Walk in Their Shoes

The Good News: The City has a counter offer from seven out of 11 unions to take a temporary reduction in compensation (by paying more of their pension contribution temporarily on a pre-tax basis). The Not So Good News: The offer is equivalent to $14.6 million of the $118 million deficit, thus layoffs and service cuts are inevitable.

The “Not So Good News” reminds me of what Bob Brownstein said at the meeting I attended about the budget deficit hosted by the labor unions last month: “Layoffs are unavoidable since the deficit is so large.”

First, I want to thank those unions that made a counter offer to the Council direction. The Council directed the city manager to ask for a 5 percent ongoing pay/compensation reduction and another 5 percent in one-time reductions for a total of 10 percent. Although the offer from the unions is only a temporary reduction and is less then 10 percent, it is still an offer which should be respected.

I think it is important to look at this current situation from the union’s point of view. Unions have their own internal power structure. There is the union business agent and other hierarchy that need to satisfy their membership while at the same time managing the unions overarching goals.

The membership is divided within a union; there are those would wish to not be represented by the union but they have no choice. Other union members object to the larger policies the union hierarchy may support and these policies may have nothing to do with the workers that are represented. Beyond that, there is more division between union members that have seniority and those who are new on the job.

I think it is an extreme challenge to be a union boss at this time. You have public opinion that has plummeted in viewing labor unions more negative then positive; falling union membership in this country to approximately 12 percent (or in other words 88 percent of Americans are not in a union), government revenues declining, residents resistant to tax increases and a membership body that is divided and oftentimes upset. 

With this said, I think it is a big deal that labor unions made the city of San Jose a counter offer. I believe the union leadership has taken a lot of punches internally just for making a concession.

The concessions offered (although thoughtful) are not enough and the City will still have significant layoffs and service cuts to residents of San Jose. One-time cuts push the problem out to future years as past city budgets have done. Pushing off discussions regarding new pension benefits for new employees is problematic. Also, draining reserves at a time when we see falling property valuations in Santa Clara County which will result in lower property tax revenue for cities, instability of the economy, our “pick-pocket” state legislature that constantly takes money from cities are all reasons why draining the economic uncertainty reserve now as suggested by the unions is risky.

If concessions are not easily understood by the general public, then the public may continue to distrust both unions and city government (Another reason we need to have these negotiations held as public meetings). This distrust may not allow for any potential increases in taxes that may have merit for city services. For example the city of Campbell raised their sales tax to pay for city services. San Jose may indeed look at a November ballot measure to raise taxes like Campbell. 

Therefore, I would encourage discussions at the negotiation table to see where the gap can be bridged between the Council’s goal of $49 million in concessions from these seven unions and the present offer of $14.6 million in temporary savings.

On a separate and happier note, hats off to the Willow Glen High school varsity baseball team and Coach Mike Reilly with an incredible record of 27 consecutive wins.

The 2010 San Jose Budget Trade-Offs Survey closes this week.



  1. Pierluigi,

    Could you ask Ms. Figone to post the unions’ proposal and her response on the city of San Jose website?

  2. There is no good news here – temporary cuts are of no value when dealing with a long-term problem.  Continued negotiations with the unions will never get us close to where we need to be.  The only true solution is to terminate approximately 1000 City employees at all levels.

    • Let’s start with the entire Dept. of Cultural Affairs, and move on to that $1.5 million that goes to the folks who make sure that the dictated “living wage” is paid.

      You can count on employtees to complain if that wage is not paid.  Therfe is no need for that expenditure.

      • This is the best you can do to deal with the deficit? Your tired mantra about the Office of Cultural Affairs would not come close to solving the problem even if the entire department was eliminated and all arts funding was eliminated.
        Also, you are wrong about the Living Wage policy. Due to the many unethical contractors in the City the policy would fail without enforcement. History shows employees will not complain when they are threatened with termination or worse as is often the case. In your world, perhaps, everyone is nice and plays fair but in the real world it simply does not work that way.
        You may not favor the Living Wage policy and that’s fine but don’t fool yourself into thinking we can still have the policy and somehow it will enforce itself. I believe the last time you raised this issue it was pointed out how you could educate yourself about this but it appears you chose not to do that. That is unfortunate because it weakens your argument and does nothing to help erase the budget deficit.

