La Puente reinstates employee gift card program

LA PUENTE — Christmas is coming this year to La Puente city employees.

The City Council last week narrowly approved reinstating the city’s annual employee holiday gift card tradition, which was axed two years ago as a cost-savings measure.

The council at its Dec. 13 meeting voted 3-2 to reinstate the gift card program for its 26 full-time and 36 part-time staffers. Full-timers will get a $75 gift card and part-timers will get a $25 gift card.

Though the cost of the program isn’t large — at about $2,800 — it proved divisive, like many things on the council dais.

Councilmen David Argudo, John Solis and Vince House voted in favor of the perk, saying that staffers have taken on double the work since 13 of La Puente’s department heads were laid off earlier this year.

Dissenting were council members Nadia Mendoza and Dan Holloway, who said they preferred that the cash-strapped city find alternative ways to fund a holiday program, including utilizing the council’s budgeted travel fund money.

“Since then we’ve had significant financial problems and significant layoffs, so it concerns me that we’re sending the wrong message,” Holloway said.

La Puente has a $3.7 million budget deficit.

“I thought that because of our financial situation, and we’ve laid off 13 staff members, that it’d be more appropriate to show our appreciation to staff members for their hard work, which they deserve, …for the council to pony up some money from our personal funds rather than the general fund,” Holloway said. “It doesn’t say much to say you’re voting to use public money to thank the staff.”

The annual gift card program started in 1999 as a replacement to a holiday party, which was later brought back. The first year, it cost the city about $1,700 to give employees $50 each. The amounts increased to the current rate in 2005, according to city officials.

Officials in 2008 opted not to cancel the program, which then cost $4,230 to fund, according to staff reports. It was canceled the next year during the employees’ union contract negotiations, officials said.

Argudo and Solis said the staff is underappreciated and their hard work needs to be rewarded.

“We’ve had some layoffs and everybody’s been working double jobs,” Solis said. “We gave our employees Christmas parties up until last year. We keep taking from them, and we need to at some point give back a little bit to them, and I think they would appreciate it. They work hard and it’s just something from us to say thank you.”