San Jose leaders and unions close to striking a deal
San Jose workers prepare for a three-day strike while the city and unions try to find common ground. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose leaders are moving toward a resolution with union leaders in an attempt to stop the biggest planned strike of city workers in recent history. Two of the city’s largest unions may reach a deal by Monday morning — 24 hours before the three-day strike is set to begin on Aug. 15.

    Staff Up San Jose, a coalition of the two unions IFPTE Local 21 and MEF-AFSCME Local 101, announced on Sunday that the city’s newest offer moves “significantly toward our needs.” If a deal is reached, the strike will be called off. If not, around 4,500 workers — almost half the city’s workforce — will walk off their jobs and picket. The city’s latest offer has not been made public yet.

    “We are meeting with the city first thing tomorrow morning,” the coalition wrote in a statement. “We remain hopeful to see enough movement to avert a strike.”

    Last week on Aug. 7, the two unions voted in favor of a three-day strike because of stalled salary negotiations with the city. The following day, city council asked union leaders to come back to the table for continued mediation. Unions and city representatives met daily last week to discuss options that work for all negotiating parties involved. Still, city workers have been collecting a hardship fund, assembling picket signs and organizing membership to picket in case they can’t agree on a contract.

    The union is asking for an 18% raise over the next three years: 7% this year, 6% for 2024-25 and 5% 2025-26. The city’s offer when the strike was called is a 12% raise over the next three years: 5% this fiscal year, followed by 4% and 3% the next two years.

    Mayor Matt Mahan previously said he was disappointed that it was the unions, not the city, that initially walked away from the negotiating table, but remained optimistic that a compromise could be found.

    Mahan was not immediately available for comment.

    Garrick Percival, political science professor at San José State University, said Mahan is in a tenuous situation because he is responsible for a problem that he did not directly have a hand in causing. For years, city worker 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. Mahan said the city doesn’t have enough money to accommodate their demands and would cost $40 million to accommodate them over the next three years. The city would also have to reopen an already balanced budget to find $14.4 million for salary increases for this year.

    “The reality is the city has a really hard time generating enough tax revenue to supply the services that residents need and in demand,” Percival told San José Spotlight. “That puts pressure on city costs and city wages, and this is compounded by that very high cost of living here in the Bay Area. So these things are at tension with each other.”

    If the strike occurs, it will inevitably impact a wide range of city services including library hours, city-run youth programs, airport operations and code enforcement responses. It will not impact emergency services from police or fire, as well as garbage pick up.

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

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