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SEIU plans to stay on the job -- for now
Original post made
on Oct 27, 2009
Palo Alto's largest labor union voted Tuesday night to oppose city-imposed benefit reduction and vowed to take "strong actions" in coming weeks to demonstrate its displeasure with the city's negotiation tactics. But officials from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also said Tuesday night that the union workers are willing to remain on the job -- for now. ==B Related story:==
■ [Web Link
Palo Alto imposes 'last, best and final' terms]
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 10:41 PM
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Posted by paloaltomarino
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm
I'm sorry but, the last comment was just crazy. "look at the city's website for the details". Oh, of course, because the "city" always tells the citizens the truth.
Ok, a couple of quick items about me so you'll know motivation. I'm a city employee in the SEIU, I make less then $64K a year, I don't need the money (I got lucky in marriage and in life), I did come here for two reasons over a decade ago, benefits and I thought it would be cool to do something in public service in the community I live. If I was single or had a family and trying to make ends meet on $64K, I certainly wouldn't be living in Palo Alto. And remember this, when I was hired at city hall, if you could fog a mirror, you were hired (yes, I understand that means that I was the "star" of a very small interviewee group), NO ONE wanted to be in the public sector.
I believe SEIU and the city could've solved the budget issue and I also believe that it didn't matter because Manager Keene wanted benefits to be adjusted and nothing short of that was going to satisfy him. Take a look around you people at other cities, not one of them has had this kind of "agreement" imposed on them. Not one.
Mediation was the right thing to do, but, both sides should've had to agree it would be binding. Even if that meant that the mediator agreed benefits needed adjusting.
I read these comments and I keep reminding myself that the majority of the residents love this city and are satisfied with the level of services we provide. The people who like the way things are rarely speak out, it's the ones who don't who do, so, of course the negative comments will far outweigh the positive. Still, reading these makes me wonder and yes, it's a little demoralizing.
I don't know what the answer is. We're in an awful economic time, people are struggling and afraid, and government is an easy target (sometimes, because we're idiots and make ourselves an easy target). But, it's almost like the citizens are blaming the employees for wanting to keep their benefits, and for a lot of them, the benefits are really all that matters. And yet, one of the big reasons their benefits cost so much is because the cost of health care has gone up enormously in the last decade. When I was hired here I beieve we had 9 HMO plans, 2 PPO plans, and 1 other. Now, I believe we have 1 HMO and 1 other because they are the only plans we can "afford". It isn't the employees fault any more than it's the citizens fault that those benefits cost more, that's why I said that I don't have the answer.
I do know that this could've been handled much better. I know that 6 or 7 weeks ago this city manager held a series of meetings asking "what does your ideal organization look like?". I also know that "communication" and "honesty" were high on that list. And I know that both of them seem to also be in recession around here. It's too bad, this used to be a more fun place to work.
Now, what would be great, real transparency, talking about how we just spent six figures on a consultant to come up with a business license tax, and then we shredded it and told staff to spend many, many, many hours coming up with our own. And then, 17 people spoke at a city council meeting so, we shredded that too. Now, countless dollars in actual salary and time have been spent, and we've sent out our third best choice for a business license tax at the exact wrong time. Where is all the concerned public outrage about that?
And what's going to happen with the city manager and the other managers? They are in quiet negotiations on their contracts now. These are the people whose average salary (including benefits) is over $200K, although I'm guessing with housing and car, Keene's is closer to $400K. If we think morale is low here now, just wait to see what it's like if they don't take big salary and benefit cuts.
Again, I'm not saying that I have the answers, I'm saying that this way of doing business will kill an organization but, in all reality, I also know that the citizens of Palo Alto, for the most part, don't really care about that.
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Posted by paloaltomarino
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2009 at 8:50 am
Pleb: Oh I'm sorry, please don't take my comment as to mean that I'm happy with the way SEIU handled this situation. Everyone spins my friend, everyone. SEIU is more than a bit disorganized.
All I was saying was that I came here for the benefits, not the salary (not by a long shot). The benefits were excellent and even with the new "imposed" agreement, they're not bad (for me, for new hires, they're not great and won't compete against other cities, that part SEIU has right, but, then, when the economy gets better and the city realizes that they can't compete they'll change the benefit package to something more attractive again, the city is rarely proactive, hell, almost never, they'll react when they have to and not before).
What I was also saying is that morale here is the lowest I've ever seen it. And being told that you should be grateful to have a job, while true, really doesn't help. Here's another observation, the city manager has made no effort to connect with the employees. He even called himself the "new" guy in a recent series of meetings. He's been here a year, that's hardly new. He's new because he's made no effort to find out who his staff is. That, unfortunately, is working against him. When he started people were very positive about him, especially management, now, even management is talking about unionizing because they don't like what he's doing. The last city manager, for all his good and his faults, knew how to do one thing really well, he knew how to connect, he knew how to make you feel like "we" were in this together, and "we" would find a solution. And he communicated, often. The "new" guy, not so much. He's done the exact opposite of what I thought he would do after imposing the new agreement, instead of sending out an e-mail or calling an all hands meeting to say "I felt this is something that was needed, you're still valued, we still have work to get done and we still need to be proud of our service, maybe in the future...", he's said nothing, not one word, and he's kept an incredibly low profile here at city hall. Bunker mentality, it's the exact wrong thing to do, it just distances him further.
Why should morale matter to you? Because these people do a hell of a lot of stuff that's not accounted for. Some do it because they love their jobs, some do it because they hope to get ahead, but, they do it. When morale crashes like this, the desire to "do more" vanishes. When we rolled out this SAP project (and you want to talk about a colossal waste of money, say hello to SAP, how's that utility bill paying online thing going for you all?) there were tons of staff staying until 10pm, 11pm, and some in IT would be over in the basement of 300 Hamilton until 1a.m., some got overtime, some got comp time, some got nothing because they were "management". I wonder if that project were started today how it would go because so many of the people on the project were doing it as a special assignment (you had people from all departments in there, not just IT).
So, in conclusion, all I'm saying is that while I agree in principle that we should all be grateful for our jobs and benefit package, I also know that feeling respected in that job by both your boss and by the people you work for (the citizens) is important and the employees (rightly or not) are not feeling respected right now. I still don't know how it will play out, people stay in bad marriages after all, you just really don't want to visit their house.