Mar. 22, 2012 | Like Mayor Jean Quan in Oakland sitting stoically during council meetings against a torrent of angry residents, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy took repeated body blows from a union activist in silence, but the punches undoubtedly hurt just the same. The tactic is not usually utilized for a quick knockout, but a consistent barrage of hits meant to fell its opponent over time. With negotiations to public employees and the police officers association set to ramp up in coming months, Cassidy may be forced to take a very defensive stance that could ultimately spell disaster for his signature policy issue.
Spoken with a Liverpudlian lilt, former union activist and San Leandro resident Richard Mellor charged Cassidy with driving down the living standards of workers and eliminating social services. “This is a vicious attack on the public sector, on wages, on benefits and on social services,” he said. “Your attempts to correct are really attempts to soften the dictates of the One Percent.”
Cassidy’s proclivity for siding with business has become more pronounced since becoming mayor last year. Numerous members of his campaign team, also aligned with the city’s school board have gone on to foster close ties with the local chamber of commerce. That group also maintains a political action committee with past funding by way of the city’s coffers. The concern over the city using public money to aid a private political entity like the chamber of commerce has been criticized in the past by Councilwoman Diana Souza.
There is no doubt that San Leandro’s mechanism for serving its residents—its public employees—are mentally and physically overtaxed. The immense brain drain of qualified employees and drop in efficiency, in turn, satisfies critics who say their city employees are impotent and filled with overpaid workers.
While San Leandro’s much-talked about fiber-optic loop facilitated in most part by OSIsoft is viewed as a beacon of future success. It is still a relationship led by a private for-profit firm under the guise of the public good. “There is a price for attracting business,” Mellor said. “You cannot make business happy and maintain decent public services and wages and pensions.” In a age of globalization and and yearning for low wage job markets, what is to stop a tech firm from jumping town and leaving a costly expenditure behind for the city to operate. The basic concept of "cloud" computing works both ways and could apply to information technology and its location anywhere else on the planet other than San Leandro.
If the private sector takes cues from the public sector, then working people in San Leandro have much to fear from Cassidy’s call for austerity during a period of relative stability in comparison to cities around them. Mellor took a swipe at the growing perception that the city council is standing idle while it workers suffer. “I believe that your strategies will lead to lower wages and increased cuts and there’s a reason for it; working people don’t have a representative on this council. If there was a representative for working people on this council, there would be a revolt over these cuts…but there is not,” he said and he is correct.
Councilman Jim Prola is the only member who typically stands with labor. Aside from the ubiquitous wearing of union lapel pins, Prola though, has done nothing to stand against Cassidy’s diatribes, which normally paint city employees as the leeches on the city’s economic past, present and future. His colleagues, fearful of reprisals from the chamber of commerce and other business interests, have never spoken a single word in public regarding public pensions.
In fact, five years without increases in wages in tandem with taking on more health care costs has done more to correct the city’s economy than anything else. When workers begin charging Cassidy and Councilwoman Pauline Cutter last Monday with disrespecting them, how else should they react? There is no doubt that San Leandro’s mechanism for serving its residents—its public employees—are mentally and physically overtaxed. The immense brain drain of qualified employees and drop in efficiency, in turn, satisfies critics who say their city employee are impotent and filled with overpaid workers. The lament over San Leandro’s bare employee cupboard is often discussed in neighboring Alameda and Hayward. Employees are literally running on fumes. So city employees are the problem?
What would Cassidy’s world look like? He voted against a successful agenda item Monday offering four former redevelopment employees an early retirement packages. The increasing conservative San Leandro Patch called it a “sweetheart deal.” (Neither Patch or the Bay Area News Group mentioned Mellor's diatribe.) What should government offer its employees? Layoffs at a time when San Leandro’s reputation as a place for talented government employees to work is sullied by a mayor known to be ambivalent toward their talents? Should we just fire them all or remember the deals given to many of these long-time employees were actually attempts a decade ago to save the city money. Instead of wages increases, the city at the time believed more generous pensions would be more prudent for the bottom line.
Cassidy’s world is also a realm devoid of hypocrisy. What sort of pension does he earn as a lawyer for a prestigious San Francisco law firm? When he famously chose to work the first six months as mayor last year without pay, why didn’t he ask to be exempt from receiving health benefits? How is it possible that the lone person riding the horse of pension reform in San Leandro purchased one of the city’s most expensive homes last year from Stephen Meyers, the founding partner of Meyers Nave, the attorney group that employs City Attorney Jayne Williams? How is this not preaching austerity to the masses while living it up himself?
Of course, like those who criticize the aims of Occupy Oakland without contemplating the group is working solely in their best interests, the same can be said of Cassidy supporters. Workers in San Leandro will suffer the trickle down effect of attacks on their public employee brethren. Less money in the hands of San Leandrans means less money for the mom and pop coffee shop downtown. The city needs to ask itself whose interest is served by rough-housing public employees in the name of projected unsustainability sometime in the next 5, 10, 20 or 40 years.
"I’m very skeptical when I hear fiscal stability," Mellor said, "because I know whose fiscal stability you’re talking about and it’s not mine.”