The San Diego daily newspaper makes no bones about its position on labor unions and public employees. A casual reading of the Union Tribune will reveal an anti-union bias that harks back to the early days of the trade union movement.
This week the paper has been presenting a “special three part Watchdog Report” about city employees in San Diego. Never mind that the report’s numbers are skewed by the fact that the reporters chose to use a Calendar year in stead of the City’s fiscal year to make their comparisons. Or that city employees received pay in 2007 and 2008 resulting from labor disputes in previous years.
The point of the report is to reveal that city employees are overpaid, union-lovin’ cancers that are sucking the taxpayers dry. To make that point, the paper ran the names and salary information for the City’s entire payroll.
City librarian Anna Daniels retired last week. It wasn’t something she wanted to do. But, facing cuts in benefits that would have left her without health insurance coverage if she’d stayed on with the City, she “cashed out”.
She’s written a rather powerful letter to the editor about how the Union-Trib’s decision to publish names and salaries has impacted those employees that have remained with the City of San Diego.
Here are excerpts from the letter, originally published in the OBRag news blog:
The U-T has presented a special three part Watchdog Report about the City’s payroll obligation. I have spent close to three decades in my public service position answering questions and informing the public. If someone were to ask me how to find information on this topic I would refer that individual to annual budgets, IBA reports, and labor agreements on line or in our document section.
I would also provide context for that search- that the City operates on a fiscal year beginning July 1; there is a general fund budget which includes departments that undergo annual public review and city council approval; there are quasi-independent authorities and recovery departments that are not subject to the same policies, restrictions and review as the general fund departments; there are unclassified and represented employees; and there are four unions with different negotiated contracts.
In short, I would inform the individual that a thorough understanding of the topic would take into account these general distinctions. Unlike the U-T, we respect and do not underestimate the intelligence of our customers.
What I wouldn’t do, and again, I am speaking strictly as a professional, is refer that individual to your “Watchdog” series on the very ground that it did not provide necessary context, despite your claims otherwise, nor data consistent with the City’s fiscal year reporting process. Therefore your information was inaccurate and as a source you are unreliable. Ms. Winner, the U-T does not achieve the most basic library information standard of accuracy and reliability. If you also consider yourself a professional you should be very concerned about that. I would appreciate a response to this, as one professional to another.
Despite its abysmal failings, the Watchdog Report was not the reason I canceled my subscription. The bias against unions and the City workforce is pretty much quotidian. Your decision to publish City employee names and salary information however is beyond the journalistic pale.
Ms. Winner, how much time did you REALLY spend weighing the public’s right to information against individual privacy concerns? And how much thought did you REALLY give to the fact that “Individual pay for each year can be affected by promotions, partial years of employment, leave taken, vacation payouts and other issues that can cause wide fluctuations.”? Or to the fact that the 2008 surge was a one time occurrence due to multiple factors? It is evident that the answer is “Not much.”
I talked with co-workers at the library this morning about your choice. They were appalled. Concerned. Fearful. Angry. Every one of us felt that salary information by job classification, with low, high, median and average salaries would serve the public’s right to information. We felt that making that information available by department served the public’s right to information. But by name? The women among us felt violated. Think about that Karin. We are not elected officials. Even our name badges don’t provide our last names if we don’t feel comfortable revealing that information. Whom and what purpose are you serving, Ms. Winner? And please, we are not stupid. We know you can legally provide this information. The question is why should you provide this information?
Your note about the wide fluctuations of salaries was reason enough to choose not to reveal specific names. You did not make that choice. Here’s my very personal response to your phenomenally bad judgment, to your utterly unprofessional judgment. I owe you absolutely nothing, but the truth should always be served.