Robinson: San Jose mayor has the wrong response to labor agreement
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan speaks to the audience during his inauguration ceremony on Feb. 1, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s negative response to the city’s new labor agreement is misguided and will ultimately cost him politically. Leading the city isn’t easy, and offending and diminishing your workforce leads to toxic results.

    The mayor complains that “service cuts” will have to take place as a result of paying city workers compensation nobody believes is completely adequate. Note to the mayor: a strike means no service at all.

    More importantly the mayor’s response will create even further recruiting problems for understaffed city departments, including planning and his flailing efforts to hire more police.

    The mayor can cut services, but before he does, he needs to reorganize his own office and the top brass at City Hall. The mayor’s office has 26 employees, he isn’t even a strong mayor. The mayor’s office total budget is approximately $5.7 million, while the city manager’s office has a budget of $39.7 million. Both have their own communications team. Both have separate budget teams.

    The short answer is a strong mayor form of government would reduce costs to the taxpayer and provide more accountability to the public. The city manager’s office does not include department heads, such as chief of police, fire chief, airport administration, city attorney, city auditor et al.

    In 2022, over 350 San Jose workers made more than $250,000 in total cash compensation. Mostly police officers, firefighters and executives. The city manager was fourth on the list with a total compensation package of $405,136.90.

    Two fire captains and a police lieutenant made more, the top paid employee was a fire captain who made $482,051.79.  His base pay was $171,436.67—he was paid $296,683.33 in overtime.

    Because of staffing shortages, overtime is costing the city millions, especially in emergency services.

    Executive salaries are out of control. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who administers the entire state, makes less than the San Jose city manager with a salary of $201,680 and is the highest paid governor in the nation. Jennifer Maguire’s base pay is 364,387.90.

    The city’s average salary for employees is about $52,000 per year. The city has approximately 6,649 employees. The new labor agreement may increase their compensation, but they are still underpaid based on Silicon Valley prices. A two-bedroom apartment goes for more than $3,000 a month.

    So if the mayor and San Jose City Council have to make cuts, they should start at the top. Overtime for police and fire should be renegotiated. Most salaried employees in private industry don’t get overtime. That said, staffing levels must increase.

    In the meantime, the mayor should be cautioned about the real consequences of dissing his workforce. His political advisers may think bashing the unions is good politics, but if he wants to accomplish his goals, those are the people he needs to do their jobs.

    Morale is important and the mayor needs to lead, not whine.

    San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.

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