelines under development that would highlight the importance of keeping city employees rather than outsourcing or hiring new, cheaper staff."
In response, several council members -- including John Barton, LaDoris Cordell, Peter Drekmeier, Judy Kleinberg and Jack Morton -- expressed their outright opposition or concerns about park maintenance outsourcing.
City approves labor contract that raises salaries, pensions
Vice Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and Councilwoman Dena Mossar, said the agreement was just too generous in tough budgetary times. They voted no, but the contract passed with a 5-2 vote with Mayor Judy Kleinberg and Councilman Bern Beecham absent.
"We're granting the kind of benefits to our employees that very few, if any, people can expect in the marketplace," Mossar said, noting that the ample benefits made sense in the lush dot-com boom days.
Overall, the contract will swell city spending by $5.9 million over the 38-month deal, raising the annual costs of benefits and salaries to the SEIU employees -- which exclude managers and public safety officers -- from $50.2 million in 2006 to $56.1 million in 2009.
To former Mayor Dick Rosenbaum, the agreement is suicidal for the city.
Kishimoto cautioned, "We need to creatively rethink the way we deliver services or we're just not going to have the money to invest in infrastructure."
Posted by Veritas, a resident of another community, on Mar 22, 2007 at 8:54 pm
Diana is correct. Palo Alto's population includes many business managers in the technology sector who outsource labor to India and insource day labor for their own households from Mexico day in and day out. These cost-conscious business executives prove by example in their own business and personal lives that many of City of Palo Alto jobs can be done remotely from Bangalore or performed by folks who have just arrived from south of the border. If all City jobs involving use of a computer were outsourced and all laboring jobs were insourced, Palo Alto would save millions of dollars each year!
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 11:36 pm
What is the social and fiscal cost of outsourcing? What does it cost our society - in direct and indirect costs - when we outsource? What kind of disorientation, on a personal level, is caused when soneone loses a job to outsourced labor?
What happens when outsourcing contracts result in shoddy work? How does a municipality recover from that?
In this case, especially, there is a kind of mean-spiritedness that rears it's ugly head. Look at the attacks on municipal employees - from the blog title, to some of the other comments.
There's mostly disrespect, insult, and innuendo. Are these the people we want to set the demeanor for the way we manage our city?
Why do some focus only on cost, instead of opportunity? Where are the ideas that will expand revenue? Where is there a sense that we can manage healthy growth in Palo Alto, develop powerful new revenue streams, and thrive?
We need to look beyond the grudging stinginess of a few, and become the community we're capable of being.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 11:05 am
Veritas, it's time people woke up to the anti-employee agenda of some in town. Sure our hardworking employees are a covenient scapegoat for the hidden agenda of the naysayers, but some things are beyond the pale of debate.
There is a lot to so-called outsourcing that is not stated by those who think we can balance the city budget on the backs of our long serrving loyal employees, and use them as foiles in their negative agenda.
We hear a lot about our so-called *unsustainable* pensions for example. But they don't tell us so much about the fact that the city actually put aside money to fund these pensions in the past year, and yet they STILL are at risk (not funded) for $25 million. This leaves our employees without the security of retirement they were *PROMISED*. And yet we don't hear much talk about a bond to fund the retirement, do we?
Also we don't hear about the fact that the employees actually *GAVE BACK* benefits in the contract that Diana and her followers revile as something "bad" for the city when it really is enlightened. There were only 3% raises in the contract, when the employees deserved on any realistic scale, *MUCH* more, but they sacrificed because of the budget and because they *CARE* about the city enough to sacrifice. Could we say the same about outsourced labor? I think the answer is obvious.
Diana talks about what our workers *COST*. Does she talk about *BENEFIT*? Nope not a word about how our workers protect our chlidren, help our seniors and clean our parks. What would outsourced labor do in these cases? Again, the answer is obvious.
pat, who is one of Diana's [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] followers follows the similar refrain. pat talks about our benefits and compares them to the private sector as if our employees don't desreve what they earn for the great jobs they do and the dedication many of them have shown over *MANY* years. What would pat do to to reward our employees loyalty? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Do pat and DIana tell us what outsourced labor would really be like? Do they tell us that any company might hire workers who are paid subsistence wages *WITHOUT PENSIONS AND HEALTHCARE*? Nope.
Do they tell us what kind of effort we can expect from exploited laborers? Nope.
But the residents won't be listening to them once the facts are known. THe blame game has gone on for too long now.
