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Palo Alto chided for 'bad faith' negotiations with utility workers

Original post made on Aug 2, 2018

The city of Palo Alto failed to negotiate in "good faith" during its extended contract talks with a recently formed labor group of managers in the Utilities Department, a judge for the state Public Employment Relations Board stated in a ruling released this week.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 2, 2018, 9:42 AM

Comments (31)

14 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2018 at 10:04 am

We should demand a world with unions for the most vulnerable, the folks out in the fields picking fruit, or behind the counters at fast-food restaurants, or cleaning floors, or trimming hedges, ... it's a long list if you survey the entirety of California labor.

How can anyone pretend that the ability to fire highly paid managers is anywhere in the same moral universe? The specialized skill and hard work that these folk (presumably) have is always in high demand... unless of course there are folks in their ranks lacking one of these, in which case there's another powerful reason to oppose capitulating.

Please, let's leave this nonsense behind, and let's get out there together and fight the real union battle that unfortunately is not yet raging.


15 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2018 at 12:02 pm

Why is it that the ones doing the least amount of actual work in America are amongst the highest paid?

They also get 'golden parachutes' & opportunities to 'double-dip' (post retirement PERS) whereas the average worker has to stand in line at the EDD office for a mere pittance?


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Annette is a registered user.

"The fact that the two parties have been negotiating since 2011 with no agreement is "outrageous," Clement concluded."

There must be an explanation for this. We have a reputation for protracting things, but even so, seven years is a long time. Maybe each side needs better negotiators.


33 people like this
Posted by Civil servant
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2018 at 1:03 pm

@Annette: if you read the PERB proposed decision, the reason the two sides have been negotiating for seven years without reaching an agreement is pretty clear: the city has been negotiating in bad faith the whole time, with no intention of ever approving an agreement with UMPAPA. In effect, they've been letting these employees hang out to dry, without so much as a cost of living adjustment in that period, as retribution for the employees forming this union in the first place. It's shameful.


7 people like this
Posted by Negotiate This...
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 2, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Less pay (or reduced pay grades)>>>for nondescript administrators, perpetual desk jockeys & redundant power point creators.

More pay>>>for those who actually work for a living & get their hands dirty.
Their work projects are far more visible to the average citizen than a bunch of stupid reports that quickly become yesterday's news.

Eliminate expensive consultant fees & make so-called 'specialized' city employees do the work instead. Saves money & trims the fat.


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 2, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Unions for public sector = no bueno. They just turn around and spend dues on politicians that will give them a better contract and we as taxpayers get left holding the bag.

The fact that UMPAPA hasn't figured this out already (because the SEIU certainly has) makes you wonder how effective this union really is.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2018 at 3:02 pm

"... the reason the two sides have been negotiating for seven years without reaching an agreement is pretty clear: the city has been negotiating in bad faith the whole time, with no intention of ever approving an agreement with UMPAPA."

Be nice. Do not attribute to malice what can be explained as routine incompetence.


7 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 2, 2018 at 3:17 pm

Why not outsource the entire operation via competitive bidding? We'd save a TON:
- no lifetime extended health care benefits to employees and part time workers
- no luxurious pensions after a couple decades of work (which even PA residents typically don't have)
- avoid egregious CPAU behaviors (like working on private projects on city time)
- no overpaid administrators

Just need a couple of smart execs to oversee the operation and develop intelligent rules for private companies to bid on the work without sacrificing longer term priorities.


23 people like this
Posted by Civil servant
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2018 at 3:18 pm

@Curmudgeon: Seriously, read the proposed decision. The ALJ specifically calls the city out for bad faith negotiation tactics (repeatedly cancelling meetings at the last minute, sending negotiators to negotiate without any authority, etc.). This really was malice, not incompetence.


12 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Staff represented by UMPAPA have not received any cost of living increases since 2013 when a contract was imposed on them by the City (see: Web Link).

