Union workers demand more equitable pay in San Jose’s budget
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

Some union leaders are angry that police officers will receive 7.7% raises in July while 4,000 other city workers will only see increases of about 2.5% over the next two years.

Union members from the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21 and the Municipal Employees’ Federation say the budget for regular workers isn’t given as much consideration as the city’s police budget. They spoke out at Monday’s budget hearing.

“Our budget needs to be equitable and recognize the diversity of our essential workforce,” said Alli Rico, a communications employee with the city’s housing department.

When shelter orders went into effect in March, Rico said she was selected to manage the city’s social media for the pandemic, protests, rolling power outages and multiple wildfires on top of her regular role.

“The current budget leaves behind library staff, parks staff, our homeless response team and hundreds of other essential workers,” she said. “All of the work we do is essential and valuable and our entire community relies on us.”

If approved as is, the San Jose Police Department will see a 1.6% increase in its budget from 2020-21, from $455 million to $462 million.

San Jose’s total proposed operating budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year is approximately $4.5 billion, about 5% less than last fiscal year.

Union workers asked the council to pass a budget with more services for the community and to invest more in other departments so workers will have competitive wages, which will allow the city to recruit and retain more workers.

“We simply got to work to give our residents in the city the best response we could,” said Jill Mariani, who works in the city’s transportation department and manages a food distribution program. “And here we are bargaining for our wage increase. We don’t expect the city to compete with Google and Facebook. But we do expect it to at least keep up with the rate of inflation.”

Some city workers say their paychecks just don’t stretch far enough in pricey Silicon Valley.

“I spend 75% of my income on rent,” said Steve Solorio, president of the Municipal Employees’ Federation and a worker within the city’s code enforcement division. A single father, he spends the rest of his salary on his two teenagers.

“It’s time San Jose has a more competitive wage and works on taking care of its employees,” he said. “What did I do during this time during COVID? I put my life at risk to make sure that (the) community is safe.”

Several other city workers said low wages make it hard for people to continue working for the city.

“Our city is growing rapidly, but our city services aren’t keeping up. We have a major understaffing crisis,” said Jason Day, a city engineer of four years. “We need to retain and recruit a competitive workforce, and that starts with respecting and fully funding our staff.”

Workers and the city are still in negotiations, according to IFPTE 21 lead union representative Matt Mason. He said the city needs to look at its budget priorities and give more precedence to workers it claims are essential.

“During the pandemic, we saw how important essential staff were to San Jose,” Mason told San José Spotlight hours before the meeting. “At this point, we haven’t seen that through the negotiation team through the city.”

Wages weren’t the only contentious topic of discussion Monday.

In East San Jose, a part of the city hit particularly hard by the pandemic, some officials are busy proposing economic recovery funds to boost the neighborhood’s businesses.

Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who represents East San Jose, presented a multi-million dollar East San Jose Rescue Plan Friday for direct economic aid to neighborhood businesses using federal funds. Carrasco also proposed funding for youth and education programs in her district, including an office of youth development, funding for 10,000 Degrees, an educational nonprofit serving low-income children and an East San Jose business manager to advocate for the neighborhood’s many minority-owned small businesses.

“Even before the pandemic, the East San Jose community has faced challenges with access to proper infrastructure and overall investment and support by the city,” said Jess Gutierrez, a teacher at James Lick High School in East San Jose speaking in support of Carrasco’s plan. “The city must invest in the small businesses, the arts and cultures so that the community can thrive here.”

Many residents spoke in favor Monday of Carrasco’s plan to plant more trees in her district.

“If you walk in East San Jose in the summer, you know it’s much hotter than in other areas of the city,” said Stephanie Bowman, a landscape architect and volunteer with Mothers Out Front. She said planting more trees in the district will improve the health and livability of residents. “What neighborhood trees can do is become an essential element in reducing the temperature.”

Meanwhile, Planning Commissioner Rolando Bonilla has openly criticized the rescue plan, instead asking for $30 million in direct investment in East San Jose including $10 million in financial aid to businesses and $5 million in youth programs and services.

“What this budget proposal fails to recognize is that we aren’t simply trying to correct the neglect of the last year,” Bonilla said in a statement. “Equally, this budget should be seen as an opportunity to finally make the necessary investments into East San Jose that will bring it up to par with other parts of the city that have always received the benefit of investment.”

Besides SJPD, several city departments will see proposed increases in their budgets.

The city’s fire department will see a 9.4% increase, from $243 million to $266.7 million from the 2020-21 adopted budget. The city allocated $86 million to Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, up 4.6% from its original allocation of $82 million in 2020-21. The Department of Transportation’s $37 million budget went up just $21,000—an increase of 0.1%.

The library and public works departments each received $36 million in 2020-21, and both departments will get increases of 1.9% and 4.8%, respectively.

Unique for this year is $200 million-plus in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, that will be spent directly on pandemic response and recovery.

“Health is not just a county priority,” said Michelle Lew, CEO of San Jose-based Health Trust. She advocated for food insecurity services such as Meals on Wheels for the city to recover from the pandemic. “We need support in developing a community-wide set of metrics to gauge our collective progress in guiding health equity.”

Most of the American Rescue Plan money will be spent to address next year’s deficit, according to Mayor Sam Liccardo’s budget message. He suggests holding off on deciding on how to spend the remaining $50.1 million until the fall.

At Monday’s meeting, Liccardo said the city will continue to negotiate with workers to make sure they come to a fair agreement.

“There’s still more work to be done and we look forward to supporting that process at the bargaining table,” he said.

The 2021-22 fiscal year is set to begin on July 1 and end on June 30, 2022.

You can read the city’s entire proposed budget here.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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