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Island Talkback: Wisconsin comes to Alameda

Submitted by on 1, April 8, 2011 – 12:03 am7 Comments

Photo credit: UFCW International.

By Mike Henneberry

Instead of an April 1 headline blaring “Bankruptcy looms in Alameda’s future,” a more appropriate one would have been “Alameda Tea Party holds coming out party.” The debut of Alameda’s Wisconsin crew began on March 29 with Treasurer Kevin Kennedy’s bombastic performance at the City Council meeting. Kennedy’s theatrics were second only to Auditor Kevin Kearney’s. Both did their best to conjure up a West Coast version of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on public servants.

Kennedy and Kearney have been preparing for this moment for a few years. The stage was set through the one-sided recommendations of the Fiscal Sustainability Committee and now has broken into the open after the departure of their preferred city manager and the election of a new majority on the city council.

At the meeting, Kennedy and Kearney went after the benefits and pensions of public servants with gusto. Despite the fact that the city has a 25 percent reserve, they repeated over and over the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, which it is not: It is solvent. Their theatrics are a smokescreen for reducing the wages and benefits of working people and silencing their voices at work, the same dynamic currently at play in Wisconsin.

It is not coincidental that the edition of the Alameda Journal following the March 29 meeting had a column trashing Assemblyman Sandré Swanson for his pro-working family views (Marshall Cromer, “My Word,” April 1) and a letter to the editor by Mike Conroy attacking unions and calling for the dismantling of health and pension benefits. This coordinated attack is being executed to make it appear as if there is support in town for the positions of the Republican treasurer and the Liberterian auditor. There is not.

Alamedans proved in the November council election and by the passage the Measure A school parcel tax that they are fed up with the status quo. It is not acceptable to let the good old boy network continue to run things because more of the same won’t resolve the issues that confront Alameda. Instead of attacking the people that make the quality of life in Alameda so high (our park workers, firefighters, police and other public servants) the auditor and treasurer should re-examine their job descriptions under the City Charter and behave accordingly.

If our treasurer and auditor really care about Alameda as much as they say, they should stop trashing its workers and start looking for solutions to get Alameda moving again. First, they could lend a hand in getting Lawrence Berkeley Lab here to correct the fact that nearly a third of the Island is underperforming in terms of property and sales tax, to say nothing of development fees. Posturing about the city going bankrupt, despite a 25 percent reserve, does nothing to get the Island on the right track.

Mike Henneberry is a 47-year Alameda resident, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 and a member of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.


  • John says:

    Welcome to the BK Farm Alameda where Pigs get feed and Hogs get slaughtered. Located with a base like Vallejo and you get 8 X 11 Glossies from Dairy Land .Be careful what you wish for. These are really horrible people our Auditors and Treasure. Start name calling and painting these people as Attila works for second graders.Dont insult the peoples intelligence and tell us how unfair our employees have been treated and not compensated . Most 200% – 500% more minimally than the average citizens salary who are writing their checks. Your making all the people you represent look like fools having you represent them and using these tactics. They are much smarter than that.

  • John says:

    I think you might have selective memory regarding the reserves.

    ” The City Treasurer stated reserves have gotten better, but the City is still far behind; the problem is that maintenance and retiree medical costs are not discretionary and do not go away; costs are growing exponentially.”

    I guess we all know now why anything that has any value for the community we have destroyed or severly cripple to make sure they protect and have enough budget to take care of their salaries and pensions.

    Our Pools ……Parks…..Golf Course….Deferring most maintenance….. Hard not to be saddened by the situation we are in. But they really don’t care in Wisconsin Speak.

  • Adam Gillitt says:

    Mr Henneberry:

    Unions are more often than not a wonderful institution that serve their members well.

    Right now, it would do union leaders like yourself some good to look out for the community they serve, even more than their membership for several reasons:

    1: If the city goes bankrupt, there will be nothing left for anyone- companies, unions, citizens, customers. A bankruptcy judge will decide. Insisting that your needs are more important than any others in the city does not engender sympathy to your cause.

    2: The average citizen does not enjoy a job perk that pays them a large percentage of their wages annually after retirement. The average citizen has to arrange for their own retirement costs. This does not engender sympathy to your cause.

    3: Your people are not being attacked. Your benefit policies are being questioned. By personalizing this and comparing our elected officials to the situation in Wisconsin, you’re inflaming rhetoric, and not working towards a solution. This does not engender sympathy to your cause.

