San Jose animal shelter, city services brace for strike threat
Kristy Roldan holds Dennis, a one-year-old pit bull at the San Jose Animal Care Center. City animal care could be affected by the union strike. Photo by Ben Irwin.

    If a deal is not struck between San Jose and thousands of its employees this week, its services will be in jeopardy, including the care of hundreds of animals.

    Mayor Matt Mahan floated the possibility of shutting down the San Jose Animal Care Center, a landing spot for hundreds of household pets looking for a home, to cover much of the cost of the upcoming three-day strike. Two of the city’s largest unions spearheading the strike — IFPTE Local 21 and MEF-AFSCME Local 101, or Staff Up San Jose Union Coalition — are demanding better pay after months of failed salary negotiations.

    “But what would we do with the over 800 dogs, cats and rabbits who call our shelter home?” Mahan said in his Aug. 6 San José Spotlight op-ed.

    Union leaders representing 4,500 workers said the city could be faced with closing the shelter when workers go out on strike Aug. 15. Mahan’s office did not confirm any details about impacted services that could upend much of the city’s ability to operate.

    San Jose resident Kristy Roldan walks shelter dogs as a volunteer. She was out on Tuesday morning with Dennis, a roughly 1-year-old pit bull, who’s been in the shelter since last December.

    “Dennis is needy, he needs love,” Roldan told San José Spotlight. “His owner died and he’s been here ever since.”

    Roldan was unaware of the city workers strike and its potential impacts. She worries about Dennis and the hundreds of other animals at the overcrowded shelter that’s taken in nearly 1,500 animals so far this year.

    “Where would all of them go?” Roldan said. “Maybe I’m optimistic, but I think a (shut down) would be very hard to do … I think there’d be a lot of pushback from (rescuers) and people like me who are trying to (help).”

    Better city services

    The animal shelter isn’t the only overburdened city service in San Jose. Dylan Kuhlmann-Haley, 30, a public information representative with the city and Staff Up San Jose member, said the city’s planning department doesn’t have the staff needed to turn around permits in a reasonable amount of time, forcing residents to wait months to get the OK to have work done on their homes.

    “Residents are always upset because they can see their neighbors doing the same work in a fraction of the time illegally,” Kuhlmann-Haley said. “If the strike works, maybe that’ll change. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

    The unions are demanding an 18% raise over the next three years to keep up with the costs of living. This would also make their jobs more competitive as the city struggles with a 12% job vacancy rate — or nearly 800 openings.

    Kuhlmann-Haley said in his eight years as a city employee, the standard has always been the same: train for the role, gain experience for six months to a year and then leave for a better paying job.

    “It’s not only bad for the employees, it’s such a waste for the city,” Kuhlmann-Haley told San José Spotlight.

    Services affected still unclear

    While the city has not confirmed which city-run services will be affected by the pending strike, the unions expect wide-ranging disruptions, including the animal shelter, library, youth summer programs and code enforcement. Locations at the San Jose Mineta International Airport, city hall, wastewater facility and the police department will be subjected to daily picket lines. Trash pick up and emergency response from fire and police departments will not be affected, union officials said.

    Assistant City Manager Lee Wilcox told San José Spotlight that the city will rely on a combination of other city staff and contractors to minimize disruptions.

    “The city realizes the potential impacts to our community when the strike commences,” Wilcox said. “Meetings are scheduled with the bargaining units to discuss critical positions, which would be potentially exempted from the strike to protect health and safety.”

    Contact Ben at ben@sanjosespotlight or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.

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