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Santa Monica City Employees Demand End to Job Outsourcing

Phil Brock For Council 2014

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Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 28, 2014 -- What was scheduled to be a routine vote by the City Council on Tuesday regarding contracts with private companies for various municipal services became an intense discussion on the escalation of job outsourcing at City Hall and its possible negative effect on employee morale as well as Santa Monica’s status as a progressive city.

Dozens of City employees and union leaders flooded the council chambers, and several of them said that too many in-house government jobs were disappearing. They blasted what they called the privatization of City employment, where workers have fewer rights and less job security.

“We should be very progressive and not the Walmart by the Sea,” said Karen Evans, who said she has been a City employee for 30 years. “We should respect our workers and have social and economic justice.

Big Blue Bus worker Tori Rhodes told the council outsourcing was “really hurting the morale of the people” in his department.

Among others who spoke in opposition to outsourcing were council candidates Frank Gruber, Sue Himmelrich, Jerry Rubin and Mike Feinstein.

In response to the testimony, the council voted to delay a decision on custodial contracts that had been placed on the agenda’s consent calendar, which is reserved for items that are usually approved with little or no discussion. The current contracts do not expire until the end of the year.

Also, the council asked City staff to do a study and report back with what Councilmember Kevin McKeown called “a global look at the policy of outsourcing.”

This request includes finding out exactly how many jobs are outsourced, the differences in compensation for outsourced and in-house employees as well as how it affects the City financially.

McKeown said major outsourcing began during the so-called Great Recession, when City officials were wary of pension payments and other commitments they might not have been able to meet.

“At this point, the economy has come back and we are blessed in Santa Monica that it has come back very well,” McKeown said. “And I now think there’s no question in my mind that we should be rethinking this policy and going back to figuring out how to make these truly be City job.”

Several public speakers said that outsourcing was not only harmful to workers, but it also did not save the City money. Public Works Director Martin Pastucha told the council this was not true, at least when it comes to custodial services.

“I think the services that have been provided are good,” he said. “We’ve been able to get the level of service we’ve been asking for. I think I’d like to see their numbers. They claim there hasn’t been cost savings. I think our numbers would show something different.”

An item of contention among the five council members in attendance (Terry O’Day and Tony Vazquez were absent) was a one-year contract with Vehicle Technical Consultants for maintenance and repair services on Big Blue Bus facilities.

McKeown wanted to reject the proposal, but his colleagues were concerned that unlike the custodial contracts, this one had already expired and the company was operating on a month-to-month basis. The council voted 4-1 to renew the contract and look at it again next year.

“My no vote reflects a desire to respect the information I’ve gotten from the bus workers and their bargaining unit, and that I felt we should have incorporated that information and made the informed policy decision rather than moving forward at this time,” McKeown said.

Another issue raised during this part of the discussion was whether having in-house employees is always possible. Ed King, director of transit services for the Big Blue Bus, said it would be difficult to have in-house employees for jobs requiring complex knowledge of certain bus fuels.

Councilmember Ted Winterer added, “There may be circumstances, despite our desire to keep a lot our jobs in-house, where it just doesn’t make sense to keep specialized technical knowledge in-house for limited ad-hoc applications.”

The council voted unanimously for a one-year contract with Uniserve Facilities Service to provide bus detailing. The motion stated the City could get out of the contract with a 30 days notice at any time.


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