Oakland City workers are headed into a 5th day of a strike for a fair contract; a contract that includes wages that keep up with the cost of living and working conditions that don’t threaten their health. The city acknowledges its revenues have gone up and that these workers gave back and lost considerable ground during the Great Recession but claims it can only afford small wage increases at this time. Where did the increased revenues go?
How did the Police Department Budget Grow so Fast?
Beyond three new departments with well paid directors under this mayor plus a plumped up staff in her office, last December the council voted, with the exception of Brooks and Kaplan, to accept a grant from the Obama led DOJ for a little less than $2 million which in turn required the city to commit more than $10 million in taxpayer funds-outside of the 2 year budget process. Add that to OPD’s unauthorized overtime costs and we can see how easily increased revenues disappear before the average city worker’s needs are even considered.
But there are more issues being discussed than just pay and in fact, the city and the unions had agreed to wage increases in the first year of the contract. However, the city made second year wages dependent on revenues, which may seem reasonable until you account for the administration’s, like all administrations, ability to hide revenues or to slide them under the table to the police department.
The unions have been in negotiations for 8 months without a serious contract offer, there’s been a spike since the Great Recession in maintaining employees permanently as temporary part time workers, and that working conditions have deteriorated in understaffed departments with massive new demands such as attending to homeless encampments and the health and safety risks involved. These all add up.
But the biggie is the attitude of this administration despite the face that Oakland “cheer leaders” show outside the negotiating room. When the mayor declares that your walkout is illegal, “She said the city would file a labor complaint if workers walk off the job. But leaders for Service Employees International Union Local 1021 dismissed Schaaf’s concerns.
“The mayor is incorrect,” said Rob Szykowny, Local 1021’s chief negotiator. “It’s an unfair labor practices strike, which is lawful, protected activity.” http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Labor-negotiations-end-Oakland-workers-prepare-12404995.php
When the poorest workers like Head Start employees, many of whom have had to move out of Oakland to afford rent, were moved to strike weeks before Christmas in hopes of pushing the city to see the seriousness of the their situation, should the city response be to increase the distrust?
Negotiation in Good Faith?
Last Wednesday when the city council met in closed session to consider the union’s proposal, it was hoped that a settlement would be reached that day but the council was split and the strike entered a 3rd day. When on Thursday afternoon the mayor offered her “last best final offer” which included a “slight tweak” from the previous offer, the unions had expected that negotiations would continue into the night as so often happens in these dire situations-but that’s not what happened.
According to Kimberly Veklerov at the Chronicle, “Union leaders said they were working on crafting a counteroffer late Thursday. They asked the city’s negotiators to stay on call through the evening.
“We actually thought they were going to come in and we were going to talk all night if necessary to reach a compromise, and they just gave us the end,” Szykowny said. “It seems the city has just decided to be intransigent and try to beat the union down, and that is not going to happen.”
Photo: Ben Margot, Associated Press
Oakland city workers picket beside an inflatable rat in front of City Hall on Tuesday.
Mayor Libby Schaaf seemed to dismiss the union’s counteroffer, saying just before 10 p.m. the city would accept nothing less than a yes.” http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Negotiations-in-Oakland-worker-strike-end-without-12414230.php
As of today, Sunday, December 10th, ” City leaders said they expect the strike to continue Sunday, Monday and “until further notice.” http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2017/12/09/city-of-oakland-unions-agree-to-mediation-but-strike-continues/
The mayor declared an impasse on Friday morning and threw the city into a deeper divide and long term disaffection between the city and its workers. Although the strike may end sometime next week and a contract will eventually be signed, the attitude of city leadership, the mayor and the city council, shows an inability to bargain well and little interest in what the lowest level employees need to continue to live in and work for the city many grew up in.
Some council members have been admittedly more interested in coming to agreement, In statements Rebecca Kaplan, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks have made it clear they are willing to work on solving this fairly. All the other council members have been what one union rep called “squishy.” If you are represented by one of these other council members, call or email them today!
And here I have to get personal. I was one of the committee members who worked with the city council to put a proposal on last year’s ballot establishing a police commission, a body which, ironically, is set to meet for the first time [it was approved by 83% of the voters]on December 13th [if the strike is settled.]
Three of us sat in meeting after meeting with Council Members Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo thrashing out the details of what we all knew was going to be ground breaking legislation. We had almost reached agreement on most of the important items when we got word from the 2 CMs that Mayor Schaaf wanted to change the innovative structure the coalition designed of using a selection committee, picked from the community, to search out commissioners who would then be another step removed from political influence.
We had been warned that she would not agree to putting it on the ballot unless she had one or two direct appointments to the commission which will have the power to implement discipline over our officers. We argued and fought for a less political process and then we got the word, she would accept no less than 3 appointments out of 7 and it was non-negotiable. As you may know, ultimately we had to agree to this change but it left such a sour taste in my mouth, I could barely speak in favor of it at the time.
[Though our coalition victory was huge, we are setting up a committee to “oversee the oversight board” and make sure that the voters who demanded change get what they fought for.] Now, of course, the mayor doesn’t get to write legislation, that’s up to the council but we knew we wouldn’t have the votes we needed if she had objected and she was clear, her point of view was non-negotiable.
A mayor who does not understand that compromise is the essence of the political process is not only not a good politician, she is not really engaged in politics but in dictating terms which she believes are best for the rest of us. Her demand that “yes,” is the only answer she’ll accept after which the administration discontinues talks is setting up for Armageddon.
We are in for tough times as it is when our federal government is opposed to the well-being of most Californians (and most Americans) but it seems under this administration our city has taken the same tack to its own workers and dirtied, possibly poisoned the waters we have to navigate in for many years to come.
Oh and by the way, for all those who read this and say, city services are horrible so who cares, prove it to me! I have worked with our public union members as a council aide and as director of a retail district and almost always found them willing to help when presented with a reasonable request. I honor them as sister and brother Oaklanders who care about our city and do what they can to make it better despite being understaffed and disrespected.
Call Your Council Member, Call the Mayor!
Oaklanders, in the spirit of the season, demand that Mayor Schaaf and your council members-you have 2, a district rep and the at-large member-get this settled fairly and do it now! www2.oaklandnet.com