An Open Letter to City Manager Ed Shikada
Every Thanksgiving, I butterfly a turkey. The process is pretty medieval. I use a big knife or a cleaver and cut through the ribcage bones where they attach to the backbone. This year, as I performed this task, my mind drifted to the ordeal that Officer Mark Hernandez is enduring. Mark is the motor officer who was cut off by a civilian driver while responding to a Code 3 Fill request. The injuries to Mark were serious. All of the ribcage bones on his right side were broken where they attach to his backbone (much like the turkey I was butchering). Mark also broke his shoulder, punctured his lung and received a serious concussion. He’s lucky to be alive. Everyone is aware of the hazards that come with patrolling the streets on a motorcycle. It is why Mark and the other motor officers receive 5% hazard pay.
A few weeks after that accident, Officer Tony Vera was rear ended by a drunk driver. Tony’s injuries were also serious. He suffered several broken ribs, a broken arm, a severely bruised elbow and a broken finger with ligament damage. His glasses, needed for reading, were also broken in the accident. The driver who struck Tony fled on foot. Despite his injuries, Tony gave chase and arrested the suspect. Tony will need surgery and months of rehab to recover. Tony happens to be a Spanish speaker and receives $29 extra, per pay period, for his ability to converse with a large segment of the population we serve.
Both of these injured officers will lose the extra pay they receive while they are away from work recovering. The City, in all of its wisdom, felt the need to include this takeaway policy in the last arbitration we lost this past summer. I don’t know who championed this ridiculous policy. My guess is that the idea is staff-driven, probably out of OER (Office of Employee Relations), but I have yet to hear who is taking credit for pushing for it in arbitration. To add insult to Tony’s injuries, the City is giving him grief over reimbursing him the $400 for his broken glasses. As of this writing, the City has not reimbursed him.
We have motor officers who have taken two weeks off and then one more day. The City has docked their 5% hazard pay from their checks for the whole 2-week period, not just the extra day taken. And politicians and others keep asking why our members keep leaving this city.
Pierre Nguyen is an officer with our Department. In January 2013 he submitted his paperwork to POST for his intermediate certificate and the 5% in pay that additional training and distinction brings. In February 2013 he saw the 5% pay increase on his paycheck. All seemed fine until he was notified that his paperwork was short 2 college credits. No problem. This wasn’t a case of Pierre not having enough college credit to receive his intermediate POST certificate. He had other credits from another college he attended. He ordered up those transcripts and sent them onto POST. Problem solved.
That’s where our good City stepped in. They told Pierre that since he had been receiving the 5% POST pay out of compliance, he owed the 5% back. They have begun deducting his paycheck for 15 pay periods until the $2,500 is paid back. Again, this was not a case of Pierre not having the college credits needed to qualify for the certificate. It was an honest error and yet even after the POA and the Training Unit Commander intervened on Pierre’s behalf, the City held firm. Pierre attempted to appeal this decision to OER to no avail.
Mr. Shikada, you are now in charge. The people who came up with these policies and choose to enforce them work for you. I’ve had the pleasure of your company and can’t believe you think this type of approach will serve to increase morale or retain police officers. You also can’t believe that docking Officer Vera $29 per pay period is going to better serve the citizens of San Jose. It only leaves a bitter taste in the mouths’ of your police officers. The same officers who continue to hear story after story about how other municipalities value, respect and appreciate their police force.
The City could get away with this kind of nickel and dime behavior if folks were beating down the door to be San Jose cops, but that’s not the case. At some point in the last four years, the City staff has taken on the persona of our Mayor and many of our Councilmembers. This mean-spirited, petty, impersonal approach only strengthens the belief of many that this City is a terrible employer. We get that the politicians despise their own workforce but to see City staff behaving the same way is baffling to say the least.
Mr. Shikada, how would you characterize the City’s relationship with its employees? A recent police resignation letter sums up how your police officers would answer the above question; "…these considerable sacrifices made by my peers and I, have been routinely undervalued, belittled and unappreciated by the disparaging manner in which the individuals managing the City of San Jose regard those willing to give everything for the citizens. Loyalty has its limits”.
Ms. Figone is gone now. Will this next year be more of the same, or will you make it your priority to improve the relations between the City and its employees. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we have a whole department whose job is just that, Office of Employee Relations. Maybe you could start there. Did the OER negotiators really have to include the premium pay docking as part of an arbitration that resulted in a 0% raise? Couldn’t OER have found a way to understand that Officer Nguyen’s case was an honest mistake and that he was in compliance except for the task of mailing in 2 more college credits (2 college credits = $2,500 fine)?
In the academy, recruits are taught the difference between the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. Perhaps we could have the OER staff attend the academy when that course is taught. Remember, we’re having great difficulty recruiting and retaining police officers. When the City staff chooses a rigid and inflexible approach to employee relations, it only compounds the problems of retention.
Can you at least get Officer Vera a new pair of glasses? He needs to read the dosage on his pain pill prescription.