San Jose's public employee unions will have a fresh face to spar with behind closed doors in the coming weeks. City spokesperson Lenka Wright confirmed to San Jose Inside on Friday that Alex Gurza will no longer serve as the city's lead negotiator on labor contracts.
"There is a change in Alex’s responsibilities," Wright said, adding that he is still employed by the city but she could not provide more details because the situation is a personnel matter.
Gurza, who became a deputy city manager in 2011 and has worked in the Office of Employee Relations (OER) since 1999, has been a frequent target of criticism of public employee unions, which have repeatedly said he and his team have negotiated in bad faith. This argument has been cited in the ongoing legal battle over San Jose's pension reforms enacted through Measure B.
A recent ruling by an administrative law judge for the state Public Employment Relations Board found that the City Council should never have even placed Measure B on the ballot in 2012. Union attorney Christopher Platten reportedly said the decision “kills Measure B.”
That's a matter that still has a long ways to be decided, perhaps for another couple years.
"For the time being,” Wright said, Assistant City Manager Pam Antil, a San Jose employee for all of seven months, will take over Gurza's role as
lead negotiator head of the OER. (UPDATE: Wright called San Jose Inside to clarify that it's "to be determined" who will be leading the negotiating process in the future.)
Antil joined the city in May, after working for several years as an assistant city manager in Palo Alto. Antil reportedly has experience in leading labor negotiations with public-safety employees from her time in Palo Alto, where she was second in command.
"With a change in mayor this may be a way to get the negotiating tables to open back up," a councilmember, who asked not to be named, told San Jose Inside.
Gurza remains employed with the city, but it's unclear in what role and for how long. City manager Ed Shikada was not made available for an interview.
In an email to San Jose Inside, Wright said, "Antil will provide day-to-day operational oversight of all city services and departments. As the highest level 'right hand' for Shikada, she will guide and coordinate the work of deputy city managers and department directors to achieve quality service delivery and citywide organizational and policy goals."
UPDATE 2: San Jose Inside confirmed that Alex Gurza was escorted out of City Hall by security officers.
UPDATE: The suddenness of Alex Gurza's departure as head of the Office of Employee Relations has been quite the topic of conversation today at City Hall. City Manager Ed Shikada sent the following email at 2:22pm to the mayor and City Council:
Dear Senior Staff:
In response to inquiries received, please be aware that Alex Gurza is currently out of the office, and management of the Office of Employee Relations has been temporarily reassigned to Assistant City Manager Pam Antil. Joe Angelo, Director of Human Resources, will also be helping Pam during this time. If you need any assistance on employee-relations type matters, please contact Pam or Joe.