        • The Office of Cultural Affairs is like the canary in the coal mine.  Only when our politicians completely eliminate fluff and feel-good nonsense can we take solving the budget problem seriously.

        • Whenever I read a post like this, I think “why even bother?” I figure it represents an extreme, simplistic point of view. Just in case I assume too much, I submit a few points:

          Every great city in the world invests in culture. San Jose is a great city.

          Culture generates revenue to the City – tourists, hotel tax, sales tax – helps pay for those pot holes and cops/firefighters salaries. It is part of the solution.

          Arts = jobs. Artists of all types, directors, musicians, tech people, accountants, maintenance workers, ticket sellers… It is an industry. 

          San Jose’s cultural life is in part why I – and my friends – have remained living here. To eliminate funding the arts would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

        • I’ll tell you what’s simplistic: thinking that San Jose must be the end-all/be-all for culture.  Try knocking around the Bay Area once in a while and discover the richness that lies elsewhere. 

          One does not need to replicate everything everywhere.  That sort of mindset has resulted in having 50+ school districts in SC County, duplication of safety duties and coverage between local police and Sheriff’s departments, etc.

          By the way, San Jose is not a great city, it’s quite mediocre.  And if you think that culture fosters taxes that pay for potholes, you must have just returned from a 20 year trip abroad!

      • The Office of Cultural Affairs is an unpleasant collection of sniffy bureaucrats who use ridicule and mockery to disrespect San Jose residents who have ideas about public art.

        The real drain on the public purse, however, is the 2% of all capital expenditures that is dedicated by city ordinance to public art.  And see what we get—faux totem poles on faux carriages dotting the landscape around the new city hall.

        The solution to the 2% problem is to build tasteful public art into the structural components (an artistically decorated doorway, a particular wall material, etc.) so that the 2% is not just thrown down the drain.

        But yes, disband the jobs program called the Office of Cultural Affairs for its bad taste in art, and dedicate the 2% set-aside in capital projects for structural applications of special design, textures, colors, etc., that reduce the construction costs of capital projects.

        • On second thought, a five times life size equestrian statue of Barbara Boxer might not be sufficiently dignified.  It wouldn’t be manly for her to be seated side-saddle, and if she were depicted athwart a great steed John Wayne style, her short little legs might not reach the stirrups, and she would look ridiculous.

          I think I would go for upping the art set-aside from 45% to 47% and go for a heroic statue of Boxer as Boadicea, in a chariot drawn by sinewy chargers, all on a high pedestal.

          I love this art stuff.

        • I suggest that we increase the funding for public art to 45% of all capital expenditures.

          Then we could really put San Jose on the map and solve its self esteem problem.

          We could extend Market Street from I-280 to Highway 101, broaden it to 10 lanes like the Champs Elysee, and line it with grand, five times life size equestrian statues of every California legislator.

          Midway along the concourse, we could build a triple size replica of the Parthenon and call it the Palace of Bipartisan Commissions.

          If a little public art is a good thing, surely more is better.

      • Public funding of the arts and culture is important. Festivals, events, theater, museums — just to name a few things — are good for San Jose. The art sector provides jobs and generates dollars, not to mention gives San Jose character.

  3. Pier,
    How can the city council possibly be wasting time voting whether or not to boycott Arizona? Are we going to refuse power we get that is generated in Arizona?

  4. > The Good News: The City has a counter offer from seven out of 11 unions to take a temporary reduction in compensation (by paying more of their pension contribution temporarily on a pre-tax basis). The Not So Good News: The offer is equivalent to $14.6 million of the $118 million deficit, thus layoffs and service cuts are inevitable.

    This is Good News and More Good News.

    First, the City saves $14.6 million.

    Then, the city gets to layoff a bunch of union employees and saves another $100 million.  And the laid off employees will realize how they have been screwed over by union stupidity.

    I look at it as a Win-Win-Win situation.

  5. PO

    Why doesn’t city budget reflect neighborhood and community budget priorities rather then cut what everyone tells city we highly value? 

    We have seen city and state play ” cut what people care about game ” so we vote to pay more taxes and continue to waste more taxes on dumb spending and divert more taxes to political paybacks

    It will be hard political sales job to
    a) cut public safety, community centers, libraries, parks, and pools – basic city services and then
    b) continue to ignore public’s demands to stop wasting taxes on well known long list tax losing city buildings, facilities and political payback projects

    Do you believe that actual city budget reflects community budget priories or not ?

