Thousands of San Jose city workers are going on strike — and making history as the city’s largest worker walk out in recent history.
As many as 4,500 city workers will strike starting Aug. 15 after months of failed salary negotiations between the city and two of its largest unions — IFPTE Local 21 and MEF-AFSCME Local 101. About 99% of the unionized employees voted in favor last week, making an official announcement Monday morning at San Jose City Hall that the three-day strike will begin next week.
Members will form picket lines at various worksites each day of the strike, including San Jose City Hall, San Jose Mineta International Airport, the Regional Wastewater Facility, and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, among other places.
“San Jose residents deserve fully staffed services, but workers can’t even afford to live in the city we serve,” said Kyle Wong, transportation specialist and IFPTE Local 21 member. “Our hope is that city councilmembers and Mayor Mahan will finally listen to us and address the understaffing crisis impacting libraries, the airport, affordable housing, and more. But if they don’t, we are ready to strike for our services.”
A handful of city workers were joined on Monday by Assemblymember Alex Lee and Ash Kalra, Councilmember Peter Ortiz and Jean Cohen, executive director of South Bay Labor Council. The unions are working to secure a strike sanction from the labor organization so that no other unions can do business with the city of San Jose for the duration of the strike. The South Bay Labor Council will vote on the sanction request tonight.
Cohen said striking is a last resort, and that it could be called off if the city moves closer to union demands.
“It is up to the city council and mayor to offer a proposal that the unions would evaluate and vote on,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “Our preference is for people to come to the table.”
Ortiz, who supports unions and labor organizations, said he believes the council can find a compromise ahead of the strike. The council will discuss all options at Tuesday’s closed session meeting.
“I’m confident that we can find political will because nobody wants a strike,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “Some people may have not expected a 99% approval rating for a strike so I think this sends a message to people who may be on the fence that a strike is very real.”
The strike is expected to impact a wide range of city-run services including the airport, library, youth summer programs and code enforcement. It is not clear which libraries or summer programs will close. Services like trash pick up and emergency response from the fire and police departments and will not be impacted, union officials said.
The unions are demanding an 18% raise over the next three years to keep up with the sky-rocking costs of living, they said, and to make their jobs more competitive as the city struggles with a 12% vacancy rate — or nearly 800 openings. Some city employees say they have had to move into cities like Tracy or Stockton and commute two hours because of high rent, while others have fallen into homelessness.
IFPTE Local 21 and MEF-AFSCME Local 101, also known as the Staff Up San Jose coalition, want 7% in 2023-24, 6% in 2024-25 and 5% the year after. San Jose’s best and final offer is 5% for 2023-2024 fiscal year, 4% in 2024-25 and 3% the year after.
Mayor Matt Mahan said he is disappointed that it was the unions, not the city, that walked away from the negotiating table. He said the city doesn’t have enough money to accommodate their demands, in part because if the city offers 7% salary increase to one union, it would have to offer it to them all. According to the mayor’s office, it would cost $40 million to accommodate union demands 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.
“In order to be fair to everyone we have to acknowledge that we can’t print money. If we raise wages more than 5% this year, we will need to take commensurate funding away from vital services,” Mahan said in an op-ed published in San José Spotlight. “And personally, I am not willing to vote for an increase that requires cuts to core city services.”
Union reps believe the city has the money to accommodate their demands. They reference a report by Working Partnerships USA which found that San Jose could afford to increase wages without cutting services by using the budget surplus created from the hundreds of vacant jobs. This could amount up to $28 million, according to the study. Unions are asking that those savings go toward pay raises, but the city said it cannot reallocate the money set aside for vacancies.
Last week, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party Central Committee passed a resolution which called on the city “to end its pattern of accruing large budget savings by not providing services and to stop understaffing our community.”
Visit https://www.staffupsanjose.org/strike for a full schedule of picketing times and locations.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.