San Jose strikes deal to avoid worker walk off
San Jose has reached a tentative deal with two unions to avoid a strike by approximately 4,500 employees, about half the city's workforce. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose leaders and union officials have reached a tentative deal on wages less than a day before the city’s core workforce prepared to strike.

    After months of impasse and a week spent in daily mediations, the city and its two largest unions—IFPTE Local 21 and AFSCME Local 101—agreed to suspend the strike until the San Jose City Council ratifies the new contract tomorrow.

    “We are confident that the city council will approve these terms,” the union coalition known as Staff Up San Jose wrote in a statement. “We are only pausing our strike until the council gives its formal approval (tomorrow).”

    The council is holding a closed session meeting Tuesday morning to vote on the new contract. Details of the agreement have not yet been made public. Councilmembers will have to reopen the balanced budget to find dollars to move a new deal forward, but it’s not clear how much will need to be cut to accommodate union demands. However, budget conversations will happen over the coming months.

    “We aren’t going to cut with a butter knife, rather a scalpel,” Councilmember Sergio Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “We are going to be thoughtful about it and hopefully not let it impact residents in any way.”

    A three-day strike authorization was approved after 99% of union workers voted last week because of stalled salary negotiations with the city. The following day on Aug. 8, councilmembers asked union leaders to come back to the table for continued mediation.

    Leaders met, but city workers continued preparing for a strike—assembling picket signs and organizing membership to picket in case they couldn’t reach a compromise.

    Mayor Matt Mahan found himself at the helm of a yearslong problem—and tried to find a compromise that would be fair to both residents and employees, he said on multiple occasions.

    For nearly a decade, city workers have shared concerns that their raises have not matched the increasing costs of inflation and housing. It’s led to high vacancy rates and frustration among workers that is now boiling 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.

    David Nerhood, a union rep and city employee for 22 years, said San Jose wages fall behind other local government jobs by as much as 8-15%, so employees leave to work in other cities. This new agreement helps make San Jose more competitive, though it’s just the first step, he said.

    “We need an agreement that ensures that when we bring people on, we offer the competitive pay and benefits that will keep them around for a long tenured career so that they can service San Jose residents the way they deserve to be serviced,” Nerhood told San José Spotlight. ” The results today are very promising that that’s hopefully going to be the direction we head in.”

    City officials, like Mahan, have said San Jose doesn’t have enough money to pay what the union originally asked for. Before calling the strike, the unions asked for an 18% raise over the next three years, with the city offering 12%. The new agreement falls somewhere in between.

    “While I support substantial raises for our workers, I will be paying close attention to the budget office’s projected fiscal impact before voting on the proposal,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “Signing up for tens of millions of dollars in projected deficits and, therefore, likely future service cuts and layoffs wouldn’t be fair to city workers or residents. I won’t vote for something today that’s going to hurt us tomorrow.”

    If a deal was not reached, this would’ve been the largest city worker strike in recent San Jose history. The last strike was in 1981, where thousands of workers picketed for 10 days to protest unequal pay between men and women. That strike was also led by AFSCME Local 101 and San Jose was the first city to hold such a strike.

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

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