Residents are looking for a *POSITIVE* agenda that expands revenue and opportunity, not one that has a *NEGATIVE* view that does not recoginze Palo ALto's greatness. Residents KNOW why we have a great city, and they will not throw it away on cuts, downsizing and leaning out the workforce.
When the VAST minority needs someone to bully as a straw man in vain attempt to prove their misleading innuendo driven drivel, then they naturally choose the weakest most vulnerable members of our community who they hope will not fight back, our hard-working municipal employees.
They want bear no mind to the human cost to those callously replaced by non=union labor without pensions. They know most city workers cannot vote because they accept wages much less than needed to live in our city so that they can clean our streets, protect our chlidren and make this nice for the coddled residents.
Diana Diamond and her band of [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] fanatical followers know they won't get rebuttals from our hard working employees when they promote their unfair attacks in order to further their negative agenda. So they pounce [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] on the very people who make this city *WORK*. Is this what our city wants? Nope, it isn't.
The *FACTS* beyond the innuendo are coming out. Let's become all we can be in this city!
Posted by ITS OUR MONEY, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 11:40 am
"There were only 3% raises in the contract, when the employees deserved on any realistic scale, *MUCH* more, but they sacrificed because of the budget and because they *CARE* about the city enough to sacrifice."
What are the criteria you use that the city employees deserved MUCH more. I bet a lot of folks in the private sector probably feel the same way, but 3% seems pretty generous to me. A 3% raise is not a sacrifice, especially with lucrative pension benefits. As long as folks are unwilling to make the hard decisions, city will suffer from death from a a thousand little cuts. Despite all of the advanced degrees running around this town or perhaps because of these degrees, I haven't seen strong leadership in this town since I moved 5 years ago. To allow a group of union employees to intimidate the council the way they did is disgraceful (kind of like the playground bully extorting lunch money). Someone show some spine!
Posted by Leave your echo chamber, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 11:54 am
Veritas and Mike,
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] This is not an anti-employee agenda it is a fiscally responsible agenda. We have a free and open economy and labor market. Wage and labor laws prevent large scale exploitation of workers. If someone can complete a task as effectively at lower cost it should be considered and implemented. To do otherwise is a breach of fiduciary responsibility by city government. Any council member who ran their own business would understand this concept, because in the private sector, competition has a way of forcing companies to grow more efficient. Unfortunately, government doesn't have a similar set of forces so as taxpayers frankly it is our job to watch over the profligate council.
Growing revenue is nice (I didn't see any suggestions) but taking cost off the table is missing half of the equation.
"What would outsourced labor do in these cases? Again, the answer is obvious." Interesting point since city government and utilities management didn't seem to miss dozens of their employees moonlighting during regular hours. The city would actually have leverage over their outsourced labor (unlike city employees) since they could replace them if they didn't meet specifications.
"What would pat do to to reward our employees loyalty? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]"
Again, what is the answer? If I was a top performing city employee I would want to know that the city was taking responsible fiscal actions to ensure my long-term employment. Any organization, public, private or non-profit has deadwood (some would argue that government bureaucracies tend to have such wood in greater supply). Top employees can expect steady employment, wage increases and a lucrative pension. This should not be the case for all employees.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 12:38 pm
It's our money, Your sig says it all. It's OUR money - it's the money of ALL the residents, the MAJORITY of residents. You try to make it sound as if you represent the polis. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Palo Altans are mostly HAPPY with the way our city is run, or haven't you noticed? Why doesn't Diana mention this - a *verified* finding in our audit - as she writes her opinion columns (mostly flamebait, that admittedly, I and other should mostly ignore, but need to begin to face squarely head on, because some few are still listening to what is essentially diminished insight. We need to show the innuendo for what it is, and start to develop more hopeful, forward-looking voices and spokepersons in our city).
So, using your own logic (such as it is), if people are mostly happy, then the city employees must be doing their job - right? That's a simple deduction that seems to escape you. [Of course, unless you want to challenege the "data" in the audit, or the way the auditor designed the audit, or some other such "prove it" nonsense that we see coming from the usual suspects.]
Palo Also *does* have problems; that's a fact. It's also highly probable that Palo Alto *will* solve those problems, but we will not solve them on the backs of hard working employees, or by stripping away the heritage of a deep array of public services that Palo Altans have come to expect, AND have been MORE THAN WILLING to pay for. We're going to grow our city and become better,, with even MORE services. How's that?
