The cause of the unsustainable benefits is due to the power of the SEIU and their relationship with elected officials in Menlo Park.
The SEIU and AFSCME, the unions representing our city workers (mostly white collar public employees), have become an incredibly powerful force in American politics.
Public employees at all levels have job security, pretty decent salaries and overwhelming retirement benefits thanks to these unions who have amassed their power by infiltrating the election cycles and candidate campaigns. The relationship between our current elected officials and the support they have received by the SEIU or local labor councils is undeniably strong.
The correlation between candidates who lose at election time and their reluctance to seek or obtain union support is also quite obvious. This was clearly illustrated in the Menlo Park 2006 election when two incumbents were portrayed by union-sponsored campaign literature as near criminals because these incumbents privatized the Burgess pool and attempted to privatize the Menlo child care program at Burgess. Privatization is the union's enemy.
There is an inherent conflict of interest established between elected officials and the unions that have helped them get elected. The candidates must answer a questionnaire given to them by the labor council and if those answers aren't the right ones, support won't be given.
Questions similar to: "If you had the choice to privatize the Menlo Park pool operation, would you do so?" If the candidate answers with a "no," he is making a promise to the union even if it is not in the taxpayer's best interest to finance the pool operation with public employees. Candidates abandon representing the taxpayers before they are even elected.
The unions continue to perpetuate a false picture that public employees are downtrodden. This became quite illustrative at a recent City Council meeting, where scores of public employees sat in the chambers holding signs that read, "We are working families."
In the old days, unions were the force of good by protecting hard working people from unfair treatment and terrible working conditions. One is hard pressed to describe our public employees of today as having terrible working conditions.
It is time to re-evaluate the model here. How are we going to keep our promise to pay over 250 current Menlo Park employees their pensions after they retire at age 55? Does it make sense for the private sector to work until they are 75 or 80 years old to recoup their own lost investments from the economic downturn and to additionally finance the pensions of the public employees so they can retire happy at age 55? I don't think so.
It's time for our elected officials to make some drastic changes. There is no question in my mind that the first step is to get the unions out of the election process. When we vote in any election — city, state or federal — we should be really clear on who has received help from the unions and labor councils and vote NO for those candidates.
Mary Gilles lives on Partridge Avenue in Menlo Park.