VTA Union Says Managers Are Pressing Too Hard to Return to San Jose Offices

This story has been updated with responses from the VTA.

One of the four unions that represents Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority employees has posted a statement complaining that some transit workers are being unfairly pushed to return to VTA offices.

“We are demanding that managers continue to keep as many employees as possible working from home,” said a letter published on the website of the Service Employees International Union 521, directed at the VTA.

"VTA employees have been under an enormous amount of pressure and unanticipated challenges since the beginning of the COVID pandemic," the  VTA said in an  email response to San Jose Inside. "Add to that environment a hard-hitting cyber-attack only to be followed by the horrendous tragedy at our Guadalupe Light Rail Yard that will influence everything we do moving forward."

"The allegations brought forward in the recent petition presented to the VTA Board of Directors is being independently and thoroughly investigated by a third party," said VTA spokesperson Stacey Handler Ross.

VTA light-rail service continues to be suspended, as the mass transit agency is still reeling from the murders of nine VTA employees May 26 by a co-worker who shot and killed himself.

TA offices have officially been open for employees to return to work since July 6.  Handler Ross said, "many employees are back to work at the River Oaks headquarters since the County Health Department lifted the Stay at Home order earlier this summer."
She said VTA employees have been working from home for the past year and a half because of the pandemic and the subsequent Stay at Home order from the Public Health Department, "and had nothing to do with the event of May 26."

"VTA employees who have been home since that event are Guadalupe Division employees who were given administrative leave after the shooting," she said in an email. "They are currently being brought back to work in phases."

At a VTA board meeting last week, SEIU 521 also presented VTA with a petition from information technology workers complaining about poor treatment from transit management since the mass shooting.

The SEIU statement cited these “ongoing issues” affecting VTA workers that are unresolved:

  • “County orders recommending that staff work from home have not been changed. Why has VTA management's position changed? What is the business reason that supersedes the county health orders to continue keeping VTA employees working from home?
  • “Managers are making arbitrary decisions about bringing staff back to the office without discussing it with our union and its union members who need to re-arrange care for their children.
  • “What has prompted VTA to increase the number of days working in the office, arbitrarily? Our VTA employees were fully working from home for months and bringing them back to the office will not only demoralize us during these times but will affect our productivity as well.
  • “As people are being brought back, this is suddenly creating issues amongst employees and supervisors. We believe it is most effective to continue with the work-from-home plan in place for most VTA employees.
  • “Staff may start becoming very comfortable around each other at work. This can start the spread of the COVID-19 virus when/if staff stops paying attention, such as wearing masks and social distancing.
  • “The use of the common areas is increased once you have everyone back to work. This will definitely increase the possibility of the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the office.
  • “Schools have not re-opened and kids are distance-learning from home. Many parents have been able to continue working from home and be there physically for their kids. And some parents have been able to rotate with a spouse or partner the days they are working from home so that someone is always home helping the children learn.”


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. After a year of COVID Work-At-Home Vacation – it is getting harder and harder to get employees back to work – even the teachers unions are working the angles to not go back to class. County and City Governments had a nice Excuse to limit services, not answer phones, or return emails for over a year. If their services are so UN-ESSENTIAL then maybe we can do without that much Bureaucracy and let the private sector handle more of it.

    “US employees are Leading the pack both in terms of the amount still working remotely, and Productivity DECLINES…
    85% are still away from the office and their Overall Productivity has Dropped by 14%”

    “European countries that have Largely ENDED Remote Work programs have shown large productivity increases:
    France has seen total productivity increase by 113%,
    Italy by 100%,
    and the Netherlands by 52%.
    The report attributes these changes not only to less non-work responsibilities, like childcare, but also due to improved tech support while in the office.”

