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Do Palo Alto Employee Unions Have Too Much Influence?

Original post made by Chris, Palo Alto Hills, on Mar 26, 2007

Diana Diamond recently described a City Council Meeting where purple-shirted members of the local City Employees' Union tried (apparently successfully) to forestall the City Manager's suggestion that some park maintenance be outsourced.

Some city council members, notably LaDoris Cordell, have seemed to act almost as slavish advocates for the Union's position - refusing to even consider any plan that might reduce Union jobs, and therefore clout.

Unions have become significant players in Palo Alto electoral politics, and have done things like distribute flyers to local residents in support of particular causes.

Recently, a thread on this forum dealing with the outsourcing issue was closed by the Weekly after one poster, hewing closely to the union line (and perhaps a union member himself) upset other forum participants with his increasingly extreme and repetitive ad hominem posts.

In light of all of this - and given the fact that most city employees aren't even residents of the city, is it fair to ask whether city employees - or their unions have too much influence on Palo Alto politics?

Comments (12)

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2007 at 8:55 am

I have always felt that public employees should have to chose either civil service protection or a union contract, not both. I also believe compulsory union membership is inimicable to the public interest.

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Posted by Andy
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2007 at 12:59 pm


Give me a break on city employees living in the city. Most city employees can't buy homes in this city. Are you willing to pay them more. No, this small vocal group wants to cut wages and bennies to city employees but not services. You can't have it BOTH WAYS.
You can't even get enough cops to come for work Palo Alto.

Also, how about all the retail this city has "chase" away.
Thank god I live in MV and thank god for unions, and thank you Palo Alto for shopping in MV.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 26, 2007 at 1:57 pm

I don't see anything in the original post about wages or benefits, or services.

It does seem legitimate to ask if non-residents, whatever their affiliation or reason for being non-residents, should be playing a major role in the city's politics.

How would we feel if some out-of-town corporation that had big contracts with the city started sending their employees to City Council meetings, handing out "information" flyers to residents and contributing to partisan races and issues in town?

How would we feel about a Council Member who said she was adamant about the council not taking any actions that would reduce this corporation's profit from its contracts with the city?

I haven't formed an opinion on outsourcing, or on whether the current employment benefits the city offers are too generous, or even on service levels. But I'm pretty sure I think these are things that should be hashed out amongst us residents - without interference from the unions or other outsiders.

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Posted by Tee Off
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2007 at 3:14 pm

To Tim of Crescent Park -- I guess I wasn't sarcastic enough in my posting re Diana's "job-for-life" column.

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Posted by Fireman/andrew Jentzsch
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2007 at 5:17 pm

To hear that a Palo alto employee union has "too much influence" to me is a huge JOKE..A sad but true, misleading joke..A way to divert the public from the truth.Make the unions the cause of all the problems with money and the budget..Not the City manager or Counsel that has no idea of what is going on in there city..I was a member of Palo Alto's firefighter union 1319 for 20 years. Palo Alto has more then 1 union.I do not know how many? So I will speak only of the union that I know of..The firefighters union has had 1 president for the past 25 years or so.Not for the reason that we thought he was so good.No,we could not find any other person to fill the position.. Dealing with the City is also a joke..Try to get a straight answer from then,try to meet them halfway,I do not think so.We have been told at contract negotiation time that we will be middle of the road..We are not special and will not be treated special..We have worked years at a time with no contract,having to fight the City for every last cent..While the City Manager also a City emplyoee gets the SPECIAL deal..The same employee that the counsel has to have a special meeting with for him to sell what he has done while being employed in the City..The position of City Manager should not have to do this.One would think it would be obvious what he has done?? Bottom line is the City in good shape or not?? Do you trust the leaders?? When a union negotiates with the City of Palo Alto they will be compared to like cities,same size,sevices,etc..Then the City will try and low ball you..We did not have the best pay or benifits..The firefighters union that I belonged to had very little closer to no power ,was not trusted by a large number of the members..Lead by a person who backed the City in the Sandbag scandel, then was promoted to Fire Captain.Skipping over people on the promotion list going to the bottom of that list to get him..As far as having to live in the City of Palo Alto.I do not think that only people who live in Palo Alto are qualified,fair or gifted with common sense..It might not be in the best intrest of the citizens to live in a vacum.Take a look at the people who control that vacum..As far as political..A union,City Manager or City Counsel in my opinion should not be political..The citizens come first then the employees..This makes a City..Maybe it is time the CITIZENS start to look into how and who runs the City..With out said City going to court to keep secrets from the citizens who make up the City..Talk with past employees..Present employees have far to much to risk if they speak out against the City..Like there jobs, the opportunity to advance or being treated fairly..We had a group of employees in the Fire department called "The special intrest employees" Blindly support the chief/city manager and you will be treated special..If a union stands up to the City most likely next time it must renegotiate its contract,watch out they will try to make you wish you never stood up for yourself.. Ladoris Cordell might just be trying to be fair???

