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Menlo Park approves new union contract

Original post made on Nov 16, 2011

Despite a flood of emails protesting a time off policy that gives some city employees a minimum seven weeks off a year, no one spoke during public comment as the Menlo Park City Council prepared to vote on a proposed two-year contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on Nov. 15.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, November 15, 2011, 11:45 PM

Comments (40)

Posted by Time Traveler, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:34 am

It's a shame, but Keith is starting to show her true colors. I felt like I was watching Heyward Robinson last night, the way Keith defended the union's vacation schedule, and then joined Ferguson and Cline in the attack of Ohtaki who voted against the contract. It was very reminiscent of the way Robinson used to attack Boyle. It's well known Keith and Woodell are running all over the County courting political support; in office less than a year, and already they have begun the hunt towards higher office at the expense of Menlo Voters.

Looks like the way Keith became Vice Mayor, during the Kelly Ferguson Mayoral vote, was foreshadowing of things to come.
Was anyone else amazed that it was Keith who spent the most time defending the union's vacation time. After the sign fiasco with her husband, and now the union vote, I wonder if that is who we want as our mayor?

Posted by jk, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm

7 weeks is absurd. And the argument that other communities do this reminds me of the arguments used by kids..."but so & so's Mom lets him do it". Its like a race to the bottom.
But, shame on all of us if no one appeared to speak up on this point!
Thanks to Peter for voting against it.

Note to self: don't re-elect the others.

Posted by Ol' Homeboy, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Once again, this council (with the exception of Peter Ohtaki) has shown how out-of-touch they are with the feelings of their constituents. The "flood" of emails should have indicated how many Menlo Park citizens are flabbergasted at the super-generous, paid, leave time accrued by city employees. Geez, it's 2011 - email is a very efficient way to communicate with the council members!
The fact that no one attended the meeting to speak-up against the new contract, doesn't mean there is objection. More likely, it indicates how precious evening time with families is, for people who work very hard, long hours to afford to live in our community.
Wage freezes are nothing new. In the real world, wages are frozen all the time. It doesn't make people happy, but most are happy to have their job! With the benefits these employees receive (ie: pension & vacation time, it's no wonder our cities are broke.

Posted by Dana, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm

It's unfortunate that the former Mayor Of Menlo Park who has a vendetta against the unions who represent the employees in the city, chose to focus on only one aspect of the new contract and looks at it out of context. The fact is that employees of other local companies and other cities receive comparable time off benefits and many of these do not have the educational level of this group of employees. Lee Duboc and her followers ought to get the full facts before criticizing this contract which has many concessions in it, including a pay freeze since 2008 and for another 2 years. Shame on Duboc and her ill informed followers!

Posted by A voter, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm

The last comment shows what the unions always do -- they cannot defend there outrageous and financially unsustainable demands, so they always revert to name calling and shooting the messenger. Until voters, like me, wake up and elect a different kind of "leadership", the haters win.

I appreciate the truth. The union leadership can't stand it.

Posted by The Dude, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

God I wish those cheese-eating surrender monkey elected officials would stop handing over our hard earned tax money to those damn overpaid municipal union workers.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm

What do you expect? The voters of Menlo Park keep electing council members that are backed by the labor unions. Do you really think they're going to do anything against the best interest of the labor unions? The answer is, no. The big question is when the hell the voters in this town will finally wake up and quit voting in union backed candidates. I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As Menlo Voter points out insanity is doing what you have always done and expecting a different result. No matter how principled a candidate is IF they accept union support for their election THEN the union will expect something in return.

The results in all of our local jurisdiction are indisputable - unions get a special place at the public trough. It is crazy to vote for people who are indebted to the City's largest 'contractor' and with whom the City must negotiate and whose contract must be approved by the very people for whom that 'contractor' literally bought their office. At least if the unions were a true contractor the City could engage in competitive bidding.

This will only stop when and if the voters refuse to vote for even great candidates if those candidates accept union support. Elected officials should be obligated to no one except the citizens whom they are sworn to serve.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is the Fair Political Practices Commission limit on gifts for elected officials:
"State and local officials who are listed in Gov. Code
Section 87200 (except judges – see below), candidates
for these elective offices (including judicial candidates),
and officials and employees of state and local government
agencies who are designated in a conflict-of-interest code
are prohibited from accepting a gift or gifts totaling more
than $420 in a calendar year from a single source during

So please tell me how it is ethically consistent to accept tens of thousands of dollars of union election support and not be legally permitted to accept more than $420 from any other source????? An endorsement alone, without any other campaign contributions, clearly has a fair market value well in excess of $420 - or why else would the candidates list that endorsement on their literature and web site?

