Last week I responded to many of your questions with a term, “Meet-and-Confer.” This terminology is used in reference to discussions that city management has with unions about almost anything.

Once a labor contract is agreed upon, any thought of a change requires a meet-and-confer meeting. It could be a compensation freeze, sick time, vacation time, grievance, health care, retirement, education reimbursement, uniform allowance, time off with pay to conduct union activities, examining the possibility of using a non- union person to provide a city service, or even discussions about future employees who have not been hired yet, etc… So with the current budget deficit, if we want to have a discussion about city staff taking one day off without pay ($2.88M) to avoid layoffs, then there needs to be a closed-door meeting.

As an elected official, I have absolutely zero knowledge of these meetings except what is paraphrased for me by city management. So there are times where union members have genuine concerns and mention that city management did not answer questions, did not provide data or were playing games. How do I know one way or another what happened, since these meetings are secret? It becomes a he-said-she-said situation and burns everyone’s time going back and forth.

More often then not, the Union Business Agent is the person in the closed door meeting. They do not work for the city but are paid by the union to represent and negotiate on behalf of our professional city staff. They are paid from union dues and agency fees that come out of city employees’ paychecks. Last year that amount was $7,164,760.89, and approximately half of that amount can be spent on political campaigns.

I looked back at a prior blog I wrote on May 19, 2008, where I suggested that we allow more sunshine on labor negotiations. My view is still the same for both traditional labor negotiations and binding arbitration. Here is a clip from what I wrote nearly a year ago:

Labor negotiations are a long arduous process. In the past, the city and the unions have both pointed fingers at each other. Perhaps if these meetings were discussed in public, then there would be no finger-pointing. In the era of sunshine, maybe we should consider making these meetings public, as is done in other parts of the country. It would be interesting to know, for example, the full dollar amounts on proposals from each side through each stage of the negotiation, prior to final agreement.

If the city was being unfair, then everyone would know. If labor was asking too much, or they had good points about cost-of-living adjustments or worker safety then we would know.  With the bankruptcy of our neighbor, Vallejo, it seems like we should shine more light on collective bargaining, or, at least, the city should provide some type of summary of the negotiations to the public at an earlier time. If allowing the public to view the negotiations in real time would harm privacy, then, perhaps, the negotiations should be taped on video and shown after the agreement has been reached.  The negotiations could be viewable on the internet or Channel 26.  That way, the public would at least get to see what took place.

In the end, we on the council vote on compensation and benefit increases. However, we as a council will be long gone when the aggregate effect of past votes impacts the budget and neighborhood services. If decisions are made behind closed doors without public scrutiny, then it is easier to make unrealistic financial choices.

Making negotiations public will not take anything away from workers or make negotiations a game of “winners” and “losers.” People need to be paid a good wage with good benefits, that’s for sure.

With a total compensation of $815M and a General Fund of just over $1 billion we need to let the taxpayer know what is going on otherwise they will not support tax increases to provide city services.

Perhaps residents of San Jose should be allowed to vote on this topic?


  1. Pierlugi, you raise an interesting point.  As a former President of the Firefighters Union, and member of the negotiating team for many years, we tried to establish a method where would have an opportunity to bring our proposals to the City Council in closed session.  As you know, the City negotiators have that opportunity.  We met significant opposition from the City Attorney’s office, as well as Employee Relations.  This is not directed at the current incumbents of those offices; simply a statement of fact from the past.

    Negotiations are indeed an arduous process.  The negotiators from the City, as well as the Unions, are committed to the responsibilities they have.  The process brings the City and the Union together in attempts to forge a compromise.  That is why, when some of the issues are viewed independently from the entire labor agreement, they seem to make no sense.  When taken as a whole, these agreements are better evaluated. 

    The fact that the Unions do not have the opportunity to present their proposals to the council stands in the way of the council having the opportunity to evalulate both sides of the issue.  Perhaps allowing the Unions to present their issues to the council in closed session would address some of your concerns.

  2. I agree completely that these negotiations should be public, particularly given that residents continue to be critical of the compensation that employees receive.  I think residents understand and appreciate the role employees play in our city and want to see that they are duly compensated, but we are also very cognizant of how much of a burden their compensation puts on the budget. 

