Palo Alto, CA -- The City of Palo Alto has announced that 151 City workers, representing roughly 25% of employees in the Service International Employees Union (SEIU) Local 521 bargaining group, have called in sick today. Union employees pave streets, maintain parks, operate heavy equipment, repair utility distribution systems, administer programs, operate libraries, review building plans, provide recreation and art programs, and perform many other City services for members of the community. The City expects to continue its operations with slight reductions in service levels.
“During this temporary staffing shortage, we are doing everything we can to minimize service disruptions to the community; however, the City is committed to protecting the health and safety of the community and its employees during this time,” said James Keene, City Manager. “We appreciate the efforts of all employees who are at work today and those employees who are stepping up to fill in the service gaps to ensure that essential functions will be maintained. At all times, police, fire, and emergency services will continue to operate as usual. We apologize to the public for any inconvenience.”
Here are the impacts to existing City service levels for Tuesday, September 8, 2009:
- Development Center will have reduced staffing levels
- Parks will have reduced staffing
- Utilities Customer Service Center is closed and walk in customers are being handled on a case by case basis on the 2nd floor in City Hall;
- In Utilities and Public Works, some routine work (construction, concrete, asphalt, and tree work) has been stopped
There were rumors late last week that SEIU employees were planning a coordinated effort in which large numbers of employees all call in sick on a certain day. The City is prepared for potential events involving widespread employee absences and departments were ready to handle this possibility. The City asked SEIU leadership to renounce such actions and urge its members not to participate in such actions while negotiations are still underway.
Contract talks between the City’s negotiation team and SEIU have been ongoing since May. “We are in extremely challenging economic times,” said Russ Carlsen, Director of Human Resources. “The City negotiating team continues to work diligently toward meeting the City’s financial responsibilities to the community while also respecting and valuing the important work performed by our dedicated employees.”
The City sees a future of sustained economic pressures, coupled with long-term upward pressure on salaries and particularly benefit costs. There are also important unfunded service and infrastructure needs that the City will need to fulfill.
Current SEIU employees have expressed concerns about losing their pension and health benefits; however, the City has not proposed to eliminate those two benefits but has proposed that employees contribute to a portion of the ongoing costs.
“The City's goal is to ensure that staffing costs and long term commitments are fairly balanced against the important infrastructure needs and services the City provides, and the City’s ability to pay,” added Lalo Perez, Director of Administrative Services. “It is also important that the City is able to honor commitments it makes to its employees over the long term.”