Tell the Oakland City Council-Time for a Fair Contract!

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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.

Beyond Wages

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.”

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.  20171206_172445

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. 20171206_172337

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

 

 

Librarian Talks Back to Oakland Trib Anti-Public Employee Rant

Jane Courant has been a full time Oakland librarian since 1998. She’s worked as a children’s librarian and is now the Adult Services Librarian at the Dimond Branch. Previous to moving to the Bay Area, she was an actor/singer in small theatre troupes and maintains an interest in the arts.

This letter is a response to the Oakland Tribune editorial bashing library workers and their unions, http://www.insidebayarea.com/opinion/ci_18217065.

“I strongly urge the Governor to follow the legislature’s lead and sign AB 438, a decidedly pro-library bill, rather than follow the dangerous position taken in “Assembly Bill 438 is an Anti-library Measure,” (6/7/11). A private company’s mission is to maximize profits. A public library’s mission is to serve all citizens equally and protect their free access to information as well as the privacy of their library records. Librarians must be able to stand up to authority — and they frequently do — to ensure that they fulfill this mission, whether it means preventing FBI access to borrowing records or opposing those who would censor materials, keeping them from library shelves or computer screens.

If a public librarian’s employer is a private company beholden to its investors, fear of losing one’s job makes such principled positions much more difficult to maintain. Recently, LSSI, one of the biggest players in the library privatization game, took over the Santa Clarita system. Its contract gave them control not only of hiring, but of materials purchasing as well. In attacking the SEIU, The Tribune misses the point of public unions completely, whether they protect the rights and responsibilities of teachers, police, park workers or librarians.”

One needs only look at the Patriot Act and the folks who fought its infringements the hardest, to see the importance of keeping the libraries public. Thanks for this letter, Jane.

Thank an Oakland Public Worker Today

New Lakeshore Newsracks

I know it’s not fashionable these days to praise public workers, but I just have to do it anyway. Given layoffs, attrition, and furlough days, city employees are working harder than ever before.

A trio of folks from the Community Economic Development Agency performed a small miracle in our Lakeshore shopping district just in time for the 24thAnnual Easter Parade and Derby (hat) Decorating Contest. For years a group of us who care about our neighborhood shopping centers (I am the Director of the Lakeshore Business Improvement District), had been trying to get our city-installed newsracks cleaned up and downsized. The City had passed an ordinance but could not implement it without the agreement and assistance of all the news organizations themselves.

Lakeshore getting ready for the parade

It was a coordination nightmare and often seemed hopeless. No sooner would the City get a company to fix their broken-into box, than another one would be broken into. During that period the print news and advertising business shrank and ever more racks became abandoned. Additionally, every person with an ad or a cause continues to use them to stick up their posters then leaves them to disintegrate. The racks, which were installed to solve the problem of a jumble of unsightly boxes, got tagged and battered until they became a blight and a danger on the sidewalks.

Under the leadership of Bill Quesada, a planner with the Organization and Infrastructure section of CEDA with the assistance of Keith Pacheco and Ken Gunari, both Specialty Inspectors, an agreement was hammered out to remove the dangerous or unsightly racks while reducing the number over all and developing a maintenance plan.

The news racks on Lakeshore and Grand Avenue were reduced or moved (to more convenient locations that don’t block pedestrian access) and cleaned up just in time for our annual parade. We hope the media distribution guys can keep up with the taggers and posters and that most folks will think again before creating new blight. If you see a stand-alone box, often dirty plastic, and unsightly, those are not legal and can be reported to the City for eventual removal (following a noticing process).

So that’s the Community and Economic Development Department. I want to send out a hearty thank you to the Public Works guys and gals also. Recently I had to call them because some of the strands on our necklace of lights were not in sync and lighting at the wrong time, and they responded quickly and cheerfully, as they always do.

I can’t thank these public workers enough. From the garbage lockout of recent years (when city workers had to empty our street cans) to the mowing of the grass on the Mandana Green, yes, sometimes the work has to get on a list and wait its turn; but they always come through and not just on Lakeshore.

When I worked at the now-closed Edward Shands Adult School, (did I mention, it’s completely closed down now, no more students in East Oakland can get help there-just checking that you saw that) we had a problem with a crack house on an adjoining property. It was truly awful for the students, the staff, and the neighborhood. The police would close it down and someone would break it open again. The landlord was not very responsive.

Once again, city workers stepped in. They fenced off the driveway and building entrance, painted over the graffiti, and prevented an easy return of the criminals. We all breathed a sigh of relief and carried on with teaching and learning until, of course, the state cut off our funding and we abandoned the school and the students.

I meant this just to be a letter of thanks to Bill Quesada and his co-workers but I really hope it makes us all rethink our attitudes towards those who serve us in government. I read a note on our neighborhood listerve the other day in which the writer stated that he could not support the small parcel tax that the Mayor and most of the City Council are requesting, but the writer implied he would support a bond for our deteriorating streets.

I share that neighbor’s concern over the state of our potholes, as they could be rightly called rather than streets, but I’m not sure I would put streets, roads, and cars above all other concerns in our city, knowing the needs of our young folks and seniors as I do.

Let’s pass the small, $80 parcel tax so that the everyday and not-so-everyday things that our city’s workers do for us can continue to be done, albeit in an even more reduced capacity. Don’t kid yourselves that this is not as big a catastrophe as Loma Prieta and the Oakland firestorm put together. The difference is then; we got lots of help from the federal and state governments. But this time, no one is coming to save us.

At town halls and other meetings, our new Mayor has asserted that she is determined not to abandon our seniors, or our libraries, or our parks. I hope we won’t abandon them either.

Young Parade goer gazes warily at the Easter Bunny