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm

The citizens of Menlo Park deserve their elected officials.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Please don't ask the rest of us to bail you out... we've had quite enough of that, thank you.

Posted by The Cowboy, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm

I like your style, Dude.

Posted by Long Time Menlo Man, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 17, 2011 at 7:26 am

These employees are our leaders of tomorrow. They will be good ones. City Counsel was very wise to pass this contract. It takes $$ to keep quality people. My wife and I support this decision.

Posted by wap, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 17, 2011 at 8:37 am

I observed public works, maintenance, and others at work. I am not inspired by their educational levels. The leadership is self-serving. Be careful of their agenda. Too many personnel, too generous benefits, and too self-serving. Do not get caught up in comparing other cities policies. Try looking at a few bankrupt cities and what led to their demise.

Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2011 at 9:26 am

One of my favorite "old sayings" is "You get what you tolerate". It applies to a lot of things, including the issues involved here. No one spoke during public comment--pro or con, just like no one showed up at the MPFPD meeting on a similar subject. In the recent election, both union endorsed candidates for the Fire Board were elected. Look to the county, the state and the federal governments, candidates being endorsed by labor unions. Then look at the economy, and count the number of root causes that can be directly traced to unsustainable union compensation. Voters get what they tolerate!

Posted by donnasue jacobi, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm

7 weeks of paid vacation? ludicrous for our council to approve such a contract. when many of us did email our opposition, they should have been counted. I don't have time to listen or witness the BS the council meetings get away with. If you didn't approve an unreasonable union contract, there might be money left for real work around MP. Personally I didn't vote for anyone on the council because you all looked like crooks to me that are supported by the 1%.

Posted by Stan, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Folks, don't be fooled by the 2% @ 60...

Almost in all these plans, you end up with more than 2%, because they give higher percents for each year you retire after age 60.

Thus a worker who begins at age 30 and retires at age 66 or 67 like the rest of us for Soc Sec., will get 37 years at about 2.5% NOT 2.0%

Also, don't forget the following. A worker who started perhaps only 2 years ago at age 27 can still another 30 years, retiring at age 61, and collecting 2.7% for each of those future years of work. Then collect that large pension for 25 years after that.

The effect of this pension change will be very small for years to come.
Bay Area cities are closing the barn door after the horses have already gone out the door.

So again, 2.0% is misleading. If you retire at a normal age like the rest of the public, you get far more than 2.0%... Normally peaking at about 2.5%....a 25% premium.

Don't be fooled.

Many other points in the changes are good, but the vacations are absurd.
Why do they have to "match" other cities? As if they can't find 100 applicants for any opening.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm

As Stan points out tinkering with defined benefit pension programs is not the answer. The only financially acceptable solution is to convert via legislation and negotiation ALL future pension accruals to defined contribution programs.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm

DonnaSue -
Who said it was 7 weeks of paid vacation?
I read it to be 7 weeks of personal time off (PTO), which usually covers both sick leave and vacation. The Almanac reporter didn't do a very good job of explaining how this personal time off is apportioned and whether it accrues to all employees equally or just those with over 10 or 15 years of service. Typically, vacation & sick leave increase with longevity in the job.
I know employees at SRI get up to 6 weeks of "personal time off for vacation, personal business, and short-term illness". So as I see it, the city offers its employees one more week of PTO than the business just across the street.
I just can't get that exercised over this, especially since it was offered in lieu of salary increases that employees apparently were otherwise eligible for.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Nov 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm

While of course public pensions should be converted to defined contribution, that will not be sufficient to save government finances.

It is necessary to use the taxation power to claw back some proportion of already granted but undeserved and unaffordable benefits. For example, set a 50% state taxation rate on pension benefits above the median wage.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Joe -
Would that be the median wage for a Menlo Park male ($78K) or a Menlo Park female ($59K)? Or, since it's going to be a state law, should we use the state median wage of $48K?
And while we're at it, let's apply this clawback to private pensions as well (fair's fair right?) And also to anyone whose Social Security plus 401K earnings are greater than the median.
Now that we've clawed back the undeserved retirement benefits from the old folks, let's get the undeserved income from those young people who game the system by getting advanced education that let's them earn salaries greater than the median, especially those in the 1% who don't really work for their salaries anyway.
While we're clawing back, what about the capital gains from all those rich people that puts their annual income way above the median? Leave them with 50% of their earnings and they'll still be way better off than the average guy.
Joe, I think you're really on to something here!

