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.]