Menlo Park council OKs new contract with employees
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 Nov. 15 on a proposed two-year contract with 35 city employees with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
The council was nearly as silent, voting 3-1 to approve the contract after briefly clarifying a few terms. Councilman Peter Ohtaki dissented and colleague Andy Cohen was absent.
The contract freezes pay for the city employees and brings new hires in under a two-tier, "2 percent at 60" pension system based on the average of three years' highest pay. It swaps a cap on employee contributions to health benefit premiums with a fixed city contribution equal to the police unions'.
Employees will pay an additional 0.376 percent of their salaries post-tax into the CalPERS pension system, while the city agreed to pay $20 more per month per employee for dental insurance and increase coverage limits.
Staff estimated that the first year of the contract will save the city 0.25 percent on payroll costs, but Menlo Park will also pay $19,400 more because of the health benefit increases. As new hires join the city under the new pension structure, the payroll savings are expected to reach 4 to 6 percent by 2036.
Although the contract eliminates an award for using fewer than three sick days a year, it didn't make any changes to the amount of time off. Asked to explain his dissenting vote, Mr. Ohtaki said he supported most of the agreement, but thought the leave provisions should be revisited.
"I am concerned that is considerably outside the norm," he said, adding that he previously hadn't noticed all of them. "I'm very concerned and in my opinion we should go back. But that's gonna be my opinion, and that's why I'm voting against it."
Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith suggested including time off in the discussion when the contract comes up for renewal in two years.
Before the Tuesday night meeting, Interim City Manager Glen Rojas responded via the city's email distribution list to complaints raised by residents about the time-off policy. He said the policy was unarguably generous, but in line with other comparable communities, and helped balance out the lack of raises for the past three years.
According to staff, Menlo Park has now aligned the wording of Measure L, the pension reform initiative passed by voters in 2010, with the CalPERS "2 percent at 60" plan. However, the initiative remains entangled in a lawsuit filed by AFSCME and Service Employees International Union because of a clause that requires voter approval, rather than the council's, for benefit increases.