City Monitors Employees With GPS

ByJudy Muller

O A K L A N D, Calif., Feb. 21, 2004 -- When the street sweepers of Oakland go on their appointed rounds, they know their own work habits had better be squeaky clean.

That's because every vehicle is equipped with a GPS tracking system to let supervisors know exactly where they are at all times — something that has some city workers complaining, and officials explaining.

"When you are a public servant, whether it is the mayor or a street cleaner, you belong to the people," Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown said. "We are the servants of the people, and they have the right to know where we are, what we are doing."

The mayor, however, is not being tracked. The union representing Oakland employees thinks the program is stacked against the little guy.

"Why isn't the city council being tracked on their daily activities?" asked Larry Hendel of the Service Employees International union. "Why isn't management? Why aren't department heads?"

Big Brother?

Road crews also are monitored. The city knows just how long it takes them to fill a pothole. A supervisor often follows them, taking before-and-after pictures.

"I think if you are doing your job and you know you're doing your job, somebody taking a photograph of you isn't that important," said Jamie Ramey, a supervisor.

But not everyone feels that way. Some park employees bristle at the monitoring system.

"It looks like it's Big Brother, you know?" said Steve Lewis, a Parks and Recreation Department employee.

Oakland is just one of a number of cities across the country using GPS technology to improve worker accountability.

The monitoring system operates using a GPS tracking device on a municipal truck, which transmits a signal that can be seen on computers back in a monitoring office.

The truck's exact location, speed, and stopping time all are monitored and recorded, so if a driver takes an extra long lunch break, or goes off his route, supervisors will know it.

The program was initiated because of gripes from residents.

"We have definitely had complaints about our facilities not being clean, our parks not being clean, and all of those issues," said Ignacio de la Fuente, an Oakland City Council member.

The city says it measures something called "street sweeping satisfaction," and now it is up, said Claudette Ford, director of Oakland's Public Works Agency.

"The latest citizen survey, I believe, we were at 83 percent satisfaction rate, which is very, very good for us," Ford said.

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