A union representing nearly one-fourth of Santa Monica's civil servants, many of them female clerical workers, has filed a lawsuit charging that the city violated its Charter by offering too many jobs to outsiders.
The Santa Monica Municipal Employees Assn. is demanding more promotion opportunities. Union President Barbara Renteria said the city routinely passes over union members who apply for higher jobs.
"Our members have been complaining about a lack of opportunity to advance," she said. "The city should be promoting from within. If the correct procedures were followed more promotional opportunities would be available. But right now we're competing with the whole world."
The lawsuit, filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, cites a city Charter provision that says vacancies should be filled from within unless a supervisor believes it is "impractical, or not in the best interest of the public service." The union claims that the city has ignored the provision.
'Ready to Work It Out'
"The main purpose of the lawsuit is to get the city to follow its Charter," said Charles F. Elsesser Jr., the union attorney. "If they conform to the city Charter, there's no reason to go to court. We stand ready to work it out. . . . But they've refused to do that."
The city interprets the Charter differently. In an opinion filed earlier this year, City Atty. Robert M. Myers said the Charter requires that hiring be based on "merit and fitness," regardless of whether a person is a city employee. Myers concluded that the practice "more than adequately fulfills" the city's legal responsibilities.
City Manager John Jalili said the city stands behind the policy. He maintained that a sizable percentage of promotions already go to city employees, although he could not cite exact numbers. Jalili said the city would not consider changing its policy unless the Charter were amended by popular vote or the courts sided with the union.
"From an administrative standpoint it's important to fill these positions with the most qualified individuals," Jalili said. "It's very difficult to do that if you limit yourself. In effect, you would be omitting applicants who might otherwise have been employed by the city. It's our position that the Charter gives the city discretion in promotions and hiring."
Like Jalili, Renteria did not have exact figures on in-house promotions, but contended that members of her union--composed of professional, technical and clerical workers--have been shortchanged in the past. Renteria estimated that 50 to 75 promotion opportunities were available during the past 18 months. During that time, the city gave only 19 in-house promotion exams, she said.
Under the Civil Service system, when a job opening occurs the city Personnel Board can restrict the candidate pool to city employees or open it to the public. In either case, applicants are evaluated on the basis of a written examination.
The Municipal Employees Assn. represents more than 300 workers, 70% of them female. In December, contract negotiations stalled when the organization accused the city of sex discrimination in salaries and benefits. The two sides eventually accepted a 2 1/2-year agreement in January.
Renteria said the lawsuit is an extension of that complaint. She asked Santa Monica to reconsider its promotion policy last year, but was told that promotions were not within the boundaries of the contract. Since then, Renteria said many employees have quit in frustration over their inability to advance.
"We're not looking for retroactive benefits," Renteria said. "We just want the city to do things right from this point on. We have people leaving all the time. If there were more opportunities for promotions, a lot of people would feel better about where they work."
Renteria said the union expects a decision on its suit within 60 days.