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Posted by BUZZ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2007 at 11:25 am

Hey Walter, get it right...
SEIU members are NOT covered by whatever you consider "civil service". The union is the only representation and protection there is, and membership is not compulsory.
Get it right Walter!!

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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Chris, where's the ad hominum in the post below? In fact, many rude and ad hominum attacks have been visited on our hard working city employees.

It's amazing to see the same few persons in this forum continue to criticize our city's workers with unjustified attacks, including very harsh personal attacks.

Please tell me where is the ad hominum in what's written, below. We're waiting...

"Where are the guarantees for lifetime employment? Is that written down somewhere, or is this just another straw man innuendo that Diana created in order to raise ire and doubt regarding the way our city operates?

There are differences of opinion among residents and policy makers regarding the way our revenues are budgeted, and so on. That said, Diana Diamond inevitably manages to merely scratch the surface of municipal constraint problem by creating another straw men - this time it's "City employees aren't guaranteed work for life!". Again, who said they were? Seems like Diana is the only one - Diana and a few rabid "cut the budget" handwavers who march to Diana's drumbeat. It's a gathering of about 100 Palo Altans, with Diana leading the parade.

It has to be said: (Diana's "solutions" for improved governance - cut, outsource, shrink, lean out, etc. etc. are mostly defeatest - as are the residents who who agree with her in the extreme. The latter are in the VAST minority. Diana's and their arguments are *tired*. Who needs to hear the same siren song over and over and over again?

Sadly, in a time when our city needs most to consider ways to repair aging infrastructure, and at the same time keep an excellent service array on an even keel, we have Diana and her tiny phalanx crying like Chicken Little - - "the sky is falling!", they exclaim, as they run around with their spreadsheets trying to preach to the 10 Palo Altans who will listen, that we need to "cut the budget".

Mind you, what we *never* hear from Diana and her group is "what can we do to help Palo Alto grow?", or "what can we do to make our current array of services even *better*?", or I'm proud of the level of oservice delivery we have, and the people who deliver those services". Nope, not a word or phrase, just a droning whine that - if one listens long enough - is a relief to tune out, because it's a "downer" message, full of blame, accusation, finger-pointing, and other negative innuendo that most Palo Atans look askance at.

If we do have long-term employees that are doing the job, why not keep them around? What is the *tangible* advantage of employing people who are dedicated, loyal, and proud of their work? Or, would Diana prefer that we simply fire good people and replace them, en masse, with mercenary outsourcing firms?

It's true that we have outsourced some parks maintenance, and it seems to be working. Has Diana asked what other reasons - other than her latest invented concpiracy (this time between the unions and City Council) - might exist to maintain those employees? Nope. INstead, she attacks the City Council and the people who make our city run.

In all - and who knows, maybe it's because Diana is writing this column for free - the keen insights that Diana once brought (even those I disagreed with) seem to be missing from her latest missives. I see a kind of "cheap shot" journalism eveolving from her pen - a journalism that more and more resembles the minority fringe extreme in our city, many of whom have the time to stand up in front of Council during oral arguments, week after week, railing about this and that - as our city continues to run, and our citizens lead their lives - the latter mostly happy with the way things are.

The latter are looking for a better community, a community that's led by people with positive ideas, who offer messages of hope, who understand more than simplistic solutions (like "cut" and "outsource"), who want better schools, police protection, parks and libraries. "

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Posted by Maryanne
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:54 pm

It appears that some people are confused about the meaning of the term "ad hominem" (or, 'ad hominum', if you prefer.)

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm

This from Wikipedia:

Ad hominem.

"It is wrong to spell it ad hominum. The Latin word is homo, not hominus.

As homo is part of the third declension and has a shortened form in the nominative case only, ad hominem is actually correct. ad requires the accusative case. If in doubt, refer to: Web Link_

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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2007 at 2:08 pm

natasha, thanks for the Wikipedia spelling lesson. That said, what's also true about meaning in language is meaning derives most largely from general use, and context. If you don't believe me, read the following.

"Splling dosn't mattr". Do you understand the meaning of that sentence? My guess is that your answer is "yes". IN fact, it's a sentence used in language labs to prove the point I made above.

A further fact is that ad hominEm comments against defenseless, hard-woking city employees have been made repeatedly in this forum, ironically by those who are using PC's that receieve their power from a cityt run electric utility. Funny, that.

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Posted by Maryanne
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2007 at 2:08 pm

Here is a link to the closed thread I believe was referenced above.

Web Link

Readers can make their own judgements about the nature and appropriateness of the comments therein, taking into account the obvious fact that the posts deleted by the Weekly were more irrelevant and vituperative than the ones that remain.

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Posted by sceptical
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2007 at 4:14 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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

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