Is Reed Challenging Unions?

Mayor Chuck Reed had some grim news for City Council yesterday. “Although this is the ninth year we’ve faced a significant budget shortfall, this year is by far the worst.” He went on to warn that the city’s expenses are expected to exceed its revenues for many years to come. The only solution, he suggested, is to cut services to community centers and libraries, and to reduce pay and/or benefits to municipal employees.

Representatives of the unions bristled at the news. “The proposals are all cookie-cutter,” said Nancy Ostrowski of the city’s Professional and Technical Engineers Union. She was one of the overflow crowd that attended yesterday’s meeting. Linda Dittes of the Municipal Employees Union called on the city to stop outsourcing jobs. All eleven city unions have rejected the Mayor’s suggestion of across-the-board pay cuts for all municipal employees in order to save 500 jobs.

The unions’ rebuttal of the mayor’s proposals drew a mixed response from the crowd, with many residents complaining that the city is at the mercy of the unions. One woman, Susan Bailey, called on the city to eliminate union contracts altogether.

A few hours earlier, the City Council voted 6-3 to suspend the business licensing tax in an effort to keep small businesses in the city. Three councilmembers—Ash Kalra, Kansen Chu, and Nora Campos—opposed the measure arguing that the city could not afford to lose this revenue when its resources are already so stretched. Proponents of the suspension argued that it would not only keep businesses in the city but attract new ones as well.

Mayor Reed promised the attendees that by the end of the process San Jose would have a balanced budget. To do that though means that he has a long, hard fight ahead of him.
Read More at the Mercury News.


  1. About 2/3 of the city budget is devoted to salaries and benefits. The deficit is nearly 15% of the general fund. In what reality do people believe that it’s possible to close the gap without employee reductions of one sort or another?

    • Pat:

      I totally agree.  The savings to close the budget deficit is ONLY going to come out of salaries and benefits.

      Quoting myself from a recent posting:

      > San Jose needs a top to bottom work force audit.  The taxpayers need to be assured that the City is paying for ONLY the employee qualifications that are needed for the jobs the city needs to be done, and NOT paying for extra resume fluff.

      > Government needs to pay janitors on the basis of the MINIMUM necessary skills to do janitorial work.

      > Teachers need to be paid for only the MINIMUM essential skills to teach the class they are hired to teach.  Paying teachers for un-needed extra credits or advanced degrees is pure waste.

      > Most cities require only a high school diploma to be a police officer.  San Jose requires two years of college.  San Jose gets ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY APPLICATIONS for every police academy position.  San Jose is clearly offering and paying way too much for its police force.

      > If San Jose did a competent job of hiring only NEEDED skills, the saving in staff salaries would undoubtedly close the budget gap.

    • I agree Pat.  But I haven’t noticed Reed actually cut spending during his first year.  His rhetoric is good but it looks like his performance is bad.  Maybe it’s the leadership from the mayor’s office that’s weak.

    • union folk don’t deal in reality.  They think that since another year has passed, they are entitled to more money. That’s it—another year, more money, regardless of productivity or fiscal reality.

      Check out Greece—the country is on the verge of economic collapse because the union members won’t give back a little to keep everything and everybody working.  They are striking saying that they are ENTITLED to more drachmas.

      The entire western world is focused on entitlements, which attitude has been fostered by decades of entitlement thinking, mostly fostered by the Democrats in this country.What they don’t realize is that no-one is entitled to anything they don’t earn.

      Wake up America!!!!

    • Pat,  I agree with you and Teachable Moment and Pierre . Its Bs that we require cops to have 2 years of college so they can stand around and stuff their face with donuts. They should just get payed a little more than security guards. Nobody applies to be a cop because they set the requirements to high for the job they do. I applied to the force but got rejected because I had smoked pot a couple years ago and then they wonder why they have no one to hire then say they need more money for better people. Teachable moment is right and force should be cut cops and salaries and the PD should quit trying to bs they are short on cops or people that want to apply. They need to cut their phony standards and college requirements to be a cop.

    • The union block (Kalra, Campos, Chu) will push for one time gains and financial gimmicks to solve the budget crisis instead of asking the unions for pay/benefit reductions.  The strategy is to buy time hoping the dot com era good times return so nobody thinks about employee compensation anymore.

  2. Ash Kalra, Kansen Chu, and Nora Campos… the Three Musketeers of Stoogedom – it’s no surprise that they can’t understand the most basic of business principles.

    Chuck forgot to mention that, among the noted highly visible service cuts, we would have to forego road maintenance.  To make it perfectly clear that residents should vote for massive tax increases, the new paving standard will be dirt covered with a minimum of two inches of salvaged lava rock.

    Surprise of surprises:  I saw nothing of cutting the most important of our core city services – the Cultural Affairs Dept.!

    • Actually the taxpayers paid for it directly…

      In 2000, voters approved Proposition P, the Safe Neighborhood Parks and Recreation Bond Act, which would supply $52 million of the overall price tag.

      The rest was raised by the Happy Hollow Foundation…

      • Steverino,
        Any way you want to slice it, the taxpayers paid for it, whether by bond or tax. It was a lot to pay for Happy Hollow. I took my kids there a couple years ago and we had a great time just the way it was. It did not need $72 million dollars in improvements.

        • True, but the only group you can blame for Measure P is “us”.  “We” voted for it.  Your point is fine as long as you’re railing against irresponsible voters as well as government.  I feel that’s often overlooked when we complain about deficits.

  3. no matter how you slice it… this is the year of the “takeaway” for unions… and if Reed’s prognostication, “city’s expenses are expected to exceed its revenues for many years to come”, is accurate… we’ll be reading about this next year too..