If anyone is shouting to oneself in an echo chamber, it's the *teeny* minority here that early on in this century caught Palo Altans by surprise with distorted facts and lies just before we went to the polls to help our city pay for what we, the MAJORITY wants. We were caught off guard then, no more.
btw, Joe Simitian and others are working to change the structural flaw in revenue bond voting - to bring it from the currrent 2/3, to 60% of the vote (maybe less). there is a good chance that that will happen one day. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
So,again, if the audit says that Palo Altans are mostly happy with the way Palo Alto is run, why are we even thinking about letting people go? To use your private sector models - good performance is rewarded with a raise, right? Deny that at peril to your argument.
Posted by Resident, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 2:17 pm
Mike, the "vast majority" you continually refer to exists only in your own mind. Your viewpoint simply this -- since Palo Alto is a wealthier-than-average community, it should act as a charity for city workers. Most Palo Altans would prefer to choose which charities they donate to, and in what amounts, rather than having the city make charitable donations using our tax dollars.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 2:25 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
It must be very difficult to know that soon Palo Alto, will be moving ahead with plans that protect our workers instead of insulting them with degrading innuendo and falsity. When the MAJORITY of residents have their way, and take the other train to the future, then what will you say.
And when Assemblyman Joe Simitian's plan passes, as we know is your secret fear, there will be NO chance for you to repeat your last minute campaign to derail the progressive measures the MAJORITY of residents want. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
We are noticing that there is not one word from the Naysayers about the that people are happy with the way PaloAlto is run. THey don't want to cut, outsource, layoff and lean out the very workers who make it such a perfect place. THey want to compensate our hard city employees APPROPRIATELY. They want to protect the enlightened PENSIONS that the private sector foolishly is throwing away, along with the workers who work there. They want us and our families to have HEALTHCARE so we do not worry about our children's health. They know that these things ADD to the productivty we already enjoy from our workers.
Like Diana, you never talk about the BENEFITS, only the COSTS.
Well, your train is stalled in the station. The Progress Express is on the way to the future with the MAJORITY of Palo Altans on it.
Posted by ITS OUR MONEY, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 2:56 pm
Here are some facts: PA has a $3MM budget deficit, PA has crumbling infrastructure needs, PA has an anti-growth platform which effectively has driven out large retailers and auto shops.
"So,, again, if the audit says that Palo Altans are mostly happy with the way Palo Alto is run, why are we even thinking about letting people go? To use your private sector models - good performance is rewarded with a raise, right? Deny that at peril to your argument."
Mike, you miss the point. We may be mostly happy (tell me more about the methodology, they must have excluded all the naysayers) but we have a funding gap. People are the primary cost...so some must go. I bet you have never held a job in the private sector otherwise you might understand that you can't always rely on bond issues to fund ongoing operations. Don't let facts get in the way of your rants; stay in your echo chamber with Veritas and Ann; and continue to show up at Council meetings in purple t-shirt. Unions ruined the auto industry, let's see what they can do to Palo Alto.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 7:16 pm
IT'S OUR MONEY (again, a sig that reveals more than you think), yes we have a $3million hole to fill. But you present this *FACT* like Diana does her screeds in a way that is only innuendo and half-truth. The part you leave out is that you NAYSAYERS are the reason this $3 million problem exists at all. If you had not thwarted the clear desires of the majority on the library bond, we would not have had to spend time and money maintaining our inadequate library infrastructure, and would not have had to spend time and money putting another bond on the ballot. So you complain when you are at fault yourself. Don't you Diana acolytes see you're *WASTING* "OUR MONEY" (not *YOURS* but *OURS*)?
And if you want to join the real duscussion, just answer, "if the audit says that Palo Altans are mostly happy with the way Palo Alto is run, why are we even thinking about letting people go? To use your private sector models - good performance is rewarded with a raise, right? Deny that at peril to your argument." We're not holding our breath in anticipation for you.
"Growing revenue is nice (I don't see any suggestions.)" Ok, you want some ideas? (Something none of the Naysayers have been able to come up with)
There is a lot of revenue available in this town to solve any alleged budget problems. Look at Councilmember Beecham's idea to tax private companies (many of which aren't doing their fair share by providing health care and good pensions for their workers.) Any company in Palo Alto could easily afford the $50 or $100 per employee, or even $500 or $1000 per employee. And the infrastructure bonds (for the public sfety and library) on the table could easily be augmented by another bond to double the revenue. A lot of people in Palo Alto are benefiting unfairly from Prop 13. They could easily pay more. And what about all the projects that would raise money the Naysayers shoot down every time they are brought up?
With the revenue we could solve our infrastructure problem AND pay our hard working employees what they deserve AND restore the positions left vacant by the unwise move to "economize" forced on the council by the Naysayers.