Palo Alto's largest labor union has agreed to a one-year contract with the city and vowed to seek a more collaborative tone in future labor negotiations, the union's chair told the City Council Monday night.
By ratifying the contract last Thursday, the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, has essentially accepted the conditions that the city imposed on it last October after months of bitter negotiations. Though the new contract would have very little bearing on the salaries and benefits of its members, it signifies the union's acceptance of the dismal economic climate and its new spirit of collaboration with the city, said Brian Ward, who in February replaced Lynne Krug as chair of Local 521.
"We want to be part of the discussions and, of course, part of the solutions," Ward said.
"We want a collaborative approach. Hopefully, we will continue this goodwill and move forward together."
Ward said 94 percent of the union members who voted Thursday supported ratifying the contract, which would take effect July 1.
The changes, which the union vehemently protested during the summer and fall of 2009, include reduced pensions for newly hired workers, elimination of two floating holidays and a new requirement that employees make contributions toward their health care. The council (which had four different members last year) voted 8-1 in October, with Yiaway Yeh dissenting, to impose the terms on the union.
The health-care provision, which under the imposed terms would have kicked in July 1, will now be delayed until Jan. 1, 2011, Human Resources Director Russ Carlsen said. He said the council is scheduled to consider the contract Aug. 2.
Ward said that after enduring months of criticism from city officials and the community during last year's lengthy labor negotiations, union members decided to take a different approach this year. Last year, the union staged a one-day strike (which they called a "self-imposed furlough"), organized a sick-out and held numerous demonstrations near City Hall.
Ultimately, these tactics proved futile and on Oct. 26 the council imposed its "last best and final offer" on union members. Ward said the union decided that the "old way wasn't working" and elected new leadership with a different philosophy.
On Monday night, City Manager James Keene and Councilwoman Gail Price both praised the union for their collaboration in the difficult budget year. Though the council voted to eliminate 56 positions, the move would result in only 10 actual layoffs. Keene attributed this partially to the "leadership" of the SEIU, which he said worked with the city to minimize the number of layoffs.
Price thanked the union for ratifying the contract and said she appreciates the collaboration that's taking place between the city and its workers.
"These are tough times, the recessionary period is difficult," Price said. "The more direct communication we have, the better."