Influence of Society on Career Choices

When I was a kid, I would watch the old 1950’s show, The Honeymooners. I remember one scene where the main characters, Ralph and Ed, were talking about future vocations for their children. Ralph spoke about his child going to college, while Ed said—if he had a boy—that he would get him a job working with him side by side in the sewer. At that point, the audience laughs and Ralph’s eyes bulge out. He yells that Ed is nuts for suggesting a career in the sewer.

Although parents and their children may not always agree, more often than not parents only want the best for their children. For example, it is not unusual for a parent to want their child to be a doctor or a lawyer because these occupations often offer prestige, autonomy and good pay. These occupations require an academic education rather than trade school. The 1967 film “The Graduate” comes to mind when Mr. McGuire says to Ben, “Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics. There is a great future in plastics.”

For many high school graduates, college may not be pursued. Like Ed in the Honeymooners, many in society are employed in vocations that use a trade and/or manual labor that is also mentally challenging. 

Last week, the City Council approved spending money from sewer fees—not the general fund—to hire a private company for the next year to assist at the Water Pollution Control plant. These private contractors will be used to augment city staff and do tasks that current city employees will choose in the near future not to do. The contractor will also provide relief for city employees to take vacations.

In 2007, when I started on the council, I heard over and over again that the plant employees were predominantly baby boomers and that getting new staff would be a challenge. Why though? Is it not just like filling a job in any other organization?

This takes me back to the Honeymooners analogy. Out of the general population, not many people were pursuing working in the sewer system because society did not deem it a positive career. We do know that these positions require a learned skill set over time and the jobs pay well and it is literally lifetime employment.

The general public has become more interested in sewers with the connection to keeping our environment clean. I believe individuals may choose a previously overlooked vocation in the sewer system once they understand the salary and job security. However, this will not change in weeks or months; it will most likely take time to garner the skill set for senior positions.

As I have written before, there is an opportunity for veterans returning to the USA if they choose to obtain work with the city. Or, perhaps it is the chronic unemployed who get laid off during every economic downturn and want more stability. Perhaps a better use of an outside contract would go to a company to help the city set up an apprentice program, so people with entry-level skills could learn the ropes and all the positions are permanently filled.

In an organization like the city, which has thousands of employees, 11 unions and a litany of job titles, it is nearly impossible to pay certain positions more within a union because it requires negotiation. If one job classification has people who work in the Water Pollution Control Plant and also work in City Hall, the increased salary must go to both even though they are inherently two different jobs. In any other organization you could simply raise the salary of that specific job, but that is not the case in municipal government. This instead must be dealt with in the long, arduous and secretive meet-and-confer process with the union.

Issues like this one would seem to be an easy matter, where the discussion could be held in public so we could get to “yes” faster and allow everyone to understand the details easily.


  1. Mr. Oliverio,  The fact that all city employees are leaving SJ to other cities is your fault along with Mayor Reed who you blindly follow. 

    You cut the pay and benefits to a level that no one can afford to live on. Other cities all pay more and have better benefits. 

    YOU were unable to sit down with the city employees (or Unions as you and Reed call them) and work out a deal that would be in the best interest of the city. 

    Now sewage workers that you got rid of are now working for the private sewage company.  So you outsource the job to a private company. So you paying the same worker more money on a contract. How dumb is that. 

    You treat people poorly and they will not work at any job. Ask any city worker if they think you are doing a good job?  Or if they trust you?  They all think very low of you. OOPS not all, the Mayor and Constant says you are doing a wonderful job.

    Your fault for running the city into the ground.

  2. “…I believe individuals may choose a previously overlooked vocation in the sewer system once they understand the salary and job security…”

    Pierluigi once again shows how “out of touch” with reality he is! Competetive salaries and benefits and job security may exist somewhere in the world NUST NOT WITH THE CITY OC SAN JOSE!