    Do all Council members really understand where all city taxes are being spent and politically not want public to know or like public does not know where city taxes are spent ?

    Thank for your answers

    • Good points….such as 3 city owned golf courses that are seldom used as well as our monstrosity of a city hall that that Mayor Ron had to have.

  6. PLO writes about the disconnect between union brass and the workers they represent. Along those lines I can’t help but wonder how city workers feel about the prospect they will loose their jobs because their union “representatives” refused to take the city’s 10% wage and benefit cuts in order to save hundreds of jobs. Such layoffs appear to be imminent. 

    Perhaps someone in the city work force can tell us: Have the unions polled their members on the issues of concessions VS layoffs?

    It seems to me that getting hundreds of lower-seniority workers laid off in order to protect the salary and benefits of more union members is not in anyone’s best interest.

  7. Pierluigi,

    I was deeply disappointed at the way City Manager Figone was treated by City employees at the Flames. During her lunch break, City employees, who appeared at the restaurant yelling at her, and banging on windows over the budget decisions she is making, subjected her to an organized protest. It was apparently so bad that the restaurant owner feared for her safety and escorted her out.

    I do not agree with this type of retaliatory behavior. No matter what the situation might be, and no matter how much they might disagree with her, she did NOT deserve to be treated that way.

    • That’s the way unions act.  They are self-righteous and angry.  They threaten and blacklist like we live in American in the 1890s.

      • Give me a break…. Wake up lady.  This was an isolated incident by a small group of City Employees who are afraid of losing their jobs.  This was not a union sanctioned event and to lump all unions into such immature actions is narrow minded and just darn silly…..

    • I am a city worker and had not heard of this incident at Flames. There are always a few idiots in every organization or group. The vast majority of city workers in no way condones this behavior. These are very volatile times, and many people are at the edge of losing everything they have worked for, but they need to focus their energy towards a peaceful resolution. Ms. Figone does not deserve to be treated in this manner, despite the current conflicts.

  8. Walk in their shoes.

    Dance in his shoes.

    Let’s face the music and dance.

    Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz,[1] was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. He is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films.

    According to another major innovator in filmed dance, Gene Kelly, “The history of dance on film begins with Astaire.” Beyond film and television, many classical dancers and choreographers, Rudolf Nureyev, Michael Jackson, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Jerome Robbins among them, also acknowledged his importance and influence.

  9. Well at least the thugs, …er city employees, didn’t bring bull-horns into the restaurant… did they?

    Standard union thug operating procedure.

    “Last Sunday, on a peaceful, sun-crisp afternoon, our toddler finally napping upstairs, my front yard exploded with 500 screaming, placard-waving strangers on a mission to intimidate my neighbor, Greg Baer.

    Waving signs denouncing bank “greed,” hordes of invaders poured out of 14 school buses, up Baer’s steps, and onto his front porch. As bullhorns rattled with stories of debtor calls and foreclosed homes, Baer’s teenage son Jack—alone in the house—locked himself in the bathroom. “When are they going to leave?” Jack pleaded when I called to check on him.”



    • Novice,
      Thank you for the post. I am an animal rights advocate, and someone who supports Unions, at least the ones I grew up with back east, but I honestly think showing up at people’s homes, or where they are dining is going way too far. It’s time for Unions and advocates to follow some respectful, sane guidelines on protesting. Going after someone on a personal level instead of the institution they work for is completely unacceptable. I think the courts need to make some real clear rules about what and where these kinds of protests can take place.

      I’m sure other diners at the Flames, and neighbors in these neighborhoods were frightened out of their minds, just like the City Manager and the people in the articles you posted were. Not acceptable on any level.

      I do have to say one thing here though, the way that I’ve seen our City electeds pitting employees, the public, and Unions against one another, and not owning up to their bad spending choices/the deficient is why this is happening.

      Also, the fact that these legal robberies committed on citizens by these huge corporations goes unchanged, and that they aren’t held accountable for their practices is also why people are fed up. How can you ask people to be honest, pay their bills and rob them all at the same time, then expect them not to fight back?  You can’t.

  10. The San Jose Police Officer’s association made a recent proposal which would cut $10 million dollars a year through contract concessions. The city would save an additional $8 million by not filling open officers positions over the next year. That is $18 million in savings alone from the police department, that is already understaffed.

