Open Letter to Union-Tribune Editor: Why I cancelled my subscription

by on July 1, 2009 · 28 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Labor, Media, Reader Rant, San Diego

Retiring City Librarian Anna Daniels Upset Over U-T Publishing City Workers’ Names and Salaries

Dear Karin Winner, Editor:

Ms. Winner, I just canceled my 15+ year subscription to the Union-Tribune. I asked to speak to a supervisor who would convey my reason for doing so to the appropriate individuals within the company.  The reason I gave to Hector was the U-T’s recent decision to publish all City employee names and salary information on signonsandiego.com

I would like to amplify the reason for that decision with you, the editor who ultimately exercised that choice.  And let there be no question about my motivations-my decision is based upon 26 years of service as a City employee at the Central Library.

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.

This is five years worth of my salary history, although why it is shown by calendar year is absolutely mystifying.  The City operates on a July-June fiscal year.

*   Please note the pay levels in 2006 and 2007.  Was there a whopping “pay increase” from $23 to $28k?  How about if I told you that I took leave without pay in 2006 to be with my baby sister in Tampa while she died a slow terrible death?  I didn’t qualify for Family Medical Leave as a part time employee.  Nor did I get the bereavement pay that was passed more recently.  What do you have to say about that “fluctuation” Ms. Winner and what has the public truly gained from seeing the disparity between those two years?

•       As a general note, I have worked additional hours to bolster my leave fund.  I received straight compensatory time on Saturdays and Sundays. The Library continues to struggle to staff public service desks during open hours.

•       I have received tuition reimbursement for Spanish classes at UCSD.  I have been taking Spanish classes for ten years.  My private classes are not reimbursable and constitute a couple thousand dollars of out of pocket expenses.  I have absorbed that cost because I want to be as professional in Spanish as I am in English with the population that I serve.

•       Tuition reimbursements and comp time are included in a number of these years.  These are not particularly foreign concepts in the public or private sector.

•       The jump between 2007 and 2008 reflects the settlement to labor disputes that resulted in the City returning money to employees that they contributed to the City in previous years.     I don’t intend to do your homework on this one Ms. Winner.

2003    ANNA G DANIELS  LIBRARY ASSISTANT
$26,133.01
2004    ANNA G DANIELS  LIBRARY ASSISTANT
$27,283.47
2005    ANNA G DANIELS  LIBRARY ASSISTANT
$26,797.49
2006    ANNA G DANIELS  LIBRARY ASSISTANT
$23,811.62
2007    ANNA G DANIELS  LIBRARY ASSISTANT
$28,757.39
2008    ANNA G DANIELS  LIBRARY ASSISTANT
$31,365.92

I have worked in the Information sector for many years and understand the wrenching changes occurring within the print media.  How the print media will serve the public, remain relevant and sell the news is very much the story of the hour.

Shame on you Ms. Winner.  Shame on you “Editor.”  In your decision to sell the news you sold out.

And you certainly did not sell the news to me.

Anna Daniels

Cc: San Diego City Council
Mayor of San Diego

Please contact the following-   localgov@uniontrib.com or call 619-542-4570 with your thoughts on this issue.    Anna

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar doug porter July 1, 2009 at 8:48 am

perhaps–and i’m not serious here, as two wrongs don’t make a right–the OB Rag should publish the home addresses and phone numbers and car registration info about the UT’s management. this people are lower than scum.

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avatar lane tobias July 1, 2009 at 8:54 am

i think it would be in the “public interest” to do something like that doug, since after all, the information is available.

anna, im sorry something like this had to happen. it surely does violate privacy on every level. I guess i could understand if they published the salary information for people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, as in a budget crunch that would be useful for the public to know. but a half time librarian? really….thank you for being so honest and abrupt in your letter. Shame on them.

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avatar mr fresh July 1, 2009 at 9:00 am

karin winner’s twitter user name is Kwinner for those of you who might want to send her tokens of your appreciation.

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avatar Shawn Conrad July 1, 2009 at 10:56 am

Wambulance…call it.

