Dozens of workers in the city's Utilities Department will be in line for raises next week under contract that Palo Alto is preparing to approve with a labor group that represents managers, assistant directors, supervisors, engineers and other high-level utilities employees.
The new contract would guarantee a pair of 4% raises for each member of the Utilities Management and Professional Association of Palo Alto (UMPAPA), an association that represents 52 full-time utilities positions and is not affiliated with any national labor unions. The first would occur in the pay period following July 1, 2023, while the second would kick in in July 2024.
The contract also provides additional raises to employees whose salaries are currently lower than they would be in other jurisdictions. The adjustments would be based on a compensation study that the city is undertaking, an effort that will survey salaries in 14 other utilities and municipalities. This includes PG&E as well as the cities of Roseville, Alameda, San Jose, Santa Clara, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, East Bay MUD and Sacramento MUD, among others.
According to a report from the Administrative Services Department, these targeted adjustments would be equivalent to another 5% wage increase.
The agreement, which the City Council will consider on June 12, covers the two-and-a-half-year period between Jan. 1, 2023, and June 30, 2025. It is just the latest in a series of labor agreements that the council has approved over the past few months. It follows similar contours as the deals that the council had struck with its firefighter and police unions, as well as with its largest union, the Service Employees International Union, 521, and its unrepresented managers and professionals group.
In all cases, the contracts have involved automatic raises coupled with market adjustments targeting specific positions.
And just like other employees, UMPAPA employees will be eligible for "flexible compensation" – the option of adding $100 to their salaries in lieu of having the city contribute additional funding for medical premiums. Each member of the union will be eligible for two such pay increases, one immediately after the contract is adopted and another one in January 2024. The contract states that employees can use these payments for any purpose, including covering health insurance premiums or contributions to flexible spending accounts or deferred compensation plans.
The contract also provides for "standby pay" for operational supervisors who are assigned to respond to Utilities emergencies such as power outages or storms, according to a report from the Human Resources Department.
The new deal would add about $3.8 million to the city's expenses over its term, according to the report. It also "continues to solidify the City of Palo Alto strategy to be an employer of choice," the report states.
"Being an employer of choice improves the ability of the City to recruit and retain staff in areas of critical service delivery and priority projects for our community," the report states. "It also supports the City's ability to continue basic services that are expected and relied upon by the community."
In April, the council recognized the staffing challenges in the Utilities Department when it approved a $20-million contract with VIP Powerline Corp. for electric utility construction services. In justifying the deal, Utilities Director Dean Batchelor cited the city's challenges in retaining and recruiting linemen and other critical employees.
At one point, he said, the city recruited graduates from a training program for utility workers that was offered by Northwest Lineman College in Orville. However, four of the five individuals that the city hired ultimately left for another utility. In some cases, they were out of state and wanted to go back home. In others, they wanted to move around and work on different systems.
"They come to us for four years, get their journeyman's card and now they're full-fledged linemen and they can take that across the United States," Batchelor said.
The Human Resources report states that the city's strategy of bringing positions throughout the organization up to market level has already shown a significant reduction in staff turnover in 2023. The new deal is expected to extend this success to the utility employees.
"Consistent with the City’s workforce strategy applied across each labor group, the agreement targets a market placement which will aid the City to maintain and add the managerial staff necessary to provide high quality and effective Utility services," the report states.