More Unions on Board with Concessions

Despite Sam Liccardo’s reservations, City Council voted 9-2 on Tuesday in support of the agreement reached with San Jose’s Firefighters Union. The agreement set a precedent. Three more unions, representing city architects and engineers, trade worker supervisors, and mid-level managers, have reached a similar agreement.

The terms of the agreement stipulate that the 623 union members agree to a 10 percent cut in salary and benefits over the next two years, as well as the eventual elimination of their right to sell unused vacation time back to the city.

That means four down, seven to go, but it may not be as easy as that. For one thing, the city has yet to go head to head with the largest union, the Police Officers Association, and they are already fighting. The latest headline on their Protect San Jose blog raises the specter of the Wisconsin protests, and warns that layoffs are in the offing. It even lists potential layoffs, among them the 41 officers who patrol Mineta Airport, but adds that this is just the beginning, and that many more officers could lose their jobs, affecting public safety, etc.


  1. So we’re finally discovering that we’ve been overpaying City employees all these years. Even at 10% less many of them know that it’s way more than they could earn in the private sector where employers are concerned with trivial details such as efficiency and productivity.
    So next year we (the City) should offer them 10% less again. They’ll take it. And do it again the following year. They’ll take it again. By finding out just how little these people are willing to work for we will discover what they’re worth. And judging by my own observation of city workers ‘working’, it ain’t much.
    On the other hand, if complaining about not being provided with a personal gym is considered ‘work’, then I stand corrected. Our City employees are bustin’ ass.

    • If you had done your research, John, instead of making insulting comments, you would have known that it is actually mandatory for firefighters hired after l986 (I do not know if SJPD has the same requirement so I am speaking of SJFD only), to work out 90 minutes a day. You may feel this is unreasonable, however, if you knew anything about what firefighters or police do in their job, you would understand that our jobs are extremely physical and I am sure, as such a concerned citizen, you would rather have them physically able to do the job than collecting disability (example: Pete Constant). To say that the City should keep cutting employees salaries every year to find out what they are worth, kind of exposes you for what you really are: a jealous hater. Shame on you!

      • > If you had done your research, John, instead of making insulting comments, you would have known that it is actually mandatory for firefighters hired after l986 . . . .

        It’s mandatory?

        So.  Make it un-mandatory.  After all, we ARE the people, and “the voice of the people is the voice of God”.

        There.  Problem solved.

        • Yes make working out un-mandatory! … and then make it Mandatory that our firefighters not sleep during theire 24 hour shift AND mandatory that they not shop for food or consume any food other than what ever the individual firefighter chooses to bring to work to sustain him/herself.

          Apparently the “voice of the people” want fire fighters to be (1) out of shape (2) tired and perhaps (3) to eat as individuals rather than as a group that might have to work as a team at some point during their shift – maybe they just want them hungry on top of being tired and out of shape…

          I don’t know, sometimes “the people” voice without really thinking. Much like our Mayor and Council…

          Right now Pierluigi is probably thinking…:  Gee I bet we could save a ton of money if we outsourced firefighting to professional body builders and tri-athletes who could respond from Ballys, Golds or 24hr Nautilus private contractor! If we removed all items in the fire house kitchen except for a microwave (powered by solar) and outsourced meals to a profesional caterer the firefighters would have more time to fight fires or at least save on the fuel costs associated to having rigs drive to the market! Rest? Well we could mandate that all scba’s be filled with pure O2 which will counter most effects of being on the “nod.” especially in a flame environment.

        • No, not tired – at least I didn’t start tired. Since you didn’t think of everything I thought of it for you. As you can see when one follows your thoughts to their logical conclusions the thought becomes absurd.

        • > Apparently the “voice of the people” want fire fighters . . . to eat as individuals rather than as a group that might have to work as a team at some point during their shift – maybe they just want them hungry on top of being tired and out of shape…

          You don’t seem to be thinking clearly, Mr. Brilliant.

          Are you tired?

    • People have to survive. If they DID take less, it would be because they have to take care of their families. What an idi-t. You should better hope you don’t lose your job. Karma is a bit-h.

