Palo Alto considers changing its policy for labor negotiations

City Council committee to explore ditching closed-door negotiations for non-unionized managers group

When it comes to contract negotiations, Palo Alto's managers and professionals have always stood apart from other labor groups.

Because the roughly 200 employees who belong to this group don't belong to a union, their compensation adjustments generally mirror those of the city's unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union, Local 521. Yet in discussing new contracts for these employees, the City Council follows the same protocols as it does for SEIU and other unions -- closed-session discussions, a vote and later a public announcement of the action taken.

Closed-session negotiations for labor groups are currently the norm throughout the Bay Area, according to a report from the Human Resources department. San Jose is the only major city that includes public discussions of compensation for both represented and unrepresented.

Now, Palo Alto is considering changing that. In a move championed by Councilman Greg Scharff, the council agreed earlier this month to reconsider its policies for discussing management compensation.

Scharff argued on Nov. 17, that because the group is not a union, these should be held in public, a change that he said would improve transparency. With unions, he said, it would be harder to hold talks in public because the two sides in the negotiations each have positions that need to be negotiated over a series of back-and-forths. The management and professionals group don't have these constraints.

"I do think we have a strong commitment in the community for transparency," Scharff said. "This is something that would make it very transparent if we went ahead and conducted these in open session."

Scharff advocated changing the policy for managers and professionals immediately. The rest of the council was more cautious and voted 7-1 -- with Scharff dissenting and Karen Holman absent -- to refer the issue to its Policy and Services Committee, which will also review the city's procedures for negotiating with other labor groups.

"I think it's important not to create new policy on the fly," Councilman Pat Burt said in arguing for the latter option. "If we want to reconsider policy, I think it should be a thoughtful and thorough discussion at the Policy and Services Committee."

The council majority also agreed with City Manager James Keene that the current practice for holding talks in a closed session should apply in the current round of negotiations. Keene said that he had discussed the subject with managers and they expressed concerns about the change.

Keene recommended "staying the course now" and then having "a larger policy discussion" about where to go from here. The report from Human Services also noted that there was "significant concern expressed about this potential change in direction and that unrepresented employees were being singled out and treated differently from other employee groups."

Councilwoman Gail Price supported Keene's proposal not to make any changes at this time and said she felt it was "inappropriate" to try to bring this item forward in an open session. She said the workers were "greatly offended by the discussion around the issue."

"We do need to have a thorough conversation about any alternatives that could be considered," Price said.

The Policy and Services Committee is set to discuss the issue in the coming months, after which time the topic will return to the full council for a final decision.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


2 people like this
Posted by umm
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Unrepresented employees are treated differently than represented employees, perhaps they should form their own union? It might also be time for the city to review requirements for a number of management/supervisor positions, when the salaries are $120k+, maybe we ought to require some sort of college degree as opposed to GED, seeing as they get education stipend as part of their compensation?

9 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 25, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Jaime Rodriguez, Chief Transportation Officer, City of Palo Alto, should be investigated for conflict of interest, and maybe much more. He is a full time employee for the city, yet he allegedly owns three outside companies. One company is called "Traffic Patterns, LLC" The company designs street markings and designs. The website is He also owns a company named "Cell Signs," that designs and manufactures street signs. He also owns a company called "American Asphalt." It makes you wonder if there is any link between all the new green and white street markings popping up on the pavement all over town, and Mr. Rodriguez's private company. It is also suspicious that the town is putting up so many unnecessary and meaningless street signs. Someone needs to investigate.

7 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm

@Palo Altan...I agree 100%. Does Rodriguez even live in Palo Alto? Nothing like making all these decisions affecting traffic when you're not a resident and don't have to deal with the messes you create. And if he is a resident I can't understand why he would want to mess things up as much as he has. I think government grants have a lot to do with his decision making.

4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Not certain how many people would actually attend this sessions, but videoing them and making the recordings available to the public, and archived in perpetuity, would be a good first start.

4 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm

I am so glad Price will be off the council. Tomorrow would not be soon enough. Her priority is always the unions and developers, not the residents. Good riddance!

7 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 25, 2014 at 6:07 pm

To: 37 Year Resident
From: Palo Altan
Rodriguez lives in San Jose. His company, Traffic Patterns, also helps cities get grants. On his website, Rodriguez also says he can be hired as an expert witness in court cases. He answers his Traffic Patterns, LLC telephone number during normal City of PA office hours! Has anyone noticed all the confusing green and white street markings on Lytton Avenue near Alma? All the new signage and street markings reminds me of the California Avenue tree cutting disaster. No one was paying attention and all the trees were cut down one morning on California Avenue. Now, no one seems to be paying attention to all the new unsightly street markings. Rodriguez is making our town so ugly. I have heard from many people that Rodriguez absolutely hates the citizens of PA and could care less about our town. It shows.

5 people like this
Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 26, 2014 at 6:51 pm

What about our City Manager who lives in the East Bay but has Palo Alto taxpayers buy him a house in our city at taxpayers expense to comply with city charter. Oh Well! The best of the best city employees have long since left and led the exodus out of Palo Alto. Too funny! Keene's reply is to " stay the course" with current management benefits. Why would'nt he? When will Palo Alto residents wake up! The fact that a city employee running a business out of his office during city hall business hours should concern city council members but more importantly should raise a red flag as to why our city manager allows this business to continue during city hall business hours. Didn't Keene hire Rodriguez? Hmmmm.....

3 people like this
Posted by Jaime's Review
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 26, 2014 at 6:59 pm

I'll bet lots of us would show up for Mr. Rodriquez's salary review.

PA Weekly, please alert us in advance.

2 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Any salary increases should be done on the performance of each individual department - how satisfied are the residents, how responsive has the department been to the residents, what has actually been accomplished. The worst step to take is to every manager the same salary increase.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

From Tokyo to Cupertino: Afuri Ramen's first California location debuts tonight
By Elena Kadvany | 2 comments | 3,082 views

Disposing of Disposables
By Sherry Listgarten | 13 comments | 1,327 views

Couples Counseling, Al Pacino Style
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,185 views