At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the bureaucracy
triumphed again over fair play and common sense.
Some weeks ago, a group of beach workers and their supporters asked the Council to change their status from “as needed” to permanent, so they would have job security, could engage in collective bargaining and have an opportunity to move up to better jobs and pay raises.
They weren’t asking for favors or advantages, they were asking for equity.
As they and their supporters noted, they had worked on the beach for years, and done their work faithfully and well, but their status, “as needed,” meant they could be let go at any time or for any reason or no reason, and they could-
n’t qualify for permanent jobs, better jobs or higher wages.
At that meeting, Human Resources Director Donna Peter clearly opposed the workers’ request, seeming to rank the civil service system itself, which was developed in the 19th century to protect helpless workers from rapacious employers, over the needs of the beach workers.
She took the classic bureaucratic line – if we make an exception for them, we’ll have to make exceptions for others and jeopardize the entire system, etcetera.
But, ultimately, the Council seemed to agree with the workers. They had done their work well and faithfully and had earned the right to be treated as permanent employees.
We assumed, as did the workers themselves and the people who spoke on their behalf, that the City would take the necessary steps to change the status of the workers and treat them as full employees.
We were wrong. It turned out that interim City Manager Elaine Polachek had denied an appeal filed by the Inter-national Workers of the World to establish a collective bargaining unit to represent 11 beach workers.
Deep in nitpicking territory, Ms. Peter claimed that the fact that all 11 worked on the beach did not qualify them as a “unit,” according to an ordinance, as they could be moved, depending on circumstances beyond their control,to another location. They’ve worked on the beach for years, but any day now they might to move – to what? A parking structure?
Over 1700 people are employed by the City, but Ms. Peter seemed to think that the 11 beach workers’ request might “fragment the workforce” and render it less efficient.
After some discussion, Council member Sue Himmelrich made
a motion, seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vazquez, that the
Council approve the beach workers’ petition to organize, saying, “They aren’t represented and nobody has stepped forward to represent them but IWW. I think we should reco-
gnize them as a bargaining unit.”
Council member Pam O’Connor countered with a substitute motion, denying IWW permission to represent the workers. Council member Terry O’Day seconded O’Connor’s motion saying, “We’ve heard from our staff and I think this is a critical factor.”
Voting with O’Connor and O’Day to defeat the beach workers’ request were Mayor Kevin McKeown and Council member Ted Winterer.