  2. Galt you are out to lunch. Actually public employees on average have more education and still earn less than private industry employees do. Just because you didn’t work harder in your youth and maybe do not have the cleanest background and moral standards, you choose to disparrage others. Why don’t you put more effort into actually bettering your own situation before you go and blanket all public employees as the “typical” dmv employee? If you are all that and public employees are riding the gravy train, why don’t you hop aboard and enjoy all of the many many benefits you think they receive?

    • You completely misapprehend my motivation Mr. Farley.

      “…why don’t you hop on board and enjoy all the many many benefits you think they receive?”

      Because I don’t deserve them and I don’t want them. I’m satisfied with my own situation. This isn’t about me being envious of what others are paid.
      What I do want is for our City to be in a position to use its revenue to actually make San Jose a better place, rather than have every last cent, no matter how much there is, squandered away to various special interests including our unionized employees, leaving nothing to accomplish the things for which we’ve got a government in the first place.

    • “Actually public employees on average have more education and still earn less than private industry employees do.”

      WRONG!  Average public employee pay and benefits has exceed average private sector pay and benefits for many years now.

  3. I encourage everyone to compare the salaries of the average San Jose Police Officer with those of other police officers in Santa Clara County. This can be done easily on the Mercury News salary search engine. I also encourage readers to read the Civil Grand Jury report on retirements published last year. You will find that SJPD is one of the few agencies not to have a three percent at 50 retirement. SJPD has a backloaded retirement where it is mathematically impossible to retire at 50 with 90 percent. In fact, SJPD pays 22 percent for their retirement while the highest paid by any PERS agency is nine percent.  Many agencies, like Oakland, actually contribute this nine percent for the employee. I am not suggesting reforms in the retirement system are not needed, but the political rhetoric and disparaging comments must cease.

  4. The article states the Police Officers’ Association blog “raises the specter of the Wisconsin protests…” I clicked on the link and read the article, “Wisconsin West: The Truth About Measure V and Layoffs.” The title raises the correlation between the union busting occurring under the guise of budget reform in Wisconsin and what is taking place in San Jose. There is no call for the protests we have seen in Wisconsin. My questions are:

    1. Did “Silicon Valley Newsroom ” not read the     article?

    2. Did “Silicon Valley Newsroom” not understand the article?

    3. Or did “Silicon Valley Newsroom” choose to include this inaccurate and inflammatory comment to add to the lynch-mob mentality perpetuated by Mayor Reed and The Mercury News?

    Governor Walker would be so proud!

    Click on the link and read it yourself.

  5. It is gratifying to see that several unions understand the problem and are willing to help fix it.  But it’s not nearly enough.

    SJ has about 6,600 active employees, and 4,891 beneficiaries of pension plans, a ratio of 1.4 employees to each beneficiary.  The ration was 3:1 in 1990-1991.  Fromm 1991 to now, retirees and beneficiaries grew from 1,816 to the current 4,891.  And our pension obligations to them grew per capita, as well.

    The problem cannot be solved with 10% cuts and changes to future benefits.  Current retirees and existing employees must agree to reduce their benefits, as well.

    Of our annual budget, almost $200million is just for current retirees, and that number will continue to grow unles curtailed.

    The only thing that pencils out unless current retirees and the soon-to-be- retired grant concessions regarding their pensions is bankruptcy.

    We have run out of road.  The front bumper of our civic automobile is already over the cliff.  The 10% bandaids cannot stanch the wounds.

    But don’t be too sad—-we still have an Office of Cultural Affairs.

    check out for the full story of how pension obligations are driving CSJ over the cliff.