  2. actually we should shut down vta completely and pay the union rank and file to not work for 5 years, then they’re on their own. like old school no-show union jobs. staying home and doing nothing has to cost less than this

    privatize the buses and if you are really poor, subsidize a uber trip in the worst corner cases

    it has to be cheaper that way and empty light rail cars won’t make me miss left hand lights anymore, which really tweaks my twerk

  3. I like the idea of shutting it down permanently. If we can go five months without anyone noticing that the service isn’t running, clearly, this isn’t a service that is needed and we don’t have anyone who seems to want to work there anyway. Like was suggested, pay everyone 5 years’ salary including overtime and just shut down the money pit. Taxpayers will save hundreds of millions.

  4. AGAIN — stop this [stuff]. Get the trains running again, and those who have to be on site, get your [selves] on site, now.

  5. One year is better than five. In practice, a lump sum like those in private companies get in place of pensions is suitable, at a retirement age close to if not over seventy.

  6. One can get a sense of VTA’s resentment of the public whom they supposedly serve and who now pays most of them to sit at home. Just read the sign on the front of every bus. “NO MASK NO RIDE”.
    They could have chosen a polite phrase such as “MASKS PLEASE” or “MASKS REQUIRED”.
    I’ve yet to see a store with a sign on the door that says “NO MASK NO ENTER”. Why not? Because it’s rude and they don’t want to alienate their customers.
    It’s pretty obvious that VTA doesn’t give a damn about THEIR customers. They don’t need us. Well you know what. We don’t need them. Dissolve VTA.

  7. Remote work is here to stay The Covid pandemic demonstrated that remote work is not only doable, but that productivity is high and companies can achieve substantial savings to boot. For some workers, there are some encouraging signs that remote work is here to stay. For example, CNBC recently reported“Facebook CEOMark Zuckerberg announced that the company will allow all full-time employees to work from home if their jobs can be done remotely.” People don’t realize it, but VTA has many office workers who can be productive working from home. The only positive thing about COVID-19 was that air quality improved and congestion went away as people started working from home.

    Public agencies, led by the “Congestion Management Agencies,” could be leading the push for remote work. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) maintains this county’s Congestion Management Program (CMP), in accordance with California Government Code 65088. The intent of this legislation is to develop a comprehensive transportation improvement program among local jurisdictions that will reduce traffic congestion and improve land use decision-making and air quality.

    Government Code 65088, subsection (e), states “In order to develop the California economy to its full potential, it is intended that federal, state, and local agencies join with transit districts, business, private and environmental interests to develop and implement comprehensive strategies needed to develop appropriate responses to transportation needs.” Furthermore, the VTA board passed Resolution 2020.02.04 last year, declaring a “climate emergency.” The “resolved” paragraph 2 of the resolution reads: “VTA staff will evaluate administrative procedures to incorporate the consideration of climate change impacts for all relevant proposed policies, programs, or actions approved by the Board of Directors.” Shortly thereafter, in a staff meeting, employees were requested to take action to fight global warming. Despite this, VTA is one of the organizations requiring staff to return to the office in seeming contradiction to the Resolution 2020.02.04, Government Code 65088, and the instructions given to staff to fight global warming.

    Why require office workers to contribute to the region’s traffic congestion when alternatives like remote work are available? Were congestion or climate change impacts considered when drafting this policy, as required by Resolution 2020.02.04 and Government Code 65088? Why is VTA not encouraging remote work wherever feasible? Government Code 65088 requires VTA to “implement comprehensive strategies” to solve congestion. VTA Board policy officially recognizes that there is a climate emergency. Therefore VTA should be encouraging everyone to work from home, starting with its own staff. Now is the time to contact your elected officials and urge them to direct VTA to live up to its obligations under Government Code Section 65088(e) and Resolution 2020.02.04 by allowing its staff to work remotely.

  8. Remote work options have been around for years but work from home in its current state is not a scaleable option for most innovative companies. ‘The Productivity Pitfalls of working from home in the age of COVID-19’.. (Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom).. The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research reports the “Global work-from-home movement…due to COVID-19 …could actually Generate a World-Wide Productivity Slump – threatening economic growth for many years.”
    “In-person collaboration is necessary for creativity and innovation, Bloom says. His research has shown that face-to-face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focused.”

    Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research “has shown that FACE-to-FACE Meetings are ESSENTIAL for developing New Ideas and keeping staff Motivated and Focused.”

    A “..collapse in office face time will lead to a slump in innovation,” Bloom says.
    “The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth.”

  9. I agree with the man that said about the qoute on buses being rude as to “no mask, no ride”, over half the drivers are rude and i can understand that some riders don’t deserve to be rode…but you chose to drive with the public in tow..so deal with the unnecessary drama and treat the ones that have respect with respect..and not as if the fare is coming out of your check!

  10. Mr Hough

    Its quite clear you are a shill for the union, which is fine. When it comes to union and what Prof Graeber defined as BS jobs, my sensibilities tend to favor union jobs. But The VTA is so broken and San Jose so unsuited for the VTAs current build out, it would be best to just take it out of its misery. Now, those who drive and maintain the vehicles, with some bridge payments, should be able to find even more profitable work, as white collar bs jobs add almost zero value where things need to be operated and fixed. Best to angle for such than feeding this tumor.

  11. Working from home (in some form) has been an option for workers for over a decade. The issue is the type of work and how to monitor productivity of WFH employees. This is even more important for Government Workers (Paid by TAXPAYERS) that have had a history of abuse both on the work site and more-so “tele-commuting”. I would suspect that is why Managers are supporting “return-to-office” policy. CA state employers cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted funds by leaving work early, misusing leave time and literally sleeping on the job.
    Just look at some of the examples (those that got caught) of abuses by Union-Protected Government Workers:
    2019 Report: “Sleeping on the job and other abuses: CA state audit uncovers cheating workers”
    – DMV worker who slept on the job for much of her workdays over 3 years.
    – California State University campus police officer paid thousands of dollars to sleep on the job.
    – Dept of Tax & Fee Administration, where the auditor found that 25 managers and supervisors failed to accurately charge their leave time – estimated more than $500,000 overpaid.
    – State Water Resources Control Board engineers misused an estimated 1,000 hours of work time; they did so by arriving for work late, leaving early and taking long lunches.

    The state auditor concluded the report with recommendations that the California Department of Human Resources modify state policies governing supervisors & managers monitoring of employee attendance and time use, as well as improved training on that subject.

  12. The Federal Govt is not immune. US Congress passed the ‘Telework Enhancement Act of 2010’, permitting eligible bureaucrats of the federal government to telecommute to work.

    This May Be The Worst Abuse of Federal Telework Ever:
    “Patent Office paid 19 Union Paralegals $5 million to surf the Internet & shop – and then gave them bonuses.”

    ..auditors found, “the paralegals on the payroll watched television, surfed the Internet, used Facebook, performed volunteer work for a charity, washed laundry, exercised at home, read books and magazines, shopped online or cleaned dishes.”

    The nonproductive time was often as much as 50 to 70 hours in an 80-hour pay period.
    “Worse, PTAB managers rewarded these paralegals . . . with performance bonuses of thousands of dollars apiece,” the audit said. Bonuses ranged from $2,000 to $3,500 annually.

    “In the private sector, these people wouldn’t be employed long. And to add insult to injury, they’ll get put on administrative (Paid) leave. It’s a perfect example of how government has grown, and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

    Before WFH programs are expanded for Govt Bureaucrats, productivity measurements and controls need to be developed for the workforce. The union is not looking out for TAXPAYERs.

  13. CA PATRIOT, did you bother reading the article I linked to above.

    You cite examples of people who abuse the system and make everyone look bad. In reality those people probably wouldn’t help in the office, either. It does not reflect on working from home in general.

    Good management should be results-oriented, not process oriented.