    On a side note, given the economic climate there are going to have to be some concessions, particularly if the city is going to avoid layoffs (which avoiding is what I hope for) but if employees and the city are going to expect the support of residents in the short and long term, then we need to know whats going on throughout the process.

  3. One wonders what percentage of city contracts/services are done by non-union companies.  I recall that on a jaunt to Chicago, some city councilmembers learned that 25% of Chicago’s services are done by the private sector.  How ironic it would be if a “machine town” like Chicago allowed for more private sector contracts than San Jose.

  4. So taxpayers transfer $7 million a year to union management so that they can continue to lobby for more? An equal amount should go to a group representing taxpayers. Taxpayers are outgunned! I would vote yes on videotaping negotiations.

  5. Once again thank you Pierluigi, for your candid and “sunny” information. wink A “few” questions for you:

    Who oversees or manages the process of the unions/collective bargaining/labor negotiations? Is there specific direction on how this overseeing will be done? Is someone auditing the process?

    Why are closed door meetings allowed? Who allows them? Is it a policy that says this is the way it will be? What would it take, specifically, to change this policy or practice? If taxpayers are footing the bill, then we have the right to hear what is being said and agreed to, and more importantly we should hear who is agreeing and why. NO MORE CLOSED DOOR, BACK ROOM DEALING.

    Who is the person who negotiates on behalf of the City? (Not negotiates on behalf of the City employees – you said that was the Union Business Agent) What are the negotiators qualifications? Are they impacted by the negotiations? (I assume they would be if they’re a City employee represented by a union.)

    This whole union thing is ripe with opportunities for change and to bring this process into current day business operating practices that are fair for EVERYONE.

    My .02


  6. Pier,

    As a former SEIU member, I just want to point out that not all union members agree with contract negotiation tactics or like being union members. I was forced to join SEIU as a condition of employment. I was not happy that a portion of my paycheck supported political campaigns -usually the Democrats and their agenda.

    As a San Jose resident taxpayer, I agree union contract negotiations should be public. If city services are funded by taxpayers, I believe the pubic has the right to know how our tax money is spent and what portion is spent on employee pay, benefits, and city perks. 

    Your statement, “As an elected official, I have absolutely zero knowledge of these meetings except what is paraphrased for me by city management,“ only fuels my distrust of city government. This clues me in as to why San Jose is in a financial mess.

    In regards to city employee pay, yes I believe some city workers are overpaid. Those is the management ranks can take a 10% pay cut or perhaps positions can be eliminated without much disruption in services. Since the role of management is merely to supervise, if I had a choice, I would rather keep and pay someone who fills the pothole rather than pay someone who is a professional chair-warmer. Oh wait, maybe this is why union negotiations are kept so hush-hush. Too many on a hot seat?

  7. Pierluigi,

    If the unions are expected to give concessions to help the city balance the budget, what have Ms. Figone and her top deputies done to set the proper example?  Have Ms. Figone and her deputies taken a pay cut or given up any benefits?

  8. Pierluigi opined:“Perhaps residents of San Jose should be allowed to vote on this topic?”

    Don’t we pay the mayor and council to make decisions?  But you guys have proven to be totally incapable of making the tough calls—eighteen layoffs to solve a $60 billion shortfall!!

    If all the tough calls are going to be submitted to the voters, let’s just disband the mayor and council, let the city manager run the show.

    There was an article in todays Murky News re water rationing that quoted some “deputy director” of some unit of the city.  How many deputy directors do we have?  I bet they all make over $125k/year plus benefits the rest of us would die for.  There are probably assitant directors in some depts. at least.  We need to purge the city payroll of a bunch of high paid papaer pushers who are at the very least redundant to efficient government.  Then there are the inevitable managers, supervisors, leads….

    Cut the fat before raising taxes and fees.

  9. #9

    I don’t believe your question compares apples to apples, does it?  Seems to me there is a big difference between negotiation for direct services from City staff and negotiating potential projects in order to have a starting point for public discussion and input.