    • really i hadn’t done the math.  Oh wait 10% is not enough.  NO SH*& anyone who thinks so is a moron.  But let’s see how is it none of these people, Mayor Reed in particular who has been in the council for how many years now????  have come up with a solution for the past 10 years.  Instead we have been giving millions away to all of the politically connected friends and those financially vested with the Chamber. Lew,and McHenery. We should start working together like the city employees are trying to do,  with each other including the business community to fix our financial issues. lets stop acting like children and making last ditch efforts to make a political name for our self and move forward.  I thought the mayor said we need on third from the employees on third from cuts and one third in new revenues.  Well what is he doing to promote that one third new revenues, or was that i ploy to convince the city to give a way more money to “keep” businesses in San Jose. here is an idea stop granting re zoning of commercial property to high density housing

  6. Do San Jose’s public safety workers realize that the City has several realistic alternatives to the in-house city departments?
    * Fire service can be contracted to CalFire (as some cities are planning to do), or Santa Clara County Central Fire District.
    * Police services can be similarly contracted to the Santa Clara County Sheriff.
    I would like to see the City Council direct the City Manager to send RFQs to the above-named agencies when the SJPD and SJFD contracts expire.

    • Realistic alternatives? While CalFire is contracting in some small, bedroom communities, they do not have the sheer numbers of personnel, nor the expertise (hi-rise, hazardous materials, mass casualties) required to run such a contract. Santa Clara County Central Fire District? Until the city recently annexed many county areas abutting San Jose, Central Fire paid SJFD to cover those areas. They don’t have the resources.  As for the Sheriff, they don’t even have half the numbers of even the current, decimated ranks of the SJPD. The sheriff’s Offices fields a handful of deputies to cover the entire county. Nationally, and outside of San Jose City Hall, SJPD is regarded as one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the country. These bad economic times will pass, but the systematic dismantling of the SJPD will have effects that last for much, much longer.

      • Oh, and by the way, SCCSO still pays their deputies wages and benefits that are somewhat comparable to San Jose. And, they offer a pension system as well. If the city contracted with the SO, they would still be, in effect, paying for similar wages and benefits.

      • No, not kidding.  There was no assumption that outside agencies will provide services with only their current staffing.  It is reasonable to expect CalFire or the CoSC sheriff would need to add employees if either agency were contracted to provide services to San Jose.  Ideally, they would hire many of the former SJPD or SJFD employees. 

        The advantage of using a 3rd party for these public safety services is that overhead costs can be significantly scaled (mgmt costs spread over a larger base), a larger base of firefighters and deputies serving the county & CoSJ,  and that the City of SJ would pay a fixed amount to the 3rd party agency, covering wages, vacation & benefits – using a bounded defined-contribution retirement plan, in lieu of an open-ended defined-benefit pension plan.

        I take issue with the characterization of SJPD being one of the premier law enforcement departments in the US. Perhaps when the dept was led by Chief Robert McNamera, but not in the past decade or so.  Why has the SJPD put up such a vigorous resistance to the idea of citizen oversight of the dept?  Why the need to protect a few bad apples, who should have been fired years ago?

        • Perhaps you forgot to read the recent articles where Gov. Brown has plans to scale back CalFire by up to 700 employees, as well as the intentions for local agencies (such as SJFD) to handle wildland incidents (without CalFire assistance) in the immediate State response areas, such as Alum Rock hills, and Calero reservoir areas, to name a few.  This is a State-wide issue, not just SJ.  So, there may be no helicopters and water dropping aircraft to help.
          Knowing this, what makes you think that CalFire is going to take on the idea of new areas of responsibility such as high rise firefighting when they are dropping some of their own areas?  The one good thing about possibly taking on CalFire under contract (if they were to even consider it given their own budget issues)is that they make liberal use of convicted felons to augment their firefighting crews.  They get less than minimum wage and get NO pensions.  That should make many of you happy, especially those of you in the wealthy Almaden Valley and Willow Glen.  “Those people” will be roaming around your house and property, with no real interest in busting their tails to save you or your stuff.  After all, you get what you pay for, no?  I mean, really.  Why would a bunch of convicts bust their tails to save your granite counterop kitchen and your eco friendly bamboo flooring? Maybe they would, but I just don’t see it.

    • Have the Sheriff take over San Jose. Before you make suggestions you should do some basic research. Deputies have better pay and retirement than San Jose Police Officers.  Where do we sign up for that?

    • Seriously?  Just off hand, those two agencies do not have the resources to even partially staff that idea.  Although I am sure that some of our fine politicians will waste a great deal everyone’s time trying to make that work. 

