Man in suit standing at council podium in Milpitas city council chambers
Avery Stark, Pro-Tech president and senior city planner, spoke at the Milpitas City Council meeting on Jan. 23, 2024, asking councilmembers to accept a third-party state report on contract negotiations. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Milpitas employees are preparing for a potential strike after months of failed contract negotiations with the city.

Two of the city’s employee unions — Pro-Tech and the Milpitas Employees Association (MEA), representing about 146 workers across multiple departments — have been negotiating a new contract since last April.  The previous contract expired on July 1, 2023. Union representatives said their biggest asks are for a cost of living adjustment to keep up with inflation, as well as efforts to increase retention by giving pay bumps to employees who reach certain years on the job and when they earn specific certifications.

Ryan Heron, a labor relations representative with LiUNA Local 792, said these benefits would help the city recruit and retain high quality workers. Pro-Tech and MEA are housed within LiUNA Local 792, which represents municipal employees across the state.

“It’s not a particularly long list,” Heron told San José Spotlight. “We were able to get tentative agreements on most of the items, except the last few. We haven’t been able to get the city to what we feel is a fair and reasonable deal.”

City workers standing in back rows of Milpitas city council chambers
Dozens of city workers stood in solidarity at Milpitas City Council meeting on Jan. 23, 2024 as union leaders called for the city to accept a representative’s report on contract negotiations. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

The two unions represent city employees who keep Milpitas running, including maintenance workers, building inspectors, office administrators and other essential city service personnel.

The city and union bargaining teams reached an impasse in August. The union requested that the state’s Public Employment Relations Board send a representative to collect information from both sides, compile a report and make recommendations on how to move forward.

That report was given to the city and unions last week, and will be made public on Feb. 2. The unions are asking the city to accept the representative’s recommendations and, at last week’s city council meeting, threatened to strike if the city does not do so.

“The union is pledging to accept the recommendations of the fact finder and thus far, it seems like the city is not, so we’re trying to convince them to accept the neutral fact finder’s recommendation,” Heron said.

Heron said the strike has been authorized by more than 95% of both the Pro-Tech and MEA membership.  Further details on the strike, such as the date and duration, have yet to be disclosed, pending city action.

City spokesperson Charmaine Angelo said both parties have yet to reach an agreement.

“The city has been engaged in negotiations to find a balanced approach that considers the financial constraints of the city while acknowledging the legitimate concerns raised by the labor unions,” Angelo told San José Spotlight. “The goal is to reach an agreement that provides fair compensation while ensuring fiscal responsibility.”

Compared to similar city employees in the area, Heron said Pro-Tech and MEA workers are being paid a lower rate. Some departments had employees working on the ground during the COVID pandemic, including public works, and Heron said these employees deserve to be recognized and compensated for their service.

Pro-Tech President Avery Stark said other Milpitas employees have similar benefits to what his union is asking for, pointing toward the city’s fire and police contracts. Both include incentive pay plans, which increase an employee’s wages when they’re employed in the department for 10, 15 and 20 years respectively. Pro-Tech’s previous contract included no incentive pay plan.

“No place is perfect of course, but it’s trying to find ways to incentivize people to come and work for this organization,” Stark said. “Bright, smart talented people, and hopefully they’ll stay and continue to provide great service for an entire career.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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