‘Our council did not do its job’: San Jose mayor opposes strike settlement
San Jose workers prepared for a three-day strike that is now called off because city and unions found common ground. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    The largest planned strike in decades by San Jose city workers is over before it starts.

    The city’s two largest unions representing 4,500 workers – IFPTE Local 21 and AFSCME Local 101 – officially called off their strike today, avoiding what could have been a shutdown of several critical services. San Jose City Council voted to ratify two new contracts after a stalemate over salary negotiations. Under this tentative agreement, both unions will see a 14.5% raise over the next three years.

    Before calling off the strike, the unions asked for an 18% raise over the next three years, with the city offering just 12%. The tentative deal will give union workers a 6% increase this year, 5% the following year, and 3.5% in 2024-25, with a potential to see a 4% increase that year if the city has enough money. The city also increased paid family leave from one week to eight weeks.

    “As an expecting mother, I can say that this agreement finally meets the standard for paid family leave in the region, and raises the bar for all working families here in San Jose,” said Sarah Abroff, associate transportation specialist.

    But Mayor Matt Mahan does not see this compromise with the unions as a win for the city. While he said he supports increasing paid family leave, he fears the raises are higher than what the city can accommodate and will likely result in cuts to services. He said a 13% raise would’ve been more reasonable.

    Mahan praised union leaders for doing their jobs by advocating for their members – and that there is no ill will between the city and its workforce. But he expressed disappointment with his council colleagues.

    “Our council did not do its job. Our leaders were elected to represent the people and the needs of the people took a backseat,” Mahan said at a news conference. “We could have come up with a deal that was fair to everyone – our workers and our residents. But politics as usual triumphed over common sense and now our most vulnerable residents will be paying the price.”

    This deal ends the monthslong saga over wage increases between the city and the union coalition, known as Staff Up San Jose. They struggled to reach an agreement for months, eventually leading to the unions calling for an impasse in June.

    But when 99% of union workers voted in favor of a three-day strike last week, councilmembers immediately met and asked union leaders to come back to the negotiating table on Aug. 8 for continued mediation.

    Union and city representatives met daily last week, finally agreeing to a compromise on Sunday. The unions temporarily suspended the strike Monday in anticipation of the council’s vote today.

    Because the new contract covers this fiscal year, the city will have to readjust its already balanced budget and find millions of dollars to cover the raises.

    Pending cuts to city services

    The city manager will share proposed budget cuts at the Sept. 12 city council meeting to find the funds needed for the raises. Mahan said he intends to downvote the newly revised union contract because of the expected cuts.

    He said the city already has $4 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance on city infrastructure. In addition, the city’s extra dollars at the end of the year have already been allocated to fund approved interim housing sites, so Mahan said there aren’t many options in the budget.

    City leaders do not yet know how much will be cut and from where, but nonnegotiables for Mahan are housing, homelessness and public safety services.

    “I can tell you traditionally, sadly, where past councils have (cut) have been things like parks, libraries and community centers and after school programs,” Mahan said. “Those are the types of programs that don’t always have the strongest constituencies or frankly, interest groups organized around them.”

    Despite opposition on council, there were enough votes in closed session to approve the contract terms. Councilmember Peter Ortiz, who has been an outspoken supporter of the unions, said this is a great step forward after months of tension between the unions and city leaders.

    “I think that the offer is generous and I believe it was the right move by both the city administration and the council,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “The administration showed leadership today with a recommendation to right that wrong, do the right thing and invest in the people who run the city programs, who keep our libraries going, address illegal dumping and take care of our city.”

    For nearly a decade, city workers have expressed concerns over their raises not matching the increasing costs of inflation and housing. It’s led to high vacancy rates and frustration among workers that boiled over. City workers say they have been asked to do more work with less pay—and some have found themselves homeless or driving from Tracy or Stockton because they cannot afford to live in the city they serve.

    Michael Jun, housing development officer, said the main issue going into bargaining this year was addressing the staffing crisis. As part of the new deal, San Jose is increasing retention and recruitment efforts for critically understaffed public safety and housing development positions.

    “The city’s housing department has been historically short-staffed, which has a direct impact on our ability to build affordable housing,” Jun said. “Staffing up our departments means ensuring city employees can afford to live and work in the city they serve.”

    San Jose is not the first or last government agency that has been affected by threats or actualized strikes.

    Late last month, over 12,000 Santa Clara County workers avoided a strike after securing the largest wage increases in more than two decades. California State University teachers are currently in talks of striking as salary negotiations have stalled. And last week, 11,000 Los Angeles city employees walked out over pay disputes.

    Had San Jose not reached a deal, this would’ve been the largest city worker strike since 1981, when thousands of San Jose workers picketed for 10 days to protest unequal pay between men and women. That strike, led by AFSCME Local 101, was the first of its kind across the country and ended with the city approving over a million dollars in pay adjustments for female employees.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana Kadah on Twitter.

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