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avatar ClubStyle_DJ July 1, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Can you bring a law suit?
Is there a lawyer in the house!
When I was working I was not allowed to know what my co-workers were making and I believe I would have been severly reprimanded by mgt and the person had I inquired.

Is it me or is all kinds stuff unraveling before our eyes?(rhetorical)

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avatar Wireless Mike July 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm

What’s next? Will the UT start publishing a new column listing social security numbers? Maybe credit card numbers? Password of the day? How about a searchable database of the last time people went to the bathroom? How far will they go with this invasion of privacy? Just speculating what birds may be able to aim for at the bottoms of their cages in the future.

Anna, you deserve better than this.

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avatar annagrace July 1, 2009 at 2:18 pm

If you work for the public school district, public colleges & universities, or municipalities, name and salry information is public. Those organizations receive public funds and the Supreme Court has decided that it is in the public’s interest to have that information. I get it.

But the question is why did the U-T take it upon itself to provide this information for everyone in the City workforce? Just because it can doesn’t mean it should.

And what will be the next group of names and salaries revealed by the U-T? How about teachers? All those over paid, union joining teachers…

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avatar Asi Ong July 1, 2009 at 2:18 pm

UT! All I can say is never(ever)bite the hand that feeds you. It is with no great wonder why your unethical, immoral, corrupt, unscrupulous, unprincipled, disreputable, fraudulent, hypocritical, only good for rabbit cage lining, so called newspaper is rapidly flushing down the lavatory of hell. You’re pretty much back-stabbing the citizens who molded your miserable rear ends.

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avatar mr fresh July 1, 2009 at 2:48 pm

it’s true that all the information that the UT published IS public. that’s not the point. it’s the REASON that they published it that counts– to intimidate and harass city employees as a means of driving home their mantra that all government is bad and unions are evil, bloodsuckers that are bleeding the taxpayers.

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avatar BillRayDrums July 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm

What’s the Union-Tribune? I see it lining birdcages and doggie pens all over OB. Is it actually a real newspaper?

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avatar BillRayDrums July 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Oh yeah Just in case anyone missed that.

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avatar Dave Gilbert July 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Very well put Anna! That Winner sounds like a real loser!

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avatar emw July 1, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Hey Kids! I looove the fact that Anna gets her picture in the paper and practically moments later tells them to take a hike! I’m a city employee, too, so it did not bode well when I heard the news that my info is up for grabs in an easy to access, but not very easy to understand, fun lil search engine on signonsaandiego.com! Whee! When I heard about Anna’s letter, I was inspired to write my own letter to the editor.

As sad as it is to be reminded of Anna’s time off to be with her dying sister, I had about 3 years of the last 5-6 years on and off of disability for 1.) a back injury which required surgery 2.) a reoccurence of the back injury 3.) ovarian/uterine cancer plus all of the problems that go along with being a cancer survivor and then… going back to work full time! The thing that I didn’t mention that I didn’t notice until AFTER I wrote my letter is… they have me listed as making about $3K MORE than I actually had on my W-2 form last year.

As the kids say “WTF?”

Okay here’s the letter I sent

—-

Hi,

I’m a city employee. You can look me up on your database and see how much (or how little) I make per year on your website.

Do you have any idea how frightening it is to have to work for the public and have this information out there for anyone to see? Not my specific class of employee (library clerk), but hey… exactly how much I make! Just by looking it up on your little website! I work for a branch of the public library that was recently targeted for closure by our mayor. Now it seems to be safe from closing its doors, but with all of the retirements going on in the city, who knows, maybe they’ll find a way to close libraries down in the future. I travel by bus. I live alone. Knowing that all of the information of my name and salary can be found in one little search scares me a lot. It almost seems illegal. It must be legal or you wouldn’t print it, right? Why don’t you just throw my SSN#, address & telephone number on there while you’re at it!? I’m sure the citizens of San Diego need to know that, as well.

Thankfully, I don’t subscribe to your paper at my house. I DO, however, receive it at work. Where anyone can read it. Our library patrons often speak to us about articles in the paper. Sometimes jokingly “Ha ha, are YOU going to retire, too?” Sometimes sneeringly “I read it in the paper that you employees are overpaid!” These are scary times in a whole lot of ways and your editorial decision to publish this information just made them more scary.