  11. FIGONE gets what she deserves. She and Reed make me sick. These politicians are the worst of what makes government so intolerable. Like CSJ employees who worry about lay off notices and how to make mortgage payments, FIGONE can worry and stay awake at night worrying as well.

  12. Pierluigi,
    Great article! It shows a pretty clear and balanced view of the situation.

    On a different note, I was hoping to see the Metro post this article on SJI, but they haven’t so I have a question for you. What do you think about the article in the Metro; May 19th-25th, about one of your fellow Council Members taking time off for a “weight loss” program?

    Is he getting paid sick leave for missing work, and Council meetings to attend psychotherapy with, as he puts it, “a bunch of fat people and listen to them talk about how much they cheat on their diets and how much they don’t do their exercise?” 

    Who is covering this expensive “medical” treatment? Is the City paying for it through his medical benefits, or is he paying for it privately out of his own pocket? If the City is paying for his time off and weight loss program, doesn’t that mean we tax payers are really the ones footing the bill for it?

  13. I sometimes wonder how much of the deficit is due to the building of the new city hall. I remember Chuck Reed as a council member voted for it because it was somehow not going to cost the city any money.  I could never figure out the math behind that logic.

    I also remember Mayor Reed voting to increase police and fire pensions from 85% to 90% a few years back.  The Mercury News had an article shortly after that the vote was going to be a budget buster at the end ot the decade.

    Too bad the Mercury News is now such a rag that it conveniently forgets the role of our politicians in creating this deficit. They like all cowards, righteously blame the small fries and ignore the big shots.

    • The elected councilmembers who had the poor judgement to sign off on the ridiculously costly city hall are the very same people who have signed off on ridiculously costly salary and pension agreements with CSJ workers.

      We voters have had a habit of electing special interest “community organizer” types and now it’s coming back to bite us. But do we ever learn? I doubt it. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that a candidate’s endorsement from the POA or the SBLC or from LaRaza is a good thing. In reality it means that, if elected this person will not primarily represent his/her constituents. He/she will represent special interests, and the only way to satisfy special interests is to throw the peoples’ money at them.

  14. City Hall is a legacy to stupidity.  Having bright and shiny digs reminds me of guys with big pick-up trucks, all jacked up with monster tires and a gazillion lights.  These fellows and our politicians both have horrible inferiority complexes, just for different reasons.

    • Why do you hate my truck?? Just because I like a lifted truck makes me have an inferiority complex?? Sounds like somebody has some deep rooted issues they need to work out, mommy and daddy didn’t love you enough…….?  Are you a prius driver…..? Do you have one of those stickers that says “my kid is an honor student” or something silly like that,  Oh, I get it now… Your one of those… Ok, Good luck with that….

    • I read the article you linked to. There is a very telling part of the article…..

      “• Seattle is erecting the steel superstructure for a 200,000-square-foot building that will cost $72 million.

      • Austin has excavated the foundation for a 115,000-square-foot building that is part of a venture with a local technology firm. Cost: $46.7 million.

      • San Jose is building a 550,000-square-foot three-building complex costing $343 million.

      In all three cities, elected officials said they were cost conscious and fearful that a new city hall would be seen as a monument to a mayor or members of the city council.

      But the size of the proposed San Jose City Hall and its price tag draw exclamations such as “holy cow!” from Seattle and Austin city halls.”

      Of course, we all know that the price was over half a billion dollars.

      Read more: City Hall cost shocks other cities – Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal

      • > San Jose is building a 550,000-square-foot three-building complex costing $343 million.

        But this is old news. 

        San Jose has been using this building for a couple of years now, and it’s probably close to being worn out.

        Plus, it doesn’t have enough public art.  And, it’s going to be too far from the new High Speed Rail, so it will be difficult for our public servants to easily get to important meetings and events in LA.

        So, I think it’s time to start working on a NEW city hall so that we don’t fall behind lesser cities like Seattle and Austin.

  15. Earnest, my congratulations, when did you get out?!  Anyway, no deep-rooted issues here.  But thanks for the laugh, it brightened my day.

