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Diamond's inaccuracies hurt city & its employees

Original post made by Phil Plymale, another community, on Oct 4, 2006

Diana Diamond's Sept. 20 column ("I want to become a Palo Alto city employee") is very inaccurate and unjust. She unfairly attacks the Palo Alto city workers' contract as being fiscally unsound. Web Link to Diamond's column.

As a 16-year Palo Alto city employee in the Public Works-Engineering division as a private-project plan reviewer, it has been my top priority to ensure that city residents receive the quality services they deserve. And as the chapter chair for Local 715 of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing city workers, I understand the need to wisely conserve taxpayers' dollars. That was a priority for the negotiations team and that's why we were able to reach fiscally sound solutions that will allow the city to continue to maintain a quality workforce.

Diamond is wrong when she says that city workers will receive a wage increase above the national average, which is 3.5 percent this year. On the contrary, because we wanted to conserve city resources, we agreed to forego a net wage increase this year. In the second year, we will only receive a net 2.5 percent increase. And in the third year, there is only a 3 percent increase. The correct conclusion should be that our wage increases are substantially below the national average.

Upon further investigation, Diamond would have noticed that under our new contract we will save the city millions in health care legacy costs. What she minimizes as "a few restrictions on only one of the city's four health plans" is no small measure. We agreed to eliminate the city's payment for a health plan that was enormously expensive and that continued to skyrocket unpredictably. This was a major effort to work cooperatively with the city to contain health care costs, including those for retirees.

Additionally, she is completely incorrect in stating that the city pays for "dental, vision, life insurance, long-term disability and dependent-care-assistance programs for retirees for the rest of their lives." Only health insurance is covered for our retirees.

Unfortunately, Diamond failed to tell the complete story when she asserted that some 40 employee classifications received additional salary increases. Some of these workers are currently paid far below the median average of neighboring cities for performing similar work. Under the new contract, they will receive an increase that is still 3 percent below this median level. The proposed adjustments will not even bring these employees up to average compensation relative to our neighboring communities.

And instead of attacking the "9/80 schedule" for workers, Diamond should be supporting it. In a two-week period, an employee works eight 9-hour days and one 8-hour day. The tenth day is a day off. This still totals 80 hours in the pay period-an average of 40 hours per week.

This is intended to be a creative way to save on commute and energy costs for both the city and the employee. Such schedules improve employee morale, productivity and are thus a benefit to the residents we serve. Who wins? Both the city and workers!

Had Diamond encouraged creative ways to lower workers' compensation costs for the city, she would have understood the rationale for the walking-shoe reimbursement for meter readers. These workers walk many miles a day and through all types of landscaping. As part of their uniform supplies, they need durable, well-supporting shoes. Safe shoes reduce injuries and this in turn reduces potential workers' compensation claims.

Diamond should be applauding this contract as a model for Bay Area cities. It's fiscally conservative and it ensures that residents will continue to receive quality services in our city's libraries, parks, public works, utilities department, water treatment plant and community centers.

Finally, the city currently has openings for a few positions, such as Associate Planner (need urban planning training) and Linesperson/Cable Splicer (ability to repair overhead and underground electrical systems) to name a couple.

Diamond is welcome to apply if she thinks city workers have it so good. She will, however, have to prepare herself to be constantly berated in the press as she tries to serve the community with pride.

And, apparently unlike her current job, she will be held accountable to the highest standards of accuracy and honesty in whatever work she performs on behalf of the city.

Those of us who work for the public actually get disciplined if we perform our jobs in a manner that fails to achieve these high standards.

[Published in the Palo Alto Weekly on 10/4/06. Phil Plymale has been an engineer for the City of Palo Alto for more than 16 years. He also is the chapter chair of Palo Alto Chapter of SEIU Local 715, representing a majority of the city employees.]

Comments (6)

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2006 at 3:29 pm

Diana Diamond's and Phil Plymate's comments aside, I am constantly amazed at how an otherwise liberal community tolerates the constant put-downs and criticisms of government employees. [not: I aam not, nor am I related to in any way, any municipal government employee).

