BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada is offering raises ranging between 3.5% and 23.5% to employees in the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, stating that the pay bumps are needed to attract and retain workers.
The three-year contract is up for approval April 22 on the City Council’s consent calendar — a list of actions deemed uncontroversial enough not to warrant discussion. But council is empowered to pull items off the consent calendar and vote them down.
Mayor Eric Filseth, who ran his re-election campaign last year as a pension hawk, defended the raises. He pointed out that the agreement requires SEIU workers paying another 1% toward their own pensions, for a total employee share of 8.25% to 10%.
Taxpayers will pay the rest — and the city is currently on track to owe hundreds of millions of dollars in pensions for which it hasn’t budgeted.
“It’s a good step for stability and took some hard work by both the SEIU and the management team. And the pension percentage is important,” Filseth told the Post in an email.
How much they get paid
The largest raises, 23.5%, are offered to four utility positions: line workers, compliance technicians, overhead/underground troublemen and utility systems operators.
This amounts to five-digit raises for such workers.
In 2017, the two overhead/underground troublemen listed on Transparent California made base annual salaries of between $120,000 and $122,000, plus between $94,000 and $140,000 each in overtime pay and benefits.
With a 23.5% raise, their base salaries will go up by more than $28,000 each.
Line worker cable splicers are up for 13.5% raises, and police dispatchers will get 8.5% raises.
Eight of Palo Alto’s dispatchers made a base salary of more than $100,000 in 2017. When including benefits and overtime pay, 15 dispatchers were paid between $142,000 and $220,000.
An 8.5% raise will add between $6,500 and $9,800 to those workers’ annual salaries.
Raises would cost city millions
Shikada says the raises will cost $3.7 million in the first year, going up to $4.8 million in the third year. The contract also proposes to form a benefits committee to discuss long-term delivery and funding of health benefits, in conjunction with the city’s other unions.
A report from Shikada and the Human Resources Department says the raises will help the city hire and keep employees with housing costs as high as they are on the Peninsula. Sixty percent of the city’s work- force lives more than 30 miles from Palo Alto, the report says.
There are 70 vacant positions in the city’s SEIU bargaining unit, the report points out.
Pension watchdog Wayne Martin said he worries that city leaders aren’t thinking long term about the pension problem.
“The city manager sees himself as having to advocate for the workers before anyone else. The council is supposed to be advocating for the taxpayers,” Martin told the Post. “If the public listened to this stuff, they would walk away screaming and shouting with their heads on fire.”
Last year, before running for re-election, Filseth passed a proposal to make labor negotiations more transparent by publishing the city’s offers and counter-offers along with a fiscal analysis and impacts on the city’s pension liability.
But the contract up for approval next week doesn’t include that information.
Filseth said that the city still has to get the unions to agree to his transparency proposal.
“One of my projects for this year is to move it forward,” Filseth said.