    We, the public, get no input on labor negotiations but we get to foot the bill. And then we’re told the direct services City staff provide have to be cut. And cut. And cut. Oh, and let’s not forget we taxpayers are encouraged to “Adopt a park,” “Adopt a street,” we’re told we must maintain the City required trees in our parkstrips, maintain our City sidewalks in front of our houses and then asked to find opportunities for public/private partnerships, which still have to adhere to City rules and regulations (with outside money we found) And in doing the above, we cannot “supplant” City employees, whatever supplant is. Evidently it’s in the union contracts which I wouldn’t have known about (unless until a City employee told me) because the contract negotiations are done behind closed doors. ITS NUTS.

    Pierluigi, I’m looking forward to your responses to my questions in post #5.


  10. Several of the people who have responded seem to favor the idea that negotiations should be held in open meetings. Do you also support open meetings for negotiations on ALL other city contracts?  Redevelopment projects; soccer teams, baseball teams, the Sharks, vendors, etc? After all, these negotiations also result in the expenditures of tax payers money.

  11. San Jose is run by the unions like the mafia runs their business’s. They convince the employees they deserve everything and taxpayers should be happy to pay what ever demand “or else”. I assure you their is not one person that works for the city that if they quit would not be replaceable in about five seconds for much less money (if the union would ever allow it).

    Unions are around for only a few reasons 1)to corrupt government 2)collect dues to fill their pockets, 3)repeat 1 & 2.

    Shine the light on these meetings!!

  12. #15

    I concur.  If we are to expect employee unions to sit at the table with our elected officials to negotiate a compromise on compensation, then they should lead by example to show they are serious about the shared sacrifices we need to take.

  13. Tina,

    While Ken Heredia may not have been comparing apples to apples, he still asks a valid question which you can’t just flippantly dismiss. If you stand for openness of negotiations, do you stand for opening up ALL closed door negotiations to the public?

    And we, the public, do get input into labor negotiations. They’re called elections. If you want more direct input than that, I’d suggest you run for council.

  14. Thank you for all the comments shared

    #1 #9 #11
    Thanks for sharing your current and historical perspective on this topic. To your other question I do think there is a difference in negotiating to buy land from a private property owner for a park for example since public discussion could raise the price for a parcel of land which would cost us more money. In addition if we decide to sell one of three golf courses we would want to negotiate the highest price in private. We do audio record real estate discussions in our closed session meetings. These type of expenditures our dwarfed by the what the city spends on total compensation of $815 million.


    Good point and I wrote on that last year:

    Yes and No.
    The professional staff of the city has it deducted from their paycheck however yes the original source of funds comes mostly from taxes. We do not give money to taxpayers groups.

    Under the City Charter the City Manager is responsible for labor negotiations. However the City Mgr does not decide on their own the amount of pay increase or benefits that will be negotiated with the unions.  The City Mgr seeks authorization from the Council in closed session to those items. With direction from the Council the City Mgr oversees the negotiations. The City Mgr cannot come to any final agreement without obtaining approval by the Council.

    Both Police & Fire have the right under the City Charter to have binding arbitration (Passed by the Voters of San Jose in the 80’s) if the City and the Union cannot come to an agreement. The Arbitrator then makes the final decision even though the arbitrator may have zero stake in San Jose.

    The City Mgr delegates the negotiations to the Office of Employee Relations. The staff for Employee Relations are not union members or civil service employees. They have a website as well:

    The negotiations in the past have always been closed to the public. All final labor agreements must come to the Council for a final public vote. Ultimately what is approved in open session was first approved in closed session and voted on by the union members.

    #6 & #15

    There should be shared pain for every position. The Hewlett Packard way.

  15. #13
    Hello, please see my responses imbedded in your questions/comments.

    “… he still asks a valid question which you can’t just flippantly dismiss.” TINA: The question itself is valid, the comparison is not. My sincere apologies if I came off as flippant.

    “If you stand for openness of negotiations, do you stand for opening up ALL closed door negotiations to the public?” TINA: Ken’s question gave RDA projects like soccer teams, baseball teams, the Sharks, vendors, etc as examples. I don’t know if I stand for opening up ALL closed door negotiations for RDA projects and here’s why; I don’t understand what the process of negotiations on RDA projects entails. Is it a completely closed door process? I believe somewhere in the process are public outreach/public comment solicitation. (The one exception that comes to mind was the Grand Prix fiasco, but I think there were some lessons learned there.) I would need more education on the RDA negotiation process to answer the question better.