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Nov 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Thank you for your support, Steve. I'm focusing on the way the common taxpayer is ripped off by the corrupt bargaining between self-interested politicians and public unions. I would probably use the state median wage to keep things simple.

It is often said that these agreements are inviolate and that there is nothing that can be done about them, but that is incorrect. They can be taxed, just like anyone's earnings.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 17, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Although I'm choosing to sit this discussion out, I would offer some data points for comparison.

I am involved with five private, venture-backed companies. We believe we have a very attractive benefits plan which includes medical insurance at no cost for the employee and highly subsidized cost for their families. I am not aware of many other peer companies that offer this.

For vacation and sick pay, we offer a total of 15 days of PTO (paid time off) for each employee each year - to be used in any way the employee chooses. This increases to 20 days after 5 years. We also have about 10 paid holidays (it varies from 9 to 11 by company) each year.

As I said, this is one of the richer packages in the valley in our space. You are free to draw whatever comparisons and conclusions you choose.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I am surprised that no one mentioned that city workers also get every other friday off in return for supposedly working a 9 hour day. That's a additional 3+ weeks of vacation per year.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:27 am

Facebook has you beat. From their web site:
Paid Time Off (PTO) - We know that passion and commitment has to be paired with rest and balance. We offer 21 days [4+ weeks] of paid vacation to make sure you take a break once in a while.
Sick Time and Holidays - If you're sick, stay home and get better (unlimited sick days.) There are also 11 paid holidays observed at Facebook.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:41 am

Resident -
If an employee is paid for an 80-hour pay period, does it matter if they work those 80 hours in 9 days or 10? Describing them as paid vacation is flat out wrong.
This FLEX work plan has benefits for the employee in that they get a 3-day weekend every other week but it also benefits the community in reducing commuter traffic.
Such FLEX schedules have also become quite popular in private industry where they've been found to increase both employee productivity and employee retention. The accounting firm KPMG has fully 50% of their work force on a FLEX schedule.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:43 am

Reference for the above info on FLEX schedules is from Web Link

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

Well, Steve, it's a very good thing we're not competing with Facebook but I suspect neither is the City of Menlo Park.

But you made another point that is even more telling. It would appear that Menlo Park's new contract provides benefits that are actually BETTER than those of Facebook - arguably one of the most successful private companies in the world. I didn't know that would be the standard...

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:59 am

With 7 weeks MP does apparently provide above-average PTO for it's employees compared to Facebook, assuming FB employees don't use more than 14 days of sick leave a year.
As mentioned above, MP is only a bit more generous than neighboring SRI, which provides 6 weeks of PTO. This one-week difference doesn't seem worth getting so exercised over, particularly since it was negotiated in lieu of a salary increase.
But you raise a good question in your last comment about what should be the standard for MP employees? Presumably, since it's a local government we're talking about, the standard should be other nearby local governments.
In Palo Alto, which seems to be the standard MP most uses as a yardstick in terms of school performance, housing prices, salaries, etc., we find that city employees get "two to five weeks vacation annually depending on years of service [and] 96 hours annual sick leave." Web Link
So, a Palo Alto employee with the maximum years of service would get over 7 weeks of PTO a year (7 weeks and 2 days to be precise).
So by this standard, MP employee benefits don't seem that out of line.
In fact, it looks like we need to increase employee PTO by 2 days/year if we want to match our neighbor :>)

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm


NO, we should NOT be comparing Meml;o Park to other cities. We should be comparing them to the entire work force. Part of the reason our city, county and state governments are in the bind they are in is because they pay more in benefits than the private sector. We should be comparing it across the board. Guaranteed that will bring the average down and if the city employees got benefits at those levels it might actually be sustainable.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Nov 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm

So compared to Facebook, one of the most sought after and prosperous tech companies in the world, and SRI, a government funded think tank that never had to compete in the marketplace for a day in its life, Menlo Park treats its workers even better.

Steve, you are making an excellent point, but I am not sure it is what you intended.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Joe -
Get your facts straight. SRI is an independent research institute that exists entirely on it's earnings ($495 million last year) - it gets no direct funding from the government. As a "soft money" research institute it has to compete for every contract it gets.