The Utilities strategic plan adopted by the City Council in March 2018 (see: Web Link) contains Priority 1: Workforce--We must create a vibrant and competitive environment that attracts, retains, and invests in a skilled and engaged workforce." It's a joke since the City negotiates in bad faith and can't expect to attract or retain skilled workers.

It's both incompetence and malice by top City management and the Council.


17 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2018 at 4:14 pm

From reading the PERB ruling, the judge determines that the City appears to use excessive delaying tactics to avoid offering any increased compensation to the UMPAPA group. One small example is that after finally completing a salary survey (leaving alone that it select irrelevant comparator agencies), it waits another year or two so that the data in the survey is outdated.

Page 61 of the PERB ruling states: "That the parties have been in negotiations since 2011 with no agreement is outrageous. That the City continued to approach negotiations with UMP AP A with no sense of urgency after several years of painfully slow progress gives rise to a strong inference of bad faith."

And on page 63, you see: "Based on a totality of circumstances, including predictably unacceptable proposals, unexplained or unjustified delays in bargaining and a lack of authority of its negotiator, I find that the City breached its duty to meet and confer in good faith."

This is all a sad statement of how the City of Palo Alto operates.



8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2018 at 4:41 pm

"no luxurious pensions after a couple decades of work (which even PA residents typically don't have)"

Well, maybe you could get them if you put the energy you put into feeling sorry for yourself into getting a job with a good pension. I did.


"This really was malice, not incompetence."

You could be right, but it goes against my experience with senior city hall management.


3 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 2, 2018 at 5:22 pm

"Well, maybe you could get them if you put the energy you put into feeling sorry for yourself into getting a job with a good pension. I did."

Good for you. Some of us would rather not be feeding via the public teat with inflated pensions which are now driving the cities to bankruptcy. Rather be economic engine than economic freight.


5 people like this
Posted by Dick Tracy
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2018 at 5:52 pm

Civil service administrative jobs are strictly for those who just want to put in their time & collect PERS later down the road.

Mediocrity = security (especially SC County jobs). CA State jobs are next as anyone who has stood in line at the DMV or EDD will attest. Working hard is not in the DNA of anyone employed there.

And last but not least...US Postal workers (especially those working at the counter).

For these positions, job-related stress is an oxymoron. It's the boredom that will kill you.





19 people like this
Posted by Peninsula Commuter
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2018 at 7:29 pm

As a former Palo Alto Utilities employee, I can tell you from experience that these are not easy "desk jockey" jobs. The Senior Engineers are expected to manage multiple projects, supervise employees and perform technical work such as setting electric system protection relays.

These senior engineer jobs are very comparable to those at investor-owned utilities such as PG&E, and also cities with their own electric systems such as Santa Clara. That's why UMPAPA benchmarked these job positions and not just the generic "city engineer" jobs that Palo Alto wanted to benchmark.


1 person likes this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2018 at 7:58 pm

@Peninsula Commuter

I think DT was referring to lesser skilled government jobs requiring the minimum of technical skills or education.

It's usually reflected in the civil service exams & application criteria.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 2, 2018 at 8:10 pm

"Some of us would rather not be feeding via the public teat with inflated pensions which are now driving the cities to bankruptcy."

I got mine by competence on the job, so I'm not obsessed over others getting theirs. If you think they got too much, talk to the people they negotiated with. None of this came down the mountain with Moses, you know. It came from people talking with people.


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2018 at 9:53 pm

For a moment, ignore context and simply read this comment by Curmudgeon: "Be nice. Do not attribute to malice what can be explained as routine incompetence."

It's clever. And funny. Thank you for a good laugh, Curmudgeon.


12 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 2, 2018 at 11:05 pm

Palo Alto City management is so bloated with so many employees, yet still can't negotiate with their own people in less than 7 years. The PA management needs to be replaced whole sale.


11 people like this
Posted by Kevin
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 2, 2018 at 11:22 pm

Kevin is a registered user.

The comments on labor-related articles on here demonstrate how much of a lie it is that Palo Alto is a “liberal”or “progressive “ city.