      CalFire btw does contract out for a lot of “grunt work”, such as sandbagging efforts, wildfire support (of which they do well), but they are not professionals that specialize in life-safety rescue, or urban firefighting.

  7. San Jose public employee unions and the San Jose Redevelopment Agency share at least one thing in common.

    They fought the laws of economics, and the laws of economics won.

    • > They fought the laws of economics, and the laws of economics won.

      The fatal flaw of unionism is that it divides the world into “us” and “them”, and then operates on the premise that sufficient bullying will result in the transfer of resources from “them” to “us”.

      But when the “us” have the lion’s share of the available resources, and the “them” are unemployed, losing their homes and overtaxed, the unionism model breaks down.

      The “them” are left only with the choice of resisting, or becoming slaves.

  8. ” Actually public employees on average have more education and still earn less than private industry employees do. ” 

    Employees should be paid on basis of the value of the work they do not their education unless it increases the value of their work

    Many government employees have education that is not related to their job or general education that government credits but has little value in job market so comparing education to earnings is not appropriate

    Public should not demean government employees that provide provide valuable services that are essential to society’s well-being and public safety

    Government employees total compensation has risen faster by political action than the taxpayer’s ability to fund and it needs to be reduced either voluntarily by employees or by voter’s political action since labor elected or influenced Legislature seems incapable of reform action

    ” Editorial: Reining in overly generous public employee pensions ”  makes good points that are ignored by unions supporters

    ” For too long, state, county and local government officials have acceded to union demands for ever-higher retirement and other benefits, far in excess of anything offered by the vast majority of private firms.

    At one time, generous pensions were offered to public employees to compensate for more modest salaries that used to be less than those in the private sector. That situation is outdated today.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of December 2008, the average yearly pay for state and local government employees was $53,800. That’s $13,500 more than the average private-sector employee.

    There also is a huge gap between public and private employees in benefit packages. The average annual benefits for government workers is $27,800. It’s only $16,600 for private-sector workers.

    Total compensation (salary, pensions and other benefits) for the average public worker is $81,600, far above the $56,900 for private-sector employees. That’s difference of $24,700.

    The argument that ever-higher pay and benefits are needed to retain public employees is bogus in most instances other than law enforcement.

    There is little market demand for public employees, who generally are not seeking to leave their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says job turnover is tiny in the public sector compared with the private sector. ”

    • Yeah, I don’t care what their defenders say, public employees are a bunch of lazy overpaid slackers. Some pinko showed me this study from some Berkeley radical called “The Truth about Public Employees in California:
      They are Neither Overpaid nor Overcompensated” — — but it was just a bunch of hooey, statistics and tables and stuff and it was really long. I said that I’ll stick with Mayor Reed, councilman Oliverio, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Media NewsGroup editorials, Fox News and SJI for MY facts, you betcha! Hey, even if the average public job requires more edjucation than the average private industry job, we all know public work is easier, and that’s what they should get paid for! I worked my butt off in private industry; these public employees have NO idea how much HARD work it takes to motavate yourself to get business done all day at home in your pajamas. NO idea! And you know what galts me even more? These public employees would be even more overpaid compared to private-sector employees if not for that socialist plot to destroy freedom known as the minimum wage that keeps private wages artificially high! It’s just killing small business people, but the unions and their lapdog legislators could care less (or is it ‘couldn’t care less’?). I know we’re all against undocumented workers (wink wink) but they have their uses. Yeah, somebody said councilman Reed voted yes on giving police and fire 90% pensions and a hefty increase in compensation back in 2005 (Mercury News, Wednesday, December 14, 2005, 1B). I don’t care cause now as the mayor he’s on our side and knows that “political action” like that was wrong. Now he and council Oliverio are using “political action” to correct past wrongs and help us suffering private-sector taxpayers. And he’s also fighting for our redevelopment taxpayer money that lefty loon Jerry Brown wants to steal from us to give to public employees.

    • > Employees should be paid on basis of the value of the work they do not their education unless it increases the value of their work.

      Wise, but let’s not go overboard, Mr. Taxpayer.

      There is NO REASON—zero, zilch, nil, nada, nothing—NO REASON for an employee to be paid for his or her education.

