Unions Control San Jose’s Budget

Year after year, the citizens of San Jose are told that their city government faces a “structural” deficit and that additional cuts in city services will have to be made to balance the budget. Whose budget is it really?

Last Monday, Oct. 26, the San Jose Mercury News provided the people of San Jose with all of the information that they need to come to a perfect understanding as to why their city continues its decline. Reporter John Woolfolk presented the following information in his article, “Unions Will Face Hard Choices.”

[City Manager Deb Figone] noted that the city’s deficits have soared this decade along with costs for its employees’ pay and benefits. While the city’s full-time workforce has shrunk from 7,000 to 6,600 since 2000, the average cost for each worker has shot up 64 percent to $120,418. Had pay and benefits merely increased at the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price Index, the average cost would have risen 18 percent to $86,997 today.”

Woolfolk also reported that pay and benefits costs for police and fire went up 78 percent over the past ten years!

The city government of San Jose has had a budget deficit for nine consecutive years, and two-thirds of the city’s general operating fund goes towards personnel costs.

Had civic leaders had any sense at all, they would have pegged city employees’ raises to the rate of inflation. But of course, that would have required placing the needs of the people before those of their political supporters—something rarely done in the City of San Jose.

Perhaps San Jose resident Nick Cochran summed it up best in a letter published by the Merc. “It’s appallingly shameful when less than 1 percent of our city’s population can effectively control the city’s ‘spending’ gate in a way that forces the other 99 percent of us to pay more for city services than we should.”


  1. San Jose needs to hire mechanical robots for all city services.  Robots rarely need to be paid, and do speak with brogues.  Robots can perform a myraid of city functions and not let the human element get involved.  They are perfect for collecting fees, do not require customer service supervisors.  Robots such as the PTCMP23-Ten have been effectively blogging for Reed on sites such as this one for a long time without any need for training in ethics or cognitive reasoning.  They do well with rackets as well.  Robots for all city departments should be ordered at once.

  2. Pete,

    I suspect that the end result of this will be a cadre of city employees who provide absolutely no service to the citizenry, yet earmark the entire city budget for their own salaries and benefits. That, I think, would be the “Perfect Union Utopia.”

  3. I failed again. Trying to ignore people who use words like shameful, disgusting, etc. when they know little of what they speak. But oh well. There is nothing “pathetic” about non-uniforned City worker benefits. They are considerably less than the Scandanavian benefits of the average citizen. I guess Swedes are all disgusting also. What makes me ill is voters who continue to vote ex-council to County office who’s 8 year track record was to line the housing developer’s pockets increasing many fold service costs and failing to bring in jobs and commercial/industrial tax base. I am a City professional of 20 years, live in 1300 s.f. home, owned one new car in my life, and my kids scraped by in State University. The City and my payment to pension is commensurate with Social Security and will get 50% of my income if I retire now. Shame on me too.

    • You’ve done quite well.  Be happy.  Many people in the valley can’t afford a 1000 sf apartment, let alone a 1300 sf home.  Quite a few are out of work, and others have jobs that might not be there next week.

      If your biggest complaint is that your benefits are less than the average Swede, you’ve been much luckier than most.  Be thankful for what you have.

  4. > Year after year, the citizens of San Jose are told that their city government faces a “structural” deficit and that additional cuts in city services will have to be made to balance the budget.

    I understand that our President, Barack Obama, is really, really smart.

    Maybe the City of San Jose could follow his example in solving its structural deficit.

    The City could set up its own Federal Reserve System and print money to pay city expenses.  It could be called the San Jose Municipal Reserve System.

    Like the Federal system, the San Jose system would not need to be audited, so there really wouldn’t be any need for the books to be balanced.

    San Jose could be the first city in America to have it both ways:  it could have a fully staffed work force of highly paid employees, and it could eliminate it’s structural deficit.

    I see it as a “Win, Win” situation.

  5. It wasn’t the unions that voted to spend almost a BILLION dollars on the new city hall; it was the city council and mayor.