6 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2018 at 8:39 am

It's good to see CPA Utilities frequently using outside contractors to do any significant work. The local municipal vs. national union process with CPA utilities (and other city functions) seems broken - most obviously evidenced by the enormous and increasing public pension liabilities.

It's good to see one city department negotiating strenuously against these national unions. I love the part about the city being required to provide "documents" to support that there would be yet another recession at some future date.


1 person likes this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 3, 2018 at 11:23 am

"I got mine by competence on the job, so I'm not obsessed over others getting theirs."

Competence. Now there's a quality so highly admired in the public sector and government! I imagine all public sector and government employees feel the same way. I earned it. I deserve it. Sure.


2 people like this
Posted by Tax Dollars Wasted
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 3, 2018 at 12:08 pm

> Competence. Now there's a quality so highly admired in the public sector and government! I imagine all public sector and government employees feel the same way. I earned it. I deserve it. Sure.

Public Sector Competence = oxymoron if there ever was one.

Sense of Entitlement = comes with putting in the time.


5 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 3, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Interesting to see comments from participants like "Member" from Barron Park who assumes that the UMPAPA group is part of a national union. It is not. On the other hand, it is refreshing to see some writers support a small Union trying to protect the rights of its members. Not everyone is anti-Union in Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by Rex
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2018 at 9:21 pm

I would need to witness these 'negotiations' to know for sure, but I would not be surprised if the unexpected curve balls the city is throwing at the Union negotiators is little more than the city tipping its hat that they really have no idea how to negotiate.


Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Addison School
on Aug 6, 2018 at 1:36 pm

It's the Palo Alto Administrator bundle: When someone asks for something different than was offered, a muscle memory instinct takes over to stall because their offered solution has been rejected AND the incompetence factor.
The schools are infected with it too.


2 people like this
Posted by Blue Collar in PA
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 6, 2018 at 2:16 pm

It's time for the working class heroes to rise & show those nim-wit pencil pushers who actually does the real work in this town.


3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 7, 2018 at 6:33 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Timing often creates unfortunate coincidences. This week we read in the paper that Palo Alto is scolded for negotiating in bad faith. And last week a colorful notice announcing all the rate increases was included in our utility bill. Not a great optic.


10 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 7, 2018 at 7:08 pm

I for one see a lot of value in having our own utilities. I would never want to be in PG&E territory and my contractors tell me the same. Living in Silicon Valley and even CA, it's just the price you have to pay. You can't expect our economy to boom while leaving behind everyone else that doesn't work in the tech industry. It's not just city employees. I'm sure we are paying more for all services. If you can't handle it, move to Nevada, Texas, or Florida. I've seen the wages posted in the daily, but how else are you going to get people to come to bay area to work? I don't want the City picking up workers from Home Depot to work on our water or electrical system.


4 people like this
Posted by Leslie Carter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2018 at 7:51 am

"Unions for public sector = no bueno"

Gov. Ronald Reagan signed that in to law a long time ago.

Just yesterday, American voters crushed an anti-union measure by a 2-1 margin: "Unions notch win in deep-red Missouri with rejection of right-to-work law" Web Link

Americans like workers having representation.

Who doesn't like worker protections? conservative politicians and their appointed judges, and , of course, anonymous online posters.


4 people like this
Posted by Peninsula Commuter
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2018 at 2:31 pm

As an engineer who has worked for both PG&E (private industry) and Palo Alto Utilities, I can tell you from firsthand experience that employees for both agencies (engineers, lineman, dispatchers, estimators and others) work equally hard and are dedicated to serving their customers. The notion that government utility workers are less capable and/or don't care is a tired old cliché.

The value of a city-owned utility is lower rates (no shareholder rate-of-return) and local control. The utility revenues are invested back into the local community.

If you value the lower cost, high reliability and local control of your City-owned utility, check out umpapa.org

Please be aware that investor-owned utilities also provide pensions and health care benefits. If Palo Alto is not willing to pay a competitive salary and continue providing pensions and health benefits, PG&E, Southern California Edison, City of Santa Clara etc. will be more than happy to hire them away. And have done so.


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