Atherton employees may strike over layoff plan


Members of a union representing 16 Atherton employees authorized a strike yesterday (July 5) after town negotiators, union representatives and a state mediator failed to reach an agreement after about 10 hours of talks regarding the town's plan to lay off 13 employees and outsource public works and building department services.

Peter Finn of Teamsters Union Local 856 said he is meeting with the employees at noon today (Wednesday) to decide "where to go from here." He said 92 percent of the membership gave the union the green light to call a strike.

Interim City Manager John Danielson said he is respecting the state mediator's request that details of the talks remain confidential, but acknowledged that the mediator found the two parties at an impasse.

The town handed out pink slips to 13 employees in late May, to be effective June 30. But after the union offered employee concessions to help eliminate the budget's estimated $856,000 structural deficit, the town delayed the effective date of the layoffs until July 15.

Soon after the town announced the layoff and outsourcing plan, employees offered about 12 percent in concessions, which represented about $167,000 in savings to the town, but on June 9 increased proposed concessions to about $300,000 in savings, according to Mr. Finn.

Mr. Danielson said this morning that the union must give notice before a strike begins, and that he hadn't received such a notice. Employees have shown up for work, although "the staffing for the building department has been really spotty the past couple of weeks," he said.

Although he wouldn't characterize the absences as a slowdown -- a strategy used at times by represented employees dissatisfied with the progress of labor talks -- he noted that yesterday morning before negotiations began, "no one showed up in the building department" to staff the front counter. The town had to call in substitute help from the private firm that employs the current interim building official, Mr. Danielson said.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 6, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Boy, that's what I call overplaying your hand...

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm

This strike vote demonstrates that the Town and the union have been unable to find a mutually acceptable alternative to outsourcing.

It is time to move on.

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Posted by Arch Conservative
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

16 employees
92% of the membership voted to strike
That means that 14.72 people voted for the strike
Is the .72 employee working full time?
Don't let the door hit your rear on the way out.

Like this comment
Posted by Atherton Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

City employees striking. One more reason to outsource.
Thanks local 856 for making the decision easier.
Bye bye.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

smooth move folks.....they're going to lay you off so you strike instead. Just what do you think you are going to accomplish?

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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Reminds me of an old saying I heard years ago--"you can't fire me, I quit you!" Pogo hit the nail on the head, the union totally overplayed it hand. Just goes to show, I hope, other members of that union, you ought not put too much faith in their ability to serve your best interests. From my simple perspective, not being an Athertonian or having any skin in this game what-so-ever, it still appalls me that these 13 employees didn't make a move to be part of the budget solution until they got handed pink slips. Now they want sympathy and are willing to deal?????. V4Pov

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Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

To "Who are you people"
These guys did offer concessions--two sets of them--for 300,000--they still haven't seemed to realize yet, that they are competing with the Police Department for a peice of this pie.
The Police Department has offered no concessions and says they won't.
Also I believe that the union Rep for for these 13 employees also represents some of employees of the APD who are not sworn officers--like secretaries and dispatch personnel (some of whom who have secured the new non union category of "confidential employee status") so I have to wonder if the Rep has a bit of a conflict of interest in encouraging these guys to strike which may serve to result in protecting the APD.
Just seems like very strange advice to strike.

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Posted by WAP
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 6, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Please proceed with the dismissal of the union folks and replace with those willing to work. Many building inspectors, plan checkers, secretaries available. Also, there are many available law enforcement personnel available from other police department down sizing.

Like this comment
Posted by Ernesto
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Its pretty telling that its difficult for management to tell if they're effecting a slowdown, or just working at their usual leisurely public sector pace.

Public unions have become the worst special interest out there. Atherton will get better service from the new workers (they'll be fired if they underperform unlike unionized public servants), while saving its taxpayer dollars for better things.

The best part: no net jobs are lost.

Well done Atherton!

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Those local government employee unions who have wise leadership are making significant concessions. Those who have have poor leadership continue to demand unreasonable wage and benefits.

As a result more and more local governments will wisely decide to outsource as much as is possible.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Let's hope these strikers get what they so richly deserve - termination. While we're at it let's abolish the union as well.

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Posted by laughing
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jul 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

Oh brother!!!!!! What a joke...I can picture it....3 people walking around with picket signs where? The train station? HP park? Release them too and outsource everyone. This town needs to stop the madness. Stop the waste. Stop the whining.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 7, 2011 at 9:59 pm

What a great opportunity for the Town Council to take the union up on their offer to strike and replace them. Clearly overplayed.

I'm sorry that the good and dedicated employees of Atherton are represented by such a tone deaf union.

Like this comment
Posted by annoyed
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2011 at 7:16 am

Let me get this straight. Employees that have a job with benefits in this terrible economy are gong to strike? They all should be let go immediately if they strike. Greedy and stupid.

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Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

This is not intended to be a comment on what might be best for the Town-however There are two points that need to made clear.
The employees themselves did not ever actually vote to strike or even discuss the option except for once with their union rep, and in only the most general of terms as a possibility, in mid May at the moment when the pink slips first went out --the decision to announce a strike was made solely by the union rep to the actual surprise of these Atherton employees.
Also on the subject of the "mass absences"--staff was ORDERED to immediately use up all outstanding vacation time, and is now accused of not showing up.
Since all this has served to make them look bad, I feel uncomfortable about it not being brought forward.