  4. JMO:
    You usually give more thought to your verbiage.  It sounds to me that you are saying that an employee who is in a union is not entitled to his/her income because he/she hasn’t earned it.  Are you suggesting all unionized employees don’t earn their income?  If so, then what about the employee taking care of our crap down at Alviso?  What about the fireman that saves lives?  What about the police officer saving lives and trying to make San Jose a safer place?  And the many others that make this city run?  They don’t earn it?  Come on JMO, your better then that. 

    What I think you are suggesting is that the unionized employees are getting paid too much and to really earn what they take home would require them to twice the work.  This brings me to COOPER’s “well thought out remarks”. 

    COOPER thinks that the police force should be paid just a little better than a security guard.  Sure why not.  Maybe we can a have a Seattle bus terminal incident here in San Jose every other night.  Then we can really sell some newspapers.  There is a reason you didn’t get hired my friend and it was more then just some pot smoking.  If we lower the standard then we have more incidents involving twice (or more) lawsuits costing the city millions in the long run.  Do me a favor Barney Fife post your remarks on instead.

    TEACHABLE MOMENT… teach me.  I really don’t know.  Can you tell me what Bay Area city requires a high school diploma for police officers?

    On a side note.  I was down near city hall.  How much did the city pay for the totem pole looking art work that is on 5th street?  I heard it was a pretty penny.

    • Too bad Manny Labor you can’t handle the truth by Pat Waite. We don’t need to hire all the donut munchers. The city can save $$$ and I think we are all willing to deal with less “service”. Some cities you don’t need any college to be a cop. It is a wast you have to have 2 years of college for sjpd. High school grads is all that is needed to be a cop.

      Pat Waite needs to run again for city councilman.

    • MANNYLABOR: This isn’t politically correct. But I work for the City. In most cases, we are getting paid more in wages and benefits than we could get for equivalent skill sets in private industry. It’s a reality union members don’t want to hear. I don’t like that reality either. But, unlike a lot of my colleagues, I realize that living in denial ultimately reaches a very ugly end.

      As for the POLICE & FIRE departments, they are the ABSOLUTE WORST OFFENDERS!!! They have “binding arbitration” as part of their labor contract. That means, if they don’t like their contract, they can take it to an arbitrator. The arbitrator almost always decides in their favor, which is why cities usually just give into them because it saves the expense of going to the arbitrator.

      All the other city departments have made cuts to staff over the years, usually by eliminating vacant positions, although last year there were some people laid off.

      Typically, non police & fire departments have to make TWICE the cuts as police & fire. This year, all departments are being asked to submit cuts of up to 35%. While police & fire only have to cut a maximum 7.8%.

      Police officers start at 84K a year (and that doesn’t include all the overtime they get). That is WAAAAY more than what security guards make. And that 84K doesn’t include the super generous pension benefits they can start collecting. After 20 years of service, they can collect 90% of their salaries as early as age 50.

      The other unions get pensions that are generous, but not that generous. Many departments, like the Library & Parks & Rec. have a lot of part time people who are not eligible for pensions at all. Yet, the first place they look to cut is the Library & Parks & Rec. even though these 2 departments are a very small part of the overall budget.

      I think ALL unions do need to make pay and/or benefit concessions. But the POLICE & FIRE departments should make the largest concessions. They have been getting larger pay increases than the other unions for over a decade. That is no exaggeration.

      The only way to reign in Police & Fire salaries is for the voters to petition to get it on the election ballot and take it away. (Yes, this is possible). The politicans can’t or won’t face down the unions. If the “binding arbitration” clause in their contract is taken away, they will be forced to start dealing in some kind of reality.

  5. Our situation is as much due to failed political leadership over the decades as it is to our government employees. McEnery railed about “chronic” budget problems when running for city council in the ‘80’s. 25 years later, somebody could run credibly on that same platform.

    Unfortunately, it is politicians’ nature to punt the issue down the road, hoping a rosy economy will bail them out. Looks like they are finally running out of runway.

      • My comment was “failed political leadership over the decades.” San Jose has a weak mayor system of government, so by definition Reed is a weak mayor, as were those preceding him. In San Jose, the mayor is essentially a council member elected by the city as a whole. Granted, the mayor has a bigger budget for staff, and gets to pen the budget letter that kicks off the budget process. Otherwise, it’s more of a figurehead position, in my opinion.

        Because in the end Mayor Reed’s is only one vote out of eleven. He often ends up on the short end of the vote count (either those actually taken, or those deferred for that very reason).

        So I would not classify Mayor Reed as an inadequate mayor. I would say that he’s hamstrung by numbers on the city council, and that reduces his degrees of freedom when it comes to his ability to lead the council.

  6. Hey JMO, don’t you always bring up the Office of Culture Affair.  Found this job announcement.  Reminded me of you because it was coming from OCA.

    The City of San Jose Public Art Program
    San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan & Design Team Artist RFQ

    DEADLINE: MIDNIGHT (Mountain Time) on Thursday, March 11, 2010.
    This is an online application process only and the deadline cannot be extended

    The City of San José Public Art Program is seeking an experienced public artist or team to collaborate with the consultant planning team for the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant Master Plan (PMP). The selected artist/team will work collaboratively with the Master Plan Consultants to provide an artist’s perspective on the overall design of the PMP, as well as identify opportunities to include public art of their design (or by others) into the development of the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant (Plant). The build-out of the master plan will commence approximately two years after the completion of the Master Plan and continue for approximately 10-15 years depending on the adopted scope and available funding.


    • Such a travesty!  How can anyone take seriously the poor-mouth pleas of our local bureaucrats?  Raise taxes… I think not.  Wack tens of millions of mis-spent, wasterful dollars out of the budget…right on!

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