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Menlo council cracks open union negotiations

 

Working into the late-night hours of March 1, the Menlo Park City Council voted 5-0 to keep the public a little more informed about negotiations with the city's five labor unions, making it one of the few local agencies to do so.

Fourteen of 15 Peninsula cities surveyed by staff indicated they don't solicit public comment beyond allowing speakers to address proposed contracts when the contracts go before council for approval. The exception, Pacifica, presents employee compensation as a topic during public budget study sessions.

Menlo Park's new policy came as a follow-up to the formation of a labor subcommittee in December, manned by Mayor Rich Cline and Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith.

During Tuesday's meeting, city staff argued that full disclosure would leave the city at a disadvantage during negotiations, since the unions aren't required to be equally transparent.

The council agreed, but also found ways to shed more light on the process.

"The fact is, there is an unfair system if we have to negotiate in public and they don't," said Mayor Cline. "But we should be public as much as we can without losing our position."

Now, city staff will prepare public reports before labor negotiations start, and at least 15 days before any proposed agreements go to the council for approval, that outline employee salaries, benefits, associated costs, and the process used to decide what constitutes a competitive package.

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