    Unions have raised the working conditions for all of us, not just those who have been in the unions. Tear down the unions and the working conditions for all will eventually erode. I was in the grocery clerk union for many years and I saw first hand how the union ensured a safe working environment, fair wages, and decent benefits.

    • “Tear down the unions and the working conditions for all will eventually erode” – B.S.! Sound like union steward rhetoric.

      If the city is to get into the black, they need to cancel and modify the contracts they have with the 11 DIFFERENT unions they employ with our tax dollars.
      There needs to be more outsourcing.

      Why are the taxpayer asked to pay more when the unions refuse to renegotiate.

      “I was in the grocery clerk union for many years and I saw first hand how the union ensured a safe working environment, fair wages, and decent benefits.” – If you want a good wage with excellent benefits, why not work in the private sector?

      • San Jose Taxpayer,
        Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I was not a union steward, but I saw that the union to which I belong to (retail clerks local 428) served a positive purpose in keeping a balance between the employer and employees. Unions have over the years brought up the standards of working conditions for everyone, not just union workers, through legislation. I am not saying unions are perfect, as corruption, graft and bribery, have certainly played a part in some unions, just as in any other institution. I guess we will have to agree to disagree that if you destroy unions that you undermine your own work environment, even if you are not in a union. Just go back in history and see the working conditions before unions existed and helped pass legislation which benefited everyone.

        Could you please clarify your last paragraph in your comment? I was in the private sector working for a major grocery store getting a fair wage with good benefits. I do not believe most grocery stores are run by the government.

  6. If San Jose has a perennial structural deficit, why is Pierluigi Oliverio promoting growing the city government by promoting a plastic bag ban and opening marijuana stores? Where do all the workers come from to regulate and enforce these new laws? Do we expect our police department, already hundreds of officers short, to divert patrol officers to take on these new laws so they can respond to even less calls for service from the citizens?

  7. Well, the plastic bag ban polices itself, because stores won’t provide the bags.  That’s it.  There is already code enforcemnt in San Jose that can investigate stores that don’t comply.  But most of the benefit will be realized by the big supermarkets and box stores, and when the rules change, they will stop providing bags.

    A bad economy shouldn’t preclude leaders from doing what is right in other areas.  Just because the city has a deficit doesn’t mean we can’t do something about the environment at the same time.

    • The ban does not police itself. The stores are going to charge for bags with the money going to the city. That requires city workers to make sure the stores are complying.

      • Steve, if you are interested in the bag ban you should work with the chamber as they just hosted a bag ban forum, with questions for Pete Constant – and the upcoming EIR.  There is still time to protest, change and give input and the best way to do that if you are not able to attend meetings is to pepper your councilperson with communication.

        As I understand it, the stores are not going to charge for bags.  stores would be allowed to provide bags that are 40% recycled content, but other than that customers would have to bring their own bags, with the exception of produce or meat bags.  there was no mention in that forum of stores charging or city oversight, and being a chamber meeting you can understand that the audience was extremely anti-bag ban.

        I personally support the bag ban.  you are of course entitled to your own opinion- just wanted to make sure you were part of the process if you wanted to be.

        • Study Up,

          You need to study up on Mr. John Stufflebean’s memo to the council.  In that memo you would find:

          “Fee revenues would be used to offset administrative costs related to the ordinance.”


          “A portion of the fee could be retained by retailers, with the balance to be remitted to the City. A nexus study is being conducted to determine a fee amount that reflects the litter and waste management cost created by paper and plastic bags.”

          So yes, the plan is for stores to charge a fee with a large percentage going straight to the city.

        • Many meat packages, though sealed with shrink wrap, leak liquids.  So, if we have no plasctic bag, the re-usable ones will soon become soaked

          It seems that so-called single use bags are the issue, since they cannot be easily recycled.  There must be some sort of plastic bag that could solve the leaky meat problem and still be recycled.

        • reusable bags for produce – and for putting your package of meat in- are exempted by the proposed ordinance language.