      An employee—ANY EMPLOYEE—should be paid on the value of the work they do.

      Paying for education results in “credentialism” and not productivity.  The public education system is crammed full of drones with useless, ornamental degrees that have no value other than moving drones up the pay ladder.

      In the private sector, a degree is basically a “reference” that gets you in the door, but after two or three years, the degree doesn’t really matter.  It’s “what have you done for me lately?”.

  9. > SJ may need a court to unravel the ridiculous promises made in flush years to staff who take these a lifetime entitlements.

    Names, please.

    WHO made those bad promises?

    Also need to know:

    – dates,
    – places,
    – nature of act performed,
    – amount of transaction,
    – witnesses,
    – photographs of the perps,

    As well as suitable sites for a hanging or two.

    • Name: Charles R. Reed
      Date: December 13, 2005
      Place: SJ City Hall
      Nature of Act: YES vote to give sworn police and fire 90% pensions plus a very large increase in compensation; voted in line with the mayor at that time and 8 other councilmembers.
      Amount of transaction: As yet undetermined
      Witnesses: Council and meeting attendees
      Photographs: ?
      Why: Before he saw the budget “light” or at least an issue to demagogue for political advancement, the current mayor was a councilmember who — like everyone else people have been baselessly accusing of being in the unions’ “pockets” — got caught up in the moment, caught up in a good-times revenue bubble a few years before the bottom dropped out of the world, national and local economies.

      Around the time of this vote was the City’s Mid-Year Budget Review for 2005-2006, which states: “General Fund revenue collections through the first six months of the year are tracking higher than expected and should end the year above the 2005-2006 Adopted Budget estimates. This stronger performance is due, in part, to the stabilization of the local economy that has started to show some signs of modest, but sustainable growth. A much larger factor, however, has been unusually high collections in categories such as Property Tax and Utility Taxes. These receipts are tracking above budgeted levels based on
      higher actual 2004-2005 collections, the dramatic increase in energy costs, higher actual collections from the State reconciliation of the Motor Vehicle In-Lieu Fee Swap, and the stronger than anticipated real estate market. Some of this growth, however, is expected to be one-time or temporary in nature.”

      What the future mayor, the rest of the council, the police and fire unions, etc. should have paid attention to was the last sentence of this quotation. I think, however, that decisions and decision-makers at the state, national, and perhaps even international levels are largely to blame for systemic changes to the overall economy that have negatively affected local government revenues all over the country and have squeezed both public sector and private sector employee incomes. Unfortunately, those greater institutions who are largely to blame have left the resulting budget problems for local governments to solve.

      The solution to the problem is not to “break” the unions — since as even Fire has shown, they seem to be aware of the problem — no matter how much political mileage can be gained in this over-charged atmosphere. And instead of unilaterally proposing all manner of concessions (many of which are not likely to pass court challenges) as a way of staking out one’s initial bargaining position, why not work collegially with the unions on realistic solutions to the issues about pensions and about compensation of current employees? For example, instead of spending scarce City money on yet another consultant or future ballot measure, why not form a task force made up of representatives from City administration, the Council, and all bargaining units to hash out an overall framework for dealing with each of these various budget issues? Then the City can use this framework in bargaining over each unit’s contract. As we have seen with the plunging approval ratings of the Wisconsin governor and many of his legislative supporters, adversarial relationships often backfire on those in charge.

  10. So the whole pension debate and union discussion about take backs has actually worn me down.  I’m tired of talking about it.  Feels like the situation is so political and dire that nothing useful will come out of trying to analyze the issue and work toward long term solutions.

    Because unions and membership are so passionate, nothing long term can really be done, just incrementalism where we go from budget shortfall to budget shortfall.  Because managers and politicians are also focused on short and medium term goals, no leadership is really coming on that side either.  For City Managers and politicians like Mayor Reed, looking good and doing some good is okay rather than actually facing the horrible systemic problems.

    I still believe bankruptcy is inevitable for San Jose within 10 years, as the liabilities are just too great and the reforms just too small.  GM had to go bankruptcy to get out off a thousand bad deals with dealerships and others.  SJ may need a court to unravel the ridiculous promises made in flush years to staff who take these a lifetime entitlements.  Unlike the feds, SJ can’t print money or borrow from the Chinese to cover bad faith deals where they spend way more than they take in.

