Almanac

News - February 17, 2010

Menlo Park city manager defends, explains pay strategy

by Sean Howell

In the wake of allegations by a city union that Menlo Park is asking its rank-and-file workers to shoulder the burden of the city's financial stress while rewarding upper-level management, City Manager Glen Rojas defended and explained city policy when it comes to executive compensation.

Service Employees International, the union that represents 152 city employees, has been in negotiations with the city since October 2009, when its previous contract expired. It ran a letter on its Web site dated Jan. 21, alleging that the city is "not willing to commit that executive staff will not get any raises, one-time payments or bonuses." Noting that the union has offered a two-year pay freeze, it asks: "Why isn't executive management committed to help out the same way we are willing to help out?"

When The Almanac asked him to clarify the city's position in regard to executive pay, Mr. Rojas said that, first of all, the city has committed to freezing for two years the salary and bonuses for the 15 management employees not represented by unions. Executive managers did not receive cost-of-living salary increases or bonuses during the current fiscal year, and will not receive them during the upcoming fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2011, he said.

Executive management "is not represented by a union, you're not going to see it in a formal contract, but we have budgeted no increases, including for me," he said.

Renee Morales, a liaison between workers and the SEIU, said union negotiators told him the city was only willing to commit to a one-year pay freeze for managers. A call to the union was not returned.

Mr. Rojas noted that most department heads, including some long-tenured employees, receive salaries that are below the median for the same position in comparable cities.

He added that forgoing bonuses is no small concession, because they factor into the calculation of lifetime pension payments. In a normal economic climate, a management employee who didn't receive a bonus might wonder whether she was in danger of losing her job, he said.

He pointed out that some line-level and middle-management employees can receive performance raises even if the unions agree to a salary freeze, due to a "step increase" clause in union contracts.

"We're trying to find the fairest possible deal for everybody, including the city and its employees, in the long-term," Mr. Rojas said. "That's the bottom line.

"I don't want to create animosity, we're all trying to figure it out, but the budget's not looking real good at mid-year."

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