Budget Cuts Lead to Pay Cuts which Lead to Worker Shortages which Lead to Public Danger and Greater Expense

In San Jose, CA, a rash of resignations driven by recent pay and benefit cuts has left the city’s massive wastewater treatment plant severely short-handed, raising the risk of a catastrophic sewage spill and forcing the city to pay top dollar for contract workers and overtime staff to keep it running.

A recent auditor’s report said, “Fewer people with less experience are now working more hours to operate and maintain the plant.” The reason given is below market compensation for skilled, experienced employees.

The Water Pollution Control Plant, known at City Hall as the WPCP or “Weepy Seepy,” dates to 1956 and provides wastewater treatment for 1.4 million residents and 17,000 businesses in San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Campbell, Saratoga, Los Gatos and Monte Sereno, CA.  Last year the San Jose City Council approved a $2.1 billion long-term plan to modernize the aging plant. but budget problems have caused large numbers of the plant’s experienced employees to resign.

The San Jose plant has lost 90 workers — 43 percent of its workforce — in the past three years, according to a city management report that said the shortage has required costly overtime for remaining employees. The city is now considering a very pricey solution: Hiring contract workers.

Contract workers not only cost considerably more but are seldom as skilled as the regular workers they are replacing.

As water treatment and wastewater treatment plants age, cities are increasingly burdened with costly upkeep. Taxpayers seem unwilling to pay for services, creating a very dangerous situation. Political will is usually lacking when it comes to raising utilities prices to reflect the real cost of water because Americans have been conditioned by years of artificially low prices to believe that water should be free.

We must start paying a fair price for the water we use. Water is an area where austerity costs more in the long run.

More information about the Weepy Seepy dilemma.