Palo Alto employees reject cutbacks

October 28, 2009 1:10:50 PM PDT
Unionized Palo Alto city employees have decided to continue working while rejecting cutbacks imposed by the City Council that entail scaling back health care and retirement benefits.

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The council members voted 7-1 Monday to adopt a resolution imposing the city's "last, best and final offer" for about 600 members of Service Employees International Union Local 521, including road maintenance workers, librarians, office employees, parks maintenance workers and electricians. Councilman Yiaway Yeh voted against the resolution.

The city has said the terms that were imposed will cut $2.5 million from the city's $10 million budget deficit by requiring workers to pay an additional 6 percent toward their retirement and an additional 10 percent to cover medical costs.

Roughly 40 percent of the unionized employees participated in a meeting at the Cubberley Community Center Tuesday night to decide their next step. About 90 percent of those present voted to reject the city's terms, SEIU member Vic Farisato said.

"Our feeling is the city's treating this as a dictatorship," he said.

Farisato said the employees filled out questionnaires that gauged their stance on the city's proposal and asked whether they would agree to strike, or hold a one-day work stoppage or pickets.

"At this point we're going to continue to go to work," Farisato said. By striking, he said, the workers would risk losing community support.

"There's a lot of questions on how people are going to be impacted by the city imposing their terms on us," he said.

Kelly Morariu, assistant to the city manager, said the city presented a reasonable and fair contract to SEIU that asked them to contribute small amounts toward their medical premiums and retirement plans.

In the event of a strike, Morariu said, the city has a contingency plan in place to provide public health and security services.

Councilman Larry Klein, who voted for the contract, said the city can't afford to continue paying health care and pension benefits that the workers have received in the past.

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