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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Thelma - Under the law ONLY the union members can vote to strike. The original report makes clear that the union members did vote to strike.

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Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I believe you Peter
but if you ask any of them about this you will hear only genuine shock and dismay about the strike being announced.
I'm not sure any of them were clear on what was happening even if they should have been -including the union rep's understanding of things.
A sad little mess-thats all

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Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 9, 2011 at 6:50 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Thelma - the most tragis thing that we are seeing in this economic downturn is labor 'leaders' who are not leading but instead are engaging in classic union confrontation strategies.

Here is an example of what can happen with great union leadership:

Michael Fitzgerald
In the end, Fire Department did its duty — helping the people of Stockton

By Michael Fitzgerald
July 08, 2011
Record Columnist

Stocktonians worried the city may careen into bankruptcy can loosen their seat belts. The Fire Department has tentatively agreed to bring its pay and benefits down to earth.

Thanks to Fire's $19 million in concessions, the city overcomes its biggest hurdle to coping with its $37 million deficit. It makes an ominous Fire lawsuit that could bankrupt the city go away, too.

And it makes one of the big structural reforms necessary to permanently fixing the city's ailing finances.

Moody's, are you listening? The city has balanced its budget and probably avoided bankruptcy. Time to throw a little love at our credit rating, baby.

"This is huge," said Deputy City Manager Lori Montes. "This, along with the agreements with the other labor groups. This is tremendous."

Firefighters will swallow a pay cut, retire later and make the same co-pay into their pensions and medical that other public employees do. They will surrender the minimum staffing requirements that were busting the city's budget.

They have, in effect, agreed to share the pain of the recession with their fellow Stocktonians. In return, the city won't use the Big Ax voters gave them when they approved Measure H last November: the power to unilaterally impose cuts should negotiations deadlock.

"We never disputed that this city was in a world of hurt," said Fire union boss Dave Macedo. "We may dispute the numbers. But at the end of the day, we wanted to ... address the concessions that have to be made."

The sacrifices Fire made should not be underestimated. Yes, they were overcompensated. But the staffing cuts, from 75 on-duty firefighters to 51, actually are deeper than those a consultant suggested.

"I feel for the guys," said Macedo. "Some of these guys are young or newlyweds. I had a hard time keeping my eyes dry when I saw the look on their faces."

The agreement also nullifies Fire's lawsuit challenging the city's declaration of fiscal emergency. An arbitrator's pending decision becomes a dead letter.

That is another big relief. Had the arbitrator's ruling further burdened the city, Stockton may well have followed Vallejo and become California's second bankrupt city.

Macedo deserves applause for his leadership. Montes praised him, also several smaller bargaining units.

"We really appreciate what labor has done to help us close the gap," she said. "For them to agree to these changes - we couldn't have closed it without them."

While the news is good, Stockton is not out of the woods.

Stockton Professional Firefighters Local 456 must still ratify the agreement.

Ratification is expected.

Should it not occur, however, the city's fiscal fate will revert to Napa arbitrator Alexander Cohn. After months of hearings, Cohn took Fire's lawsuit under submission last February. He has been taking his sweet time.

The city's fiscal emergency, declared in May of 2010, persists. Fiscal reserves are exhausted. The city projected an $8 million deficit in 2013 and $6 million deficit in 2014.

While those projections will now be revised (deficits are still projected), it is clear that 2011-12, with its $37 million crater, was the crunch.

For Stockton, it gets better from here.

Barring the unforeseen, the city only faces one more fiscal King Kong: the staggering $544 million in employee retirement benefits which previous leaders never bothered to fund. This appears to be the last fiscal giant the city must fight.

It, however, is a long-term problem. The law does not oblige the city to solve it by the end of the fiscal year.

The cuts leaders imposed on retirees under the authority of the fiscal emergency are already reducing that colossal liability somewhat.

The agreement makes it possible to view Stockton Fire as part of the solution - as part of the community, not a privileged elite insulated from taxpayers' struggles.

Welcome to the club, guys. Now serving Top Ramen and government cheese.

"Our profession has taken a beating," said Macedo. "We got our ass kicked last year on Measure H. We got ridiculed for being overpaid. That was a tough pill to swallow. But now it's a new day."

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or Visit his blog at

Like this comment
Posted by Esquire
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 9, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Is it possible this strike is more about invoking rights than actually picketing?

I've read they are filing an unfair labor practices claim with the NLRB. As I understand it, if they make such a claim and call a strike, they are entitled to their jobs back if the NLRB finds in their favor.

The unfair business practices claim has to due with the Town's failure to divulge the RFP responses during negotiations.

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2011 at 9:48 am

[Post removed. Please discuss the topic, not other posters.]

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

Gordon makes a bold assertion: "When Peter C. follows all my ideas going back three years, " - examples please.

I don't recall ever following even one of your ideas.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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