        • Wrong.  The memo discussed we several options including a fee and a ban.  Your quote is from the discussion on a fee.  The Council voted for a ban

  8. It’s easy to demonize the unions involved with the city, these days every local wanna-be future politico complains that the unions are driving the City under.
    Unfortuntely they are less than forthcoming with facts, Operating Engineers wanted to give up time and benefits to help balance the budget and save jobs. The city’s position was no furloughs and a benefit increase.  What they really wanted was a waiver on disciplinary measures (no grievances etc.) Which in legalese means the union members give up the right to representation if confronted with accusations and the inability to seek recourse if they are proven to be false.

    The city council voted to impose the contract on the union. A precedent for the city and the state of California. What people such as Pete Cambell and other politicals want is the demise of binding arbitration for the police and fire unions.
    Which I believe was a measure that had to voted on by the citizens of San jose. At this point I doubt seriously that neither the police or fire will concede anything to the City with the constant attacks by city council and various publications.
    I also read where Pierluigi Oliverio wants public participation in union negotiations, also claiming that those people who negotiate are hired proffesionals. That may be the case with Police and Fire, but the rest of the unions, Operating Engineers IBEW, MEFI etc. use employees who are unpaid stewards who volunteer their time to participate in negotitations. In regard to have public participation I envision a table with the City’s team, and the employee’s representative team at the new soccer stadioum with overflow seating staring at each other with an audience of thousands. But! It could be a revenue enhancement for the city to charge admission.

    • Why is this conversation even relevent in a constitutional system based on democratic representation of ALL the people.

      The designated policy making body of ALL the people is the legislature or city council.  It violates the principles of equity and equal representation for a small group of people—union members—to have SPECIAL representation and priveleged communication with policy makers.

      The people at large, through their elected legislature, have the prerogative for deciding the wages and terms of employment of government employees.  Unions are unnecessary and self-interested interlopers.

  9. Unions are unnecessary and self-interested interlopers.
    Right.. we all should work 80-100 hours a week hoping that land owners and factory owners would give us pennys for our labor.
    workers are common and should be treated as comoners.. And if they die we can pick up more at Home Depot.

  10. > Unions are unnecessary and self-interested interlopers.
    Right.. we all should work 80-100 hours a week hoping that land owners and factory owners would give us pennys for our labor.
    workers are common and should be treated as comoners.. And if they die we can pick up more at Home Depot.

    My comment was directed specifically to the issue of public employee unions.  And I stand by my assertion that public employee unions ARE “unnecessary and self-interested interlopers”.

    And if the gubbermint been picking up its public employees at Home Depot, heaven help us!  It’s worse than any of us have imagined.

  11. I’ve always been a big fan of “take your kid to work” days. It’s a good way to teach children about the work world and growing up, etc.
    Today is Veterans Day and it occurred to me that we should have a program called “Take a Government Worker to Work Day”. People with real jobs could volunteer to let a union Government worker tag along on Veteran’s Day, or on Cesar Chavez Day, or Martin Luther King Day and learn a litle bit about people who have real jobs and see what it’s like to actually have to work for a living.
    They might finally realize just how good they’ve got it.

    • The police department offers this opportunity everyday with it’s ride along program for any civilian that wants to do so and go out for a 10 hour shift with a police officer.

    • Maybe you should go to work with a government worker so you would know what you are talking about. Many government workers put in long, hard days working well over 8 hours a day. They have to deal with elected officials and members of the public—both difficult constituencies. Then they have to put up with criticism from arm-chair QBs like yourself who don’t know what they are talking about. And you think they should “realize just how good they’ve got it?”
      Although I am not a government worker I know many who are and I find your comments ignorant and insulting.

      • One time I decided to put myself in the shoes of a unionized City employee. I TRIED sleeping the morning away in the cab of my truck like the City Parks Department employees I’ve seen, but you know what? Nobody paid ME! Nor did anybody contribute to my retirement fund. I was very surprised and upset!
        It seems that this is not a viable business plan in the private sector.

        • You’re just a fool, John, but you are certainly entitled to your opinion—no matter if it is as much a work of fiction as your name.