    • They’ve still got too much land they can sell to pay off debts. If they went bankrupt, they would have to open their books and show all of the money that is hidden. Every penny would have to be accounted for. Forensic accountants would be combing through the books and I would assume there would be some who would be very uncomfortable in their britches, while that happened.

      • >  If they went bankrupt, they would have to open their books and show all of the money that is hidden. Every penny would have to be accounted for. Forensic accountants would be combing through the books and I would assume there would be some who would be very uncomfortable in their britches, while that happened.

        This would be a wonderful thing, and would cheer me up immensely.

        But the slimy lizards seem to be remarkably adept at evading accountability.

        Can you give me some more assurance that the perps would actually see some klieg lights and rubber truncheons?

        Have their been municipal bankruptcies where the perps have opened their books and sweated?

    • “Unlike the feds, SJ can’t print money…”

      That’s true, but the feds, under instructions from a union friendly President, CAN print more money and distribute it to cities such as San Jose in exchange for promises that union-friendly policies and wages will continue. They’ll call it ‘stimulus’.

      I’m tired of this whole discussion too but we can’t afford to go back to blindly trusting our government officials to make wise decisions on our behalf. We’ve learned that when we quit watching them they go off the rails. The only way to keep our current politicians halfway honest is to continue to point out the problems caused by past irresponsible decisions and by letting them know that when they try to buy political capital with our money WE are seeing it and they’ll be punished, not rewarded.

      You’re an astute policy analyzer and tweaker Blair, but policy wonking this pension situation is a losing proposition. It’s not about details. It’s about attitude. Until people get it into their heads that nobody owes them a job- that goes for both public AND private sector- then public employees are going to use this sense of entitlement that they obviously have, to justify their unrealistic expectations.

      • OK well then how can the City of San Jose Claim “we have no money” and yet have a better than A bond rating. in order to get those rates aren’t you supposed to have large amounts of capitol on hand

        • > OK well then how can the City of San Jose Claim “we have no money” and yet have a better than A bond rating. in order to get those rates aren’t you supposed to have large amounts of capitol on hand

          So, your idea is that if San Jose has enough money to have an A bond rating, they should spend money on unions until it no longer has an A bond rating.

          Do the unions have to do any work for this, or are they entitled to the money just because their unions?

  11. I have learned recently that it is going to cost my husband and I a minimum of $85,000 to send our daughter to State School and approx $120,000 for a UC. We’ve been planning for years and have money set aside, but had no idea how much the costs had increased. 5 years our older daughter started at a State School and we spent under $50,000.
    In realizing how much pay, overtime, and benefits our city employees make astounds me. “We” don’t have anyone setting aside money for our retirement, we have to invest from our earnings into a 401K, we don’t earn over-time, we don’t get a 90% pension. Plus we have to save for our kids college education. My husband has a college degree, has specialized in the same field for 30 years, and is told all the time, just be glad you have a job. He earns a fair salary, but nothing like the fire-fighters especially when you consider the overtime and benefits they get. We don’t have extra money right now for any luxuries. I recently read that the new City Manager in Redwood City has been making over $200K a year as the Human Resource Manager and now its expected that he will get a raise, give me a break!!! How does any city official justify these kinds of salaries when good, responsible tax-paying citizens are trying to make ends meet. The most appauling thing to me, is that they keep cutting education. I consider it so important for our future adults to be stongly educated and yet we are having to bust our butts to make that happen, when the city employees have such extordianry salaries. I highly respect the jobs they do, but it feels like no one respects the jobs my husband and I are doing as parents without any help from anyone, we have no promised income for our future. It feels like a slap in the face. Final irony, we are too middle income to qualify for any financial aid…yea that makes sense?

  12. Just read an email from a friend who is a school board member. They are proposing tax increases to be voted on by the citizens to help recover some of the lost money from budget cuts in education. See the city officials know that because we care about our children’s education so much that parents will support those increases to protect education. So more money from the tax-payer’s pocket.

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