It seems there is constant chatter about how "good" civil employees have it - and how favorably their benefits compare with the private sector. We hear that public employee benefits shuold be brought down to the level of the private sector - with the latter, during the past two decades, doing everything it can to strip employees of pensions, benefits, wage increases, etc. etc. to the point where most of middle America is struggling to keep its head above water.

Why not promote an effort to use the excellence and robustness of public employee benefit packages - packages that actually entice good workers, and help maintain their presence on the job - and use those public benefit packages for the private sector to follow, as examples?

ALL workers should enjoy the benefits that our hard-working public employees get, I'm happy to contribute to their well-being. In fact, public employee benefits are better than my own. So what?

On another, related, note. If City Hall isn't doing its job, or is perceived as such by one citizen or another, might I suggest taking the argument to the _real_city bosses, our City Council, and stop bashing public employees who are good people, who come into work every day, and do their job.

I wonder how many will respond to this post by pointing out one situation or other where poor performance by a city worker has been documented, and then extend that one (or aq few) situations to the whole. Does this happen at HP? Is all of HP rotten because of the screw-ups of a few. Of course not. To suggest otherwise would be absurd.

So, naysayers about the quality of service that we receive, and how people shuold be compensated for it, please think hard before casting stones, and wishing that our public empoyees find themselves in the same sorry state as the majority of most Americans with health and retirement benefits. The latter suffer a situation that is a national disgrace.

If you want to argue for that, fine. Just keep in mind what you're arguing for.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jerry
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 4, 2006 at 9:39 pm

Diana,

Wish no more! If you want to be a Palo Alto city employee- march down to city hall, first floor, HR to the left and check the listings for jobs. I'm sure you are more than qualify for some postion within the city.

Talk is cheap and this "I wish I was a city employee" is getting old!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Rebecca
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 7, 2006 at 7:52 am

I am Palo Alto City employee, a current Palo Alto resident and native Palo Altan. As a product of this community I have found it tiresome to have my and my collegues abilities, integrity and worth continually questioned by the media and by Diana Diamond in particular.

Thank you to Phil Plymale for his adept and accurate response to the Diana's latest column.

I care deeply about this community and am personally invested in doing my best to serve it well. From my 9 years working for the City of Palo Alto I can tell you that the vast majority of city workers I have come across are equally invested and committed to serving this community well.

I agree with RWE that ALL workers in the public and private sectors deserve good benefits and good pay. It's unfortuate and unfair that workers are losing this benefits left and right in the private sector. The middle class seems to be slowly disappearing and I am thankful that I have a job which supports me sufficently to allow me to live in my hometown.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by David Cohen
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2006 at 9:55 pm

It's not surprising to me to see Ms. Diamond so effectively challenged on the thoroughness and fairness of her reporting on this labor issue, considering similar tendencies in her editorials at her previous employer. I'm recall shortcomings in her writings about teachers in particular - not just differences of opinion, but flat-out misrepresentations.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 12, 2006 at 7:20 pm

It is a national disgrace that many American workers do not have the decent benefits our city workers do. We should be proud to live in a city that at least gives adequate health benefits to workers. If Miss Diamond would actually look at their take home pay, and see how far it would go towards a Palo Alto mortgage or rent in this area, I'm sure she would change her tune. The sad fact is, that because of high housing costs, cities in this area have difficulty attracting good workers. If Palo Alto were to lose some of our long-term and well-trained employees, it would be difficult to replace them and would cost time and money to train new workers, if they could be found! This would harm all citizens. Already, many, if not most, of our police officers and paramedics cannot afford to live in the city. In an emergency, such as a major earthquake, they will take a long time to get here if not already on duty. Paying them less or cutting their benefits will only make these problems worse.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by City employee
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2006 at 2:42 pm

I don't seem to understand why there is continued complaints about the salaries and benefits of City Employees. This is a community that City employees can't afford to live in. Many employees went a couple of years without a raise and reduction in benefits. Also a manditory furlough without pay was required.

Despite the complaints, I want to make sure that I am proud of the work that I do. I will continue to give my very best, and believe that I contribute to this community. The hours that I put in are never accounted for, because of budget cuts. Yet there are many of us that continue to make sure our programs are successful for the residents of Palo Alto.

If ever there was a way to make an employee not want to engage, it is to keep complaining that they are not allowed to earn as much as you do!


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