  14. BillH, Correct – “those people” didn’t help in the office – but as almost all Gov’t employees are just about impossible to fire or discipline (recover wages) properly. I have no issues with many in the bloated Gov’t bureaucracy deciding not to return to work in “the office” and seeking employment in the private sector – where there usually is some level of accountability.
    In general.. some work can be done from home without the usual loss of productivity. My spouse had to do it for a period last year – but was eager to return to an office environment as soon as possible.
    The Stanford study found:
    – “..evidence that working from home while other team members are in the office can hold back employees’ advancement.”
    – “..found that WFH employees had a 50% lower rate of promotion after 21 months compared to their on-site colleagues.”
    – “..working from home is .. typically only available to managerial and professional employees with more education and higher incomes. Approximately half of all U.S. employees cannot work from home, particularly service and manufacturing workers.”
    – “..remote work would also impose a toll on innovation, because working together in person is crucial to creative collaboration, brainstorming, and long-range planning. “

  15. Remote workers are less productive. Many people are using the stay at home from the pandemic to try and force permanent stay at home work. I am for people staying at home, but only if they take a pay cut for their loss of productivity….about 15%. After all staying at home saves you money.so it should not hamper your lifestyle.

  16. CA PATRIOT, I never meant to imply that people like your spouse who prefer working in an office should not have that choice.

    The Stanford study results that you cite are not applicable to everyone. For those at the end of their careers, consideration of promotional opportunities or career advancement are not an issue, no do people close to retirement worry about “a toll on innovation.” One size does not fit all.

    There are people who have taken a pay cut to work from home, since the commute cost and time savings combined with lifestyle improvements make it worth it. Remember how traffic congestion went away and the air quality improved when Covid hit? Anyone who cares about the environment should want more working from home.

  17. There is something to be said for collaboration and “osmosis” with just being together. It’s why there are still meetings face-to-face rather than everything being done by phone or video (which often is sharing computer screens, not faces). Don’t forget the strong views many have about children physically attending school versus doing remote (or home) schooling. (Second strongest influence after the family)

    At least it’s loosened the tightly skeptical view many have of “telecommuting.” It may also emphasize the cost in time and lifestyle of those who really often are forced to live in the Central Valley and commute for affordability reasons.

  18. And to what I wrote earlier, obviously Mayor Sam’s, SPUR’s, and others’ junket to Europe (for “fact-finding” and perhaps “appreciation”) to see European rail station examples on site themselves, before doing more Diridon Station planning, doesn’t count.

  19. Bottom line is one size does not fit all. If working in groups in the office is beneficial to the organization, fine. If a face to face meeting is necessary, so be it. But recent events make clear that lots of work formerly done in an office can be performed remotely and many have figured that out, which is why many people prefer to quit if they are forced back to commuting to the office: https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/07/workers-quitting-over-remote-work-going-back-to-office.html. And given how horrible business travel has become, look for more Zoom meetings either from office or home.

  20. Want to let terrorists know that they can be effective follow the VTA example and shut down your transportation system. It has been way too long and this closure has severely impacted those that need to use it the most and can least afford to be without it. Low income and homeless.

  21. The length of the VTA light rail shutdown is a separate issue from working from home. Obviously train operators and mechanics must be on-site and I will let others comment about the length of the shutdown. For the record, WFH only works for jobs that can be performed remotely.

  22. As an alternative to light rail I propose digging a hole 10’X10’X10′ next to every light rail station. When the holes have been completed, the next step is to move them 30′ west. Or east, it doesn’t really matter.

    The expense to taxpayers will be substantially less because stations aren’t necessary except as markers, and the real estate can be sold to help prop up (I almost wrote ‘balance’) the budget.

    I’m running for Mayor, and I need your vote!

    If that doesn’t pan out, San Jose needs a dogcatcher. Maybe I’ll run for that.

  23. Richard Scott’s right about one thing. The homeless DO depend on VTA. Where else are they supposed to spray their graffiti?

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