Almanac

News - December 29, 2010

Menlo Park council forms labor subcommittee

by Sandy Brundage

Newly re-elected Mayor Rich Cline and Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith will serve on a labor negotiation subcommittee with the goal of increasing the transparency of the bargaining process in Menlo Park.

The decision came during a closed session meeting on Dec. 14 with the City Council, top managers from the city, and the city's labor negotiator, Charles Sakai.

Mr. Cline described the overall goal of the subcommittee as finding ways to make labor negotiations more transparent.

"I think what we need to do is look at the process leading up to negotiations. First, put in place a timeline that allows the public to get more fully involved in the process — perhaps a study session to explain how the contracts work, then an open time for a few weeks to gather as much input as possible — so we have all of that information when we do go into the actual negotiation," he said.

City Attorney Bill McClure said the council also heard updates on the status of negotiations with the Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU). The last round of bargaining ended at an impasse, but the union may choose to re-open negotiations.

In May the council imposed new limitations on pension benefits for SEIU employees that raised the retirement age for non-police city employees from 55 to 60, and decreased pension benefits from a maximum of four-fifths of annual salary to three-fifths.

While the council voted to impose it on the 152 SEIU employees, the changes go into effect only if the city negotiates the same deal with the city's middle management employees when their contract expires in 2011.

The union, along with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has threatened to sue the city again now that Measure L, which set similar pension limitations but also requires a public vote to increase benefits, passed in the November elections by an overwhelming margin.

Mr. McClure reported that the council decided unanimously during the closed session to vigorously defend Measure L if sued.

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