By Micah Michalski and Liz Bar-El
These are strange times indeed, and the employees of this City are working harder than ever to serve the community during this crisis both through our customary job duties and as emergency operations employees. While many of us are shut inside our homes, many others of us are out in the field, delivering services and keeping this City safe and running smoothly. We clearly see and feel the economic crisis brought on by measures taken to protect the public from this pandemic. Nothing is business as usual. And in this context, we must not act hastily lest we ensure business as usual can never happen again.
The Council is looking at tough choices as you consider balancing the upcoming FY budget. We know you take on this task with a heavy heart. We also ask that you take on this task with a return to core values. Over the next two weeks, the City management team will finalize and then present to you plans that will have irreversible and draconian impacts. These plans have not been developed with the involvement of employees, the bargaining units or the Coalition leadership. The first information shared with the Bargaining Unit presidents was at a meeting on Monday afternoon and it was almost completely devoid of detail. This move comes on the heels of a rushed and awkward implementation this week of unpaid administrative leave for over 400 employees whose workplaces have been closed. Most of those affected are among the City’s lower paid workforce and will suffer the greatest hardship. Nevertheless, that step will pale in comparison with what is yet to come if the City Manager convinces you to use an axe where a scalpel is needed.
Our message to the Council is simple: Slow down, look at more options, and involve the City’s employees to come up with alternatives that will help push the City forward with the least damage possible. Your employees are your most valuable asset and they are willing and able to get creative to find better solutions. To sideline them in this process is to deny yourselves the single greatest source of intelligence, creativity, drive, and passion you have; what make this City government the envy of every other City in California. You have approved an emergency ordinance that suspends the usual civil service rules and protections. This concerns us greatly and we hope the temporary removal of protections is not utilized to take advantage of employees with long tenures at the City.
A short-term emergency should not be used as the pretense to upend all that you and the employees have built together and as cover to remake the City into something the community will not support, let alone recognize. Moreover, the employees who remain to run this City will be expected to work even harder, after years of doing more with less and, of course, on the heels of disastrous negotiations that just concluded on the Coalition Medical and Retirement Umbrella Agreements. The steps you take right now will have a major impact on morale and April 15, 2020 employee motivation, and will forever shape your legacies in this City. It is time for all of us to lead by example, and deliver the creative, progressive, and sustainable solutions that have become our hallmark rather than adopting the slash and burn measures that so enthrall our less progressive brethren
We, your City employees, ask you to consider the following as discuss these matters in Closed Session:
1. Do not greenlight the CMO’s plan to impose mass layoffs.
2. Direct the CMO to see what can be gained through offering incentives to employees to retire before proposing positions to eliminate.
3. Direct the CMO to hold open, honest, and collaborative discussions with Coalition and bargaining unit board leaders. Direct this joint effort to explore every option that might reduce the need to lay off workers and to bring those options to the Council in an open session that allows the community to weigh in.
4. Direct the CMO to strictly adhere to the Municipal Code procedures for instituting layoffs, regardless of emergency orders that allow waivers of some aspects of the Civil Service Code.
5. Direct the City’s lobbyists to advocate for federal and state financial support for cities that may help balance the City’s budget.
6. Let the values of community and sustainability guide you as you make this decision. Remember that it is much harder to restart programs once they have been cut. Remember that it is far more expensive to hire an employee later to replace one you let go today. Remember that you have highly trained and capable people working for you who you will lose forever. The wholesale elimination of this collective human intelligence will have massive, unintended consequences.
We are not blind to the unprecedented challenges we face. Indeed, we are living them every moment. But, a time of crisis is not the time to abandon our shared values, priorities, and common sense. Indeed, those values are in place precisely to protect us all in these moments. You must scrupulously protect them in these moments of greatest challenge or we run the risk of revealing we never believed in them at all. Your employees believe in these values. Indeed, we are the ones who have implemented them Citywide. And, we believe in you. This is a defining moment for our great City, and one that will be remembered for a long time. We ask you, the Council, to choose the path of respect and inclusion for a stronger and more resilient City.
Micah Michalski and Liz Bar-El are members of the Coalition of Santa Monica City Employees