    There is no job security , there is no “market rate” salary or benefit package for any job classification in the City of San Jose out side of the City Manager – who makes more than the Governor of the State of California and the Mayor’s “executive” advisors WHO ALL MAKE MORE THAN THE MAYOR!!!.
    Pierluigi, Constant, Nguyen,  Licarrdo and Hererra are to blame for this – the City’s own auditor recently released a report that said City salaries were at least 10% below market rate – pretty self serving in-and-of-itself since salaries and benefits for City empoloyees were already below “market rate” BEFORE Reed and Company imposed the 10% Paycut!

  3. Pier,

    The employees are leaving because this is a free market system, and they have chosen to go to better employers. If you want to put your head in the ground and pretend this is because there are not already enough qualified folks in society, you are quite ignorant. Please quit using the broken record mantra of this is the union’s fault. You are seeing the free market system at work with highly trained individuals, even though they are blue collar workers, which must be tough for a widget expert such as yourself to understand. This is the same reason over 300 SJPD officers have fled to other departments in the past few years, costing the city of San Jose some $60 million in training for these officers that ultimately left the city because of poor pay and working conditions, and took with them expertise and knowledge. This does not count the cost in recruiting and training new officers which will again be in millions. Great job, Pier and the rest of your cronies.

  4. Let’s call it wastewater treatment not sewage. Employees look for what is fair and reasonable. I don’t believe the City of San Jose treated its employees in that manner. As someone with extensive experience I took my talents where I am treated with respect and not verified on the dais and media. I am much happier..I love the opportunity America provides.

    • Are you prepared to clean house at the Water District?  After the recent Merc articles on the over $9000 per meeting charges to the State for Brown Act compliance and the fiasco about getting their parcel tax on the ballot, it’s clear to me that they have more to do to regain the public trust.

      Do you feel that the current Water District CEO, Beau Goldie, is doing a good job?

  5. A 25 year old kid signed up and came on ride-a-long with me a couple of weeks ago, he’s from southern California. I asked why San Jose P.D.? He stated this, ” because you guys are dispirit.”  He then went on to say that comes from a law enforcement family and they told him to come and get his training in San Jose and then return to southern California.

    In my opinion, he will get hired, he’s smart, educated and a meat eater. I explained the politics to him on what’s going on in San Jose. He stated that he’s done the research and would never stay here longer then three years.

    He went on to say that he will use San Jose to launch his career in law enforcement and then move down to southern California for better pay and benefits.

    Smart kid. Good luck San Jose, the word is out on how much we suck now.

  6. its funny that you mention ,………when i was a kid. because most kids boy or girl , at one time or another Dream of being a Police Officer, or A Fireman, or a Medic . Well those that actually made their dreams come true , are now leaving for greener pastures. The majority of witch are homegrown San Joseans, That are now eager to leave for better pay,better benefits,BETTER employers, and more appreciation from the Communities that they will now serve . If only Pierre you and The Mayor + 4 were Adult enough to admit that your decisions have made San Jose one of the “Unsafest” Cities . Look around , still building low income housing , No new monies coming in . Public safety that is stretched beyond belief, doing the best they can with what they have. But , lets face it things are going to get alot worse before they begin to get any better

  7. “In an organization like the city, which has thousands of employees, 11 unions and a litany of job titles, it is nearly impossible to pay certain positions more within a union because it requires negotiation”.

      This is disingenuous at best, and an outright lie at worst.  Your Unions made attempts to negotiate with you on wages, benefits and salary.  You refused.  You have no intention of offering City Employees market wages, which is why they are leaving in droves.  Chuck Reeds’ answer to the question “Why is there such an increase in the crime rate, and what can we do about it” was…. ready for it…. “well, pension reform would solve that problem”. That is the most self serving load of garbage I have heard to date.  Your assumption that your vast array of experience and knowledge is a beacon of light for others to follow is absurd.  You need to get ahold of yourself and realize that you do not know everything, and that you are sometimes very, very wrong.

  8. And then there is this……you speak as the Union Buster you truly are.  We negotiate, you deny, lie and then impose.  I would hate to be employed by the City, and be at YOUR mercy as to how much I am worth.  Thank God for Unions.

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