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Unsustainable committments

Original post made by Henry Riggs on Dec 11, 2006

Editor, More than one Menlo Park city council member has counted on union support in his/her public aspirations, yet I believe they also realize the impact of city employee costs on our budget and, therefore, on our quality of life. While city workers should never be paid poorly, have no health care nor lack retirement commensurate with their private peers, none of this seems to be genuinely at risk in the current negotiations. What is at risk is our city's financial future, both regards current employee costs, and any commitments to future conditions or hiring that the union may request. Indeed, council may find that the commitments made in the happy go lucky 90's cannot be funded into the future. When they are behind closed doors in Tuesday's negotiations, our council still represents 31,000 residents of Menlo Park, not just the 250 who are so powerfully represented in that room. This will be a far reaching test of the freshman class. Henry L Riggs Callie Lane

Comments (4)

Posted by ElectionWatcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 12, 2006 at 3:19 pm

Give it a rest already, Henry. Your guys lost and the adults are in charge now. Why not move to Maryland and join your pal Hank in railing against the local government there?


Posted by AnotherResident, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 22, 2006 at 2:51 pm

ElectionWatcher - I wholeheartedly voted for Bressler, Cline, Robinson myself, but I agree with the points made by Mr. Riggs. This city is full of "little guys" (not everyone is a "big guy") who will have to pay for the city employee's benefits. Yes, employees deserve reasonable benefits, but it's inappropriate to enrich further the benefit structure already in place when the overall compensation is out of line with the private sector.
While I'm not proposing that city employee benefits be trashed the way many residents' benefits were trashed by their employers, including my own, I think it's critical for the long-term viability of the city for the Council to revisit the benefit structure for employees (including retirement benefits).

The private sector has been faced with "unaffordable" benefits, and much can be learned from that experience, including things not to do (put organizations into bankruptcy longer term through a sequence of short term decisions). I hope the new Council has the backbone not only to stand firm on the benefits but also to investigate alternatives such as defined contribution plans.


Posted by ElectionWatcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 23, 2006 at 12:01 am

You sound like a sincere young man, AnotherResident, but I'm guessing you don't have the full picture here - let me fill you in.

There are TWO, not just one, unions representing city workers - one covering the police and the other (the SEIU) covering all other city employees.

Now, although in the minority numbers-wise, the police actually account for the bulk of projected future pension costs facing the city (this was reported on by The Almanac this summer). So naturally, if you really want to make headway on this issue, you need to take the police union on.

But guess what - in their usual conniving manner, Winkler et al. give the police union a wink and a nod, awarding them a nice new contract this summer with little fanfare (and no concessions from the union).

They then turned right around and started screaming bloody murder (as Mr. Riggs is doing) about pension benefits and saying that they need to be tough with "the union" - only the union they're actually referring to is the "little guys" union, the SEIU (representing people like city accountants, senior center and child care workers, etc.), a union which Winkler et al. made sure would only be negotiated with AFTER the police union contract was settled.

So the next time you read another union-bashing diatribe from Mr. Riggs (and likely future ones from Mr. Boyle, who is carrying Ms. Winkler's torch on the city council now), please take it with a (huge) grain of salt.


Posted by AnotherResident, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 23, 2006 at 11:00 am

Thanks, ElectionWatcher for the additional information. Isn't it possible that Winkler et al granted such a nice package in hopes THEY would again get the union blessing and support this fall? When they didn't they bashed those who did, despite the fact they sought and were given the same four years ago.

I'm not bashing unions when I say that I hope the city council does not grant even more rich benefits period. There are many more of us little guys who are taxpayers who work really long hours and don't have nearly the same total compensation as city workers who get overtime and only work four days a week. Don't even think of suggesting unionization where I work! We all want more for ourselves, but I can accept that jobs would be lost and I don't want to risk that. Does the union get that, too?

Giving away the store this summer was wrong. It's just as wrong to give the same to the other union.


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