    4: You seem to forget that the report was generated by City Staff- Fred Marsh and Lisa Goldman, at the direction of Marie Gilmore. The numbers were very plain and easy to understand, as are the causes of the projected deficits. Kevin Kennedy and Kevin Kearney were both invited to speak, also by Marie Gilmore, and they offered their professional interpretation of the data. To call their interpretation of the obvious “a Tea Party coming-out party” does not engender sympathy to your cause.

    In short, Mr. Henneberry, you have your hand out, with many demands and strong reasoning in your mind, but in the bigger picture, are you just looking out for yourself and your unions to the detriment of Alameda? Or are you part of the solution to Alameda’s looming budget crisis and here to help every citizen of the City?

    • Mike Henneberry says:

      Mr. Gillitt:

      Any union representative who intentionally drives company or entity like Safeway or the City of Alameda out of business is doing a disservice to all parties involved particularly their members.

      I’ve been to this rodeo a few more times than you. My interest in this is making sure that the city I’ve lived in for 47 years delivers quality services, stays on an even keel and treats its employees fairly.

      The fact that so many people today no longer have good wage, benefit and pension packages is a direct result of the fact that business has been successful in driving unionization levels in the private sector to less than 10%. Corporate America has been turning its venom on the public sector in recent years and using the wages and benefits of public sector workers as a wedge issue. It would make sense for people to use public sector compensation as a goal instead of a target to destroy.

      If you don’t think the Treasurer and Auditor have a political agenda I would invite you to review the National Chamber of Commerce’s positions on unionization and wages and benefits.

      Working people don’t want sympathy they want fairness.

  • Steve says:

    “It would make sense for people to use public sector compensation as a goal instead of a target to destroy.”

    Mike, that’s all well and good except the folks who are paying for your public sector compensation are taxpayers who don’t have salaries and benefits nearly as generous as yours.

    Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. I have a job (thankfully!) where salary increases have been meager or non-existent for the last few years. Moreover, I’m required to pay more and more for my medical coverage. Finally, I don’t have a cushy defined-benefit pension plan that will pay me a sizeable portion of my salary once I retire. Now, I look at the 2008 City employee salary and benefit sheet Michele has posted and my jaw drops.

    Yes, I agree that Corporate America has had a big hand in marginalizing unions in the private sector but, let’s face it, they had a lot of help from the unions themselves. (Case in point, the unionized American auto workers who couldn’t build a quality product to save their lives. Honda and Toyota, on the other hand, build factories and provide jobs in the US and make quality cars using non-unionized workers.) However, the push to reign in public sector unions is being spearheaded by taxpayers, whom you ignore at your own risk. And, no, we’re not all right-wing, Tea Party nut cases. Rather, beleagured taxpayers who are tired of paying for your largess.

    Finally, as far as the Treasurer and Auditor, geez, don’t shoot the messenger(s)! Sad fact is Mike that your public sector compensation is bankrupting Alameda and other cities and states across the US.

  • Mark Irons says:

    Steve, I agree with Mike on “It would make sense for people to use public sector compensation as a goal instead of a target to destroy.” and yesterday I was trying to compose something similar to post.

    As a taxpayer I am not as sanguine about the wages and benefits as the recipients may be and actually also back the idea of serious sacrifice, but my perception of who is spearheading this movement does not jive with yours. Unfortunately it is a “astro-turf” movement funded by the likes of Koch brothers and other corporate money. We should be cautious of a race to the bottom based on the private wage model.

    I was horrified to see the Wisconsin thing erupt during the school parcel tax campaign which to me threw gasoline on any already wildly contentious debate. I fought tooth nail to protect teachers from any further cuts because they are among the worst compensated and least respected public employees around. The role of tenure is blown way out of proportion, but that’s a digression for this discussion.

    Forgive me if I seem to talk out of both side so my mouth, but this is a wrenching situation. The fact for Alameda safety employees is that comparatively, they face far less stress and physical danger than some jurisdictions who pay less. I’d like to see a calm and thorough review of comparative compensation nationally with cost of living adjustments, just as a starting point for rational discussion. I’m tired of seeing public employees vilified as greedy by knee-jerks like Marshall Cromer, but when the fire fighters were petitioning for their ballot measure and I spoke to some about teacher compensation, some seemed a little sheepish, and maybe they should because they have it about as good as any of us.

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