Since I won’t have the same thrill of canceling my subscription as others may have, I felt compelled to write to you about how I feel. Which is lousy, by the way.

EMW

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avatar Patty Jones July 2, 2009 at 6:49 pm

You tell ‘em Anna and emw!

We had hoped the UT was going to change some under the new ownership…

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avatar 1sandiegan1 July 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

So what the hell….tried to access the UT blog tonight to see what mischief they’d instagated….oh low and behold…comments unavailable…sorry for the inconveninenc….yeah ok….no biggie aint nothing but a bunch of civil servants….yes massa

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avatar lane tobias July 3, 2009 at 1:49 am

obviously patty, you cant rely on new leadership to change EVERYTHING….the UT continues to disappoint everyone!

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avatar BillRayDrums July 3, 2009 at 10:24 am

U-T didn’t pay their Disqus bill obviously. Comments were the only thing that paper has going for them. THe OB Rag is far better, and much less hostile too. There’s some real wack-jobs over there.

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avatar annagrace July 6, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Remember I asked who next…teachers? Well the voiceofsandiego has provided names and salaries of teachers who chose to leave with a “golden handshake.” http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/this_just_in/ Emily Alpert is simply throwing this out to the “curious.”

Seems as though we are losing our journalistic moorings.

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avatar bodysurferbob July 6, 2009 at 3:32 pm

annagrace – I just tried that link and the page did not come up for some reason. This was at 4:30, about an hour after Emmily Alpert’s post went up.

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avatar annagrace July 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

An Open Letter to Emily Alpert:

Wow, Ms. Alpert. Even Karin Winner “thought long and hard” about publishing City employee names and salaries, weighing “the public’s right to information against individual privacy concerns.”

You however, have trotted out the data on departed employees, names and salaries, just in case, you know, we’re curious.

Congratulations. You have now joined the ranks of the Geraldo Rivera school of trash journalism.

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avatar Molly July 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Annagrace – maybe they took the site down, I couldn’t find it either.

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avatar annagrace July 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm

The info is on the homepage, right hand side under This Just In “San Diego Unified Offices Quiet…” Hope that helps!

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avatar Molly July 6, 2009 at 4:14 pm

annagrace – no, I’m telling you, one cannot access the list. The article is still there, but …

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avatar annagrace July 6, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I got it the second time around Molly! Thanks. Hmmmmmm. So what’s up?

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avatar jon July 6, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I finally got it, but had trouble earlier. Disturbing. I would be mortified to have that sort of information posted online for the whole city to scrutinize, and I fail to see how the public disclosure of your salary and the teachers salary is relevant to my daily life. Sorry you and the others have to deal with this annagrace.

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avatar Molly July 6, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Emily Albert, let’s see your list of the salaries of voiceofsandiego staff.

Yeah, hours later and several tries, I finally got in also. And saw a friend’s name and salary right there for the entire world to see.

Thanks, Emily Albert, now post yours and the rest of your staff’s same info. What? You’re not a publicly funded institution? But you’re supposed to be doing the public’s work, uncovering the truth, holding government’s feet to the fire….right? Let’ see your list.

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avatar James Goksina August 16, 2009 at 2:01 am

just stopped by.Gotta love msn, very fine stuff. Thank you…chao ;)

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avatar Emily Alpert January 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Hey folks,

Sorry for the late response — I only found this thread now. I responded personally to Anna at the time, but I’ll go ahead and respond the same to everyone: Public salaries are public information. It might feel a little awkward, but the public has a clear interest in knowing what public employees are paid, because we ultimately foot the bill. I’m not sure why the pay would be embarrassing to anyone, to be honest. If someone can explain this better to me, I’m open to hearing more. It seemed like the problem with the UT salary data wasn’t the disclosure — it was questions about the accuracy of the information.

I earn roughly $38,000 a year before taxes. Because we’re a 501c3 nonprofit, we file an annual form 990 that included the highest salaries on our staff (I think there’s a minimum salary cutoff though, so my salary doesn’t appear on it.)

Hope that helps!

Best,
Emily

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