Menlo Voter -
Government at all levels has generally not been able to compete with the private sector on salaries but by offering generally better benefits. Govt. employees have been willing to accept generally lower salaries in exchange for better job security and benefits packages.
When the economy was doing fine almost no one was claiming government employees were overcompensated. Only when Wall Street drove the economy off the cliff and unemployment soared to 16% did the job security most government jobs offer make them seem more appealing, compared to private sector jobs.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Menlo Voter -
One other thing.
Your claim that MP should look to the entire workforce in setting it's pay & benefits package makes no sense at all.
Does Stanford look to the entire workforce in setting pay for it's staff? Of course not - it looks at the packages being offered in other top flight universities.
Does the Mayo Clinic look to the entire workforce to determine the appropriate package for it's staff? Of course not - it looks to those of comparable hospitals.
Any industry looks to it's peer institutions to establish fair & equitable pay & benefits because it's those institutions that will be "stealing" their employees away if they don't.
Same with government.
Don't you remember just 5 years ago when Menlo Park was losing half it's police officers to other cities because their pay wasn't up to snuff?
You may not remember but fortunately our City Council does. And they've been acting appropriately as a result.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm

"Does Stanford look to the entire workforce in setting pay for it's staff?"

You bet it looks at the local work force in setting pay for its staff. That is the hallmark of a well managed institution.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Uh, Steve. You forgot one inconvenient data point from Palo Alto. The range is TWO WEEKS to five weeks.

How about two weeks for Menlo Park's entry level and new employees? Gee, that seems like a market term to me.

And my understanding is that Palo Alto is reconsidering it's entire benefits package for all employees...

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm


Stanford may look to other top flight universities re. the compensation of it's professors. You won't find any professors in the most industry. You will find support staff. I'd be willing to bet Stanford looks at what local industry is paying support staff when they set their compensation packages. There are only a few examples in civil service where there aren't apples to apples comparisons with private industry - police and fire are obvious examples. Most every other position in civil service is mirrored in the private sector.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm

It does not take much managerial skill to recognize that even for police officers and fire fighters there are many other jobs which require equivalent education, physical prowess, skill with specialized tools and exposure to risk. Astronauts, military police, Federal firefighters, military combat MOS's etc. - all of whom get paid substantially less than our local police and fire employes.

As for trained people leaving to go to other equally overpaid positions in other cities - that is no longer a problem. NOBODY in these very cushy jobs is looking to go to Oakland or San Jose or San Francisco.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 5:16 pm


Are you sure MP doesn't dispense PTO based on longevity? It would surprise me greatly if they didn't. I think the Almanac article was a bit too short on details to rely on. I exercise with some city employees occasionally so I'll try to remember to ask them next time.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 18, 2011 at 5:38 pm

An Air Force Firefighter with 5 years in the Air Force and serving as an E-5 gets paid $29,376 per year plus housing or a housing allowance and would top out as an E-8 at $68,392 with 30 years of service. Here is the job description:

Air Force Enlisted Job Description
Specialty Summary: Protects people, property, and the environment from fires and disasters. Provides fire prevention, fire fighting, rescue, and hazardous material responses. Related DoD Occupational Subgroup: 495.

Duties and Responsibilities:

Plans, organizes, and directs all fire protection activities. Analyzes fire protection operations, determines trends and problems, and formulates corrective measures. Provides fire protection guidance. Coordinates fire protection support agreements and pre-incident plans. Executes and enforces the Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program. Conducts and evaluates training on specialized fire protection equipment and procedures. Performs inspections and organizational maintenance on fire protection vehicles, equipment, and protective clothing. Manages and operates fire alarm communications centers. Supports the electrical power production function with resetting aircraft arresting systems.

Provides fire prevention guidance. Performs project reviews to ensure fire safety feature adequacy. Inspects facilities, and identifies fire hazards and deficiencies. Determines fire extinguisher distribution requirements and performs inspections and maintenance. Establishes public relations and conducts fire prevention awareness and educational training.

Controls and extinguishes aircraft, structure, wildland, and miscellaneous fires. Establishes an emergency operations incident command system. Drives and operates fire apparatuses, specialized tools, and equipment. Conducts hose evolutions and pump operations, and protects exposures. Preserves and protects emergency scene evidence. Investigates fires to determine origin and cause.

Effects entry into aircraft, structures, and other enclosures. Shuts down engines, safeties ejection systems, and isolates utilities. Conducts search and rescue operations. Administers emergency first aid.

Protects people and the environment from hazardous material releases.

And, by the way, they get deployed overseas for 1 year assignments in places like Iraq and Afghanistan as frequently as every two years.

Posted by Menlo Observer, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

You all need to cut Kirsten a break. After all look who she is married to. Her life is tough enough as it is. She does deserve some sympathy.

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