With an increasing budget deficit estimated to be more than $4 million each year for the next two years, and increasing pension costs due to retirements, tense negotiations with unions have become a typical practice each year for the Palo Alto.
City staff reached an agreement in late July with its largest union, the SEIU, which represents a wide range of employees such as city planners, librarians and utility workers.
After years of tense relationships with City Council, the agreement represented a concession on the part of the SEIU. Employees agreed to a pay freeze and a greater employee contribution towards pensions as part of the agreement. This was not the only agreement the city made with a local union.
In May, the city signed a contract with the Police Officers Union, which included a small reduction in pay and a change in the retirement age from 50 to 55 years old.
Palo Alto City Council Candidates weighed-in this week on the issue of union relations, in light of the city’s fiscal constraints.
Council Member cites pension reform as one of his significant priorities during his time in City Council, and something he endeavors to continue if re-elected.
“With more money going to pensions and benefits, there is less money going to the community,” explained Burt.
Burt stressed that the city is currently “turning the corner” with unions but has a long ways to go to create a sustainable fiscal situation.
“Whoever thought you could have that system with those kind of benefits was not realistic.”
Music Promoter , also a contender for City Council, takes issue with the assumption that pension reform should be the solution to the city’s fiscal woes.
“We shouldn’t scapegoat workers,” said Weiss, who adds that he would nonetheless support tackling the issue of pension abuse.
Attorney echoed Weiss’s concerns. While Berman stressed the need for both sides to compromise, he insisted that, “It can’t all come down on the shoulders of working families.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor , also a candidate for City Council, said that Palo Alto should consider moving towards longer term contracts with unions in order to avoid regular stand-offs and uncertainty.
“I am very familiar with dealing with unions,” said Kniss, who cited her experience negotiating with twenty-eight bargaining units at the county level as evidence of that familiarity.
Council Member , an economist, said that reform is needed to create a pension program that is sustainable.