Some Santa Clara city employees plan to strike if negotiations toward a new labor contract continue to stall.
Gary Ferraris, president of the union AFSCME Local 4911, told the City Council Tuesday the city’s Unit 6 field operations and maintenance workers will strike on May 1—International Workers’ Day—if a resolution isn’t reached. There are about 125 workers in Unit 6.
“While surrounding agencies rewarded employees for their dedication, Santa Clara refused to do the right thing,” Ferraris said during public comment, referring to workers who continued providing services during the pandemic.
Labor negotiations have been ongoing since Unit 6’s contract expired Dec. 31, Ferraris told San José Spotlight. Workers are asking for a general cost of living adjustment and “hero pay” for working through the pandemic. He said the South Bay Labor Council, which represents 101 unions and more than 100,000 workers, has sanctioned the strike.
Councilmembers couldn’t respond to Ferraris or other union members because it was not on the agenda, but Mayor Lisa Gillmor made a short statement.
“We value everything you do for our city,” Gillmor said. “Our residents value you. Our city wouldn’t be what it is today without your good work.”
This development takes place as the city has experienced major changes in leadership. Interim City Manager Rajeev Batra, a retired public works director, was hired after both City Attorney Brian Doyle and City Manager Deanna Santana were fired by a council majority. Unit 6 contract negotiations began under Santana last fall, and reached an impasse over the city’s refusal to approve salary increases, said Ferraris.
Ferraris said the union already discussed the possibility of a strike with Batra, “to try to find a solution to the ongoing negotiations.”
Batra did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Ferraris said Unit 6 is the only employee group being asked to go another year without a pay increase. His group maintains streets, cleans storm drains and takes care of public buildings.
“We’re the ones that were out here throughout the pandemic,” Ferraris told San José Spotlight. “We weren’t able to work remotely. We were told we had to come back to work because we were essential workers, and now they’re saying we don’t deserve any kind of pay increase.”
Workers are also pushing back on the city’s requirement to relinquish their legal right to refuse to cross a picket line—which Ferraris called one of the main strengths of being a union.
James Dudley, chairman of the United EMS Workers negotiating committee for Unit 6, said he does not think having to negotiate a right to strike—guaranteed by law—makes sense under the current “political climate” at Santa Clara City Hall.
“We’re the ones who make the city run. Without us, the water doesn’t flow, the sewer doesn’t get picked up,” Dudley told San José Spotlight.
Cliff Myers, the union chapter’s vice president, said as a native Santa Clara resident it’s sad to see other government agencies that are “not as financially sound” giving employees wage increases while Santa Clara “has not given us a dime.”
He told San José Spotlight employees are being pushed out of the area due to high housing costs.
“The city needs to recognize, if their employees don’t live close enough to respond, then who’s going to show up when there’s an emergency or disaster?” Myers said.
Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.