    “And we, the public, do get input into labor negotiations. They’re called elections.” TINA: How are elections part of the labor negotiation process? There seems to me to be a big difference between taking labor money to get elected and being willing to negotiate contracts publicly and then publicly stand behind your decisions and look residents in the eye when they are impacted by the results of your decisions. I disagree with you on your above statement, #13. 

    “If you want more direct input than that, I’d suggest you run for council.” TINA: Thanks for the suggestion. I prefer to be active in my community in other ways.

    Have a happy day,


  16. Is there some reason the mayor and city council members and their respective staffs can’t take a symbolic 10% immediate pay cut to show they are serious about expecting others to do the same thing?

  17. FYI:

    Attention all suppliers, contractors, consultants, and businesses wanting to do business with the City
    March 24, 2009
    The City of San Jose Small Business Development Commission (SBDC) and the City of San Jose (City) are interested in receiving your feedback regarding the City’s bidding process (Request for Quotes, Request for Construction Bids, Request for Proposals, Request for Qualifications) to identify opportunities for improved efficiencies.  Please take a few moments to tell us how we’re doing and participate in our anonymous on-line SUPPLIER SURVEY by clicking on the following link:

  18. Pier,
    I asked in #15 why doesn’t the entire city council and mayor take an immediate 10% pay cut as a symbolic gesture of leadership to encourage other city workers to do the same. Your reply in post #17 was “There should be shared pain for every position. The Hewlett Packard way.” While that may be true, the mayor and city council need to lead by example and cut their pay first. There are plenty of examples where other cities and executive boards of private companies have recently done the same, leading the way and reducing their pay. When can we expect you or another city council member to make this proposal?

    The city council also needs to curtail all of their political junkets which is a huge waste of taxpayer money. What happened to your suggestion that this travel could instead be done via the internet? Scott Herhold in the Mercury last week wrote a piece in which most of the council is currently out of town on various junkets.

    It just seems that this is just more of the same with just some different rhetoric. What has really changed? Blogs are great but as taxpayers we need to see more action instead of words.

  19. #21
    Personally, I don’t think it’s the entire City Council and Mayor that need to take a 10% paycut; they are not even close to the highest paid in the City.

    When Hewlett Packard executives and management took their 10% paycut and asked employees to take every other Friday off, it was because executives and management WERE at the top rung of the pay scale. In the case of the City of SJ, City Council and Mayor aren’t even close to top rung and are only slightly above average pay for Silicon Valley. (My sources: and

    The Mayor and city Council (from what I understand) don’t get step increases or cost of living increases and are instead dependent on the Council Salary Setting Commission.

    That said, actions absolutely do speak louder than words, so perhaps curtailing the political junkets is a viable option and would be a symbolic step toward cutting expenses. The City absolutely needs to look at how they spend money, because it is not being adequately spent on basic city services.

    My .02.


  20. This is not about who is the highest paid in the city. It is about the city leaders taking the first step to show they are serious. It is about politicians not doing the usual “Do as I say, not as I do”. It would not even be the first step at this point if they take a pay cut. The fire department has already agreed to give back the raise they already negotiated and the police department has agreed to pay back 5% of their gross salary to fund medical insurance. That is a 5% pay cut.

    I am glad to hear the CEO of Hewlett Packard, John Hurd, agreed to reduce his salary by 10%. He made about $42 million in total compensation last year. 

    Why don’t you think the city council and mayor should be subject to a pay cut? Even Pier said “There should be shared pain for every position. The Hewlett Packard way”

    Many of the city council members will use their positions to springboard into much higher paying jobs down the road. Whatever step increase they don’t get or symbolic pay cut they take will be more than made up for.

  21. Hi #24. In the event you were responding to my post (#23), please let me clarify:

    When I was speaking of HP leaders taking their 10% pay cut, it was WAY back when, when the economy was tanking and cost cutting measures were order of the day. I have no idea what MARK Hurd/his team are doing now. I will say, as a stockholder, I appreciate the task(s) Mark Hurd has to do, and yes, he makes a LOT of money doing it. BTW, he just took a 20% paycut from his $1.4M salary. (source: )

    In any event thanks for your opinion and thoughts, Steve. I agree with your point about the concept of shared pain (and appreciate your info re: the 5% cut from police and fire.) and now will ask if ALL City of SJ unions get the concept of shared pain as well? More importantly, will they even have a discussion about it? Or in everyone’s view, must it only be the Mayor/Council’s salaries that take the hit?