  16. City Hall, airport expansion, downtown residential high rises, BART , high speed rail, convention expansion, new city parking garages, low income city housing, southern police station, A’s and Earthquakes sports stadiums, community centers,fire stations and strong neighborhood redevelopment construction etc were pushed by SBLC Council majority for labor construction jobs and developer profits

    Yes, San Jose needed many city union constuction projects but they required millions in yearly costs which if delayed might have prevented budget deficit

    We were promised that billion dollar City Hall ( total all costs and bond interest ) would hold all city employees except PD they forgot to tell us it required 800 city employee layoffs

    San Jose city government’s gross incompetence and mismanagement with special interests greed got city into budget crisis not city employees, businesses or residents

    • Thats correct.  Gross incompetence and mismanagement.  Where were all the budget complainers when city hall was being built.  Nowhere to be found because they were rolling around in their stock options.  Come on, get real.  Stop the scapegoating.

      • Hello,

        Just as it is misleading to paint the budget problems as entirely the result of city employees, businesses and/or residents, so too is it really misleading to say or imply that all folks in the private secter were rolling around in their stock options during the boom times. It is simply not true.


  17. Manny

    This is too easy since you have short and selected memory along with your insults to people who tried to prevent budget crisis vs Council big tax spenders who with their friends benefited politically from labor jobs or developer profits from city construction projects

    Did you forget about ” Al Ruffo, who served as San Jose mayor in 1945 and ‘46, has filed a lawsuit charging the city with ignoring a law that prohibits the use of redevelopment funds for building new city halls.” 


    Pete Campbell wrote many articles and blogs against new City Hall

    “From time to time, people advise me to stop barking about the “Taj Mahal” City Hall. I never will. That thing is a symbol of everything that is wrong in our city and a constant reminder of a lesson not yet learned. Ceremony was placed before substance, luxury before need, and pride before purpose. And, I’ll continue to rant because even today (no thanks to the Mercury News) very few people know about the behind- the-scenes political corruption and deceit that brought the project to life.

    This is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. The Alternative Sites Study authorized by the city council and conducted by the city manager’s office was a whitewash. On page 4 of the Civic Center Alternative Scenarios Analysis (May 2002) we read, “City costs for the project were assumed to be the same as the 4th and Santa Clara Street site…which would be $288 million for construction.”

    Rather than asking developers to bid on the project (as was done with other sites) the authors of the report used the high construction costs of the “Taj Mahal” design to calculate how much it would cost to build on the old city hall site!

    I believe that a partially-new, partially redesigned civic center could have been built at the old city hall site for HALF the cost. A couple of hundred million dollars would have come in handy right about now.”

    and other City Hall wasted tax dollars in


    Mayor Reed voted against new City Hall and many people spoke against building ” Taj Gonzales ” City Hall in letters to editor, blogs and to City Council but labor Council voted to spend tax dollars supported by city government and redevelopment taxes

    Too easy Manny,  way to easy to Get Real and Show city’s gross incompetence and mismanagement resulting in budget deficits and layoffs

  18. Manny

    Civil Grand Jury report

    “During the last decade, cities significantly increased the total compensation that
    employees receive, but city leaders did not adequately forecast and plan, nor allocate
    enough money to pay for these long-term obligations.

    “city leaders did not did not adequately forecast and plan, nor allocate enough money ”  =  if this is not 1 of many examples of San Jose city government gross incompetence and mismanagement resulting in budget deficits and layoffs” 

    Time to Get Real Manny and admit you are ignoring what happened in city government that got us into this mess

  19. Pier,
    I read that you and the city council, along with the mayor, are going to vote to boycott Arizona. How do you reconcile this with the city buying millions of dollars of land recently for a new baseball stadium, as many games will be played against the ARIZONA Diamondbacks? Are you going to demand that the San Jose A’s not play the Arizona Diamondbacks?

    • All the more reason for my boycott against SJ.  Running my errands and shopping on the way home from work affords me the latitude to spend my money in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara or San Jose. 

      I’ve all but ceased spending anything in SJ.  Gross negligence on the part of our politicians – including minding Arizona’s business instead of solving our one-eight billion dollar budget deficit – has resulted in my boycott.

  20. I had a young Stanford Hospital employee tell me that he got the job with fake ID.

    I was wondering how he got the job when he had several felonies (gang related, shootings etc)

    He said, no problem, you just use fake ID and they cannot tell that you have a crime history.

    He said some employers (like Target) check your ID very carefully and you can’t get away with using fake ID

    He said Stanford Hospital is very lax and does not verify the ID so felonies do not show up. And then the felons are working in your hospital room.

    Does anyone know which employers check for fake ID and which do not?