San Jose leaders woo unions back to the bargaining table
South Bay Labor Council Executive Director Jean Cohen and San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz at San Jose City Hall on Aug. 7, 2023 after thousands of workers voted to strike. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose leaders have a new offer for two main labor unions in a desperate attempt to stop the largest planned strike of city workers in recent history. The union has agreed to come back to the negotiating table—but it may be too little, too late.

    The mediation is planned for tomorrow afternoon for IFTPE Local 21. MEF-AFSCME Local 101 also agreed to the sit down with the city on Thursday morning.

    Yesterday, the city’s two largest unions—comprised of 4,500 city employees, about half of the city workforce—voted in favor of a three-day strike because of stalled salary negotiations with the city. Now the city council is asking IFTPE Local 21 and MEF-AFSCME Local 101 to come back to mediation, indicating there is a new movement on the city’s current offer. Union leaders are willing to hear what the city has to say.

    “We are glad to see that in response to our historic strike vote, the city council has given additional bargaining authority to the city,” Jesse Perez, IFPTE Local 21 bargaining member, told San José Spotlight. “However, until we have an agreement that protects services for the community, strike preparations are still very much underway.”

    Perez said the unions are collecting a hardship fund, assembling picket signs and organizing membership to picket.

    It is not yet clear what the city’s offer will be or if the union will accept. City officials said they cannot share what was discussed during today’s closed session meeting on the pending strike.

    Mayor Matt Mahan said he is glad to see the unions coming back to the table to work together in finding a solution that is fair to both workers and residents—but noted it will come at a cost.

    “Any increase we agree to above the city’s prior offer will require us to cut an equal amount from our current budget in an open and transparent manner,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “There are some non-essential expenditures we can reduce at the margins, but I will not support a deal that cuts services related to public safety, homelessness, blight response, permitting or other critical community needs.”

    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.

    After yesterday’s strike announcement, Mahan said he is disappointed by the vote authorization to strike, but he is still optimistic the mass walk out is avoidable.

    “In the meantime, the city is prepared to maintain the services our residents rely on,” Mahan said.

    Another setback 

    In a major move of solidarity with San Jose employees, the South Bay Labor Council, which represents more than 20 local unions and 100,000 workers across Santa Clara County, authorized a strike sanction. This means that other union workers have voted to not cross picket lines spread throughout the city in a show of support for city employees who do strike, South Bay Labor Council Executive Director Jean Cohen said.

    “Strike sanctions help us to have all relevant information about the dispute so we can answer questions that may arise, as well as ensures that the SBLC affiliates have been formally notified to determine how they will honor the strike,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “The process also activates community service support to ensure impacted workers can meet their basic needs.”

    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.

    “Thousands of our members authorized a strike vote by a resounding 99%,” Perez said. “If we are forced to begin striking on Aug. 15, it’s going to be hard for city councilmembers and Mayor Mahan to keep ignoring the workers who make this city run.”

    This story will be updated.

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

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