    And as for us residents shared pain, B.O.H.I.C.A. has been a way of life for years and I for one am sick and tired of it.


  22. When I wrote about opening up all negotiations to the public, I pointed to some examples, like RDA, Sharks, etc. My intention was to ask if people feel that all negotiations leading to the expenditure of public funds should be open, or just those negotiations that deal with labor contracts.  The bottom line, is my opinion, is the “tentative agreements” that go to the council in open session for approval. I’m not sure how much it matters what the opening proposals were; or what concessions were made. 

    As far as the City Council’s involvement, I have a different opinion.  In years past, the council gave direction to the negotiators, based on recommendations from the City Manager.  As the process evolved, or stalled, further direction would be sought by the negotiators for the City-and the Union negotiators would seek further direction from the general membership.  The disconnect, as I see it, occurs when the Council is giving direction based only on managements’ perspective.  If the Unions had the opportunity to provide information to the City Council, perhaps a clearer picture would evolve. 

    Finally, I should point out that the public employees unions elect their representatives, usually from among their membership-sometimes, a negotiator is hired who is not a public employee.
    I do think,however, that the comparison is apples to apples-the end result of all of these contract negotiations is that the public, to borrow a phrase from Tina Morrill, “foots the bill”

  23. Tina #25,
    Thanks for the thoughtful dialogue. I don’t think we are that far apart in idea, it is just where the BOHICA is coming from. I think the middle class, including most city workers, have been decimated during this economic collapse, by those we trusted the most in our society. Captains of industry who made sure their own millions were safe on the back of their workers who lost a lifetime of savings, esteemed financial institution the were beyond reproach yet thought nothing of making loans doomed for failure knowing the taxpayer would pay the bills politicians we elected to local and national positions who were either inept or looked the other way to line a buddies pocket and condoning other incestuous business dealings. Now these politicians are spending our country into a third world status in which none of the trillions have done a thing for the middle class who is again paying the bill. A total lack of ethics substituted by pure greed by those we trust. While I am sure Pier in honorable, the BOHICA I see is asking city workers to take a paycut before the elected political leaders do. That is the BOHICA I see. Do as I say, not as I do. Not that a city worker has a good medical plan or a cop of firemen can retire at 50 after being on a job that abused their bodies for 30 years, most leaving with permanent injuries.

  24. Hi Steve (#27),

    I don’t believe a paycut by elected political leaders would go very far. (One mayor, 10 council members? And they don’t make alot of money, I mean it’s not like the Corp. America CEOs. I’d prefer to see other “symbolic” gestures from our elected leaders, thank you.) I also don’t believe Mayor/council have the attitude “do as I say, not as I do.” I’ve found the ones I have met to be compassionate and caring people. That said however, there are some that want a career in politics and are really between a rock and a hard place with the budget mess. Any way they move they’re going to piss someone off. I don’t envy them.

    Re: Your comments about city employees and their bennies: From what I’ve been able to determine, their union reps have been doing their jobs, but good. Employee opportunities for rapid step increases are like nothing I’ve seen in Corp. America. The benefits during and after employment are beyond generous. Steve, there are many opportunities to align pay and benefits with industry without causing City employees to have to join soup lines. I don’t believe anyone wants that. I sure don’t.

    RE: Your comment about cops and firefighters. Yes, they take enormous risks. The job they do takes it’s toll. I know, I’m the daughter of a firefighter who retired from the Palo Alto Fire Dept. after 32 years of service. He took a regular retirement, not the disability retirement many do. Without going into detail, I assure you he is paying the price of his career decision. But, it was his decision to get into that line of work, as it is with our other cops and firefighters; their decision with all the consequences, both good and bad. My Dad LOVED his job, and was on both sides, first as a firefighter (union member) and then as Management. Something he would always tell me is there are consequences to every decision you make, you’ll like some, you’ll hate others, but think about the consequences before you take action.

    I have a great deal of admiration for folks in public service. It’s not an easy job. But it’s also not easy being a taxpaying resident and watching the crumbling and finger pointing going on around me.

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