OAKLAND -- The public employee unions that helped elect Mayor Jean Quan three years ago came out en masse Tuesday to protest her proposed budget, which would pump much of the city's anticipated revenues into the police department.

Hundreds of members from SEIU Local 1021 and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which together represent the vast majority of Oakland's civilian employees, filled the council chambers to demand a greater share of the city's growing revenue.

"We question the flowing of more money to (police) at the expense of vital public services that hurt the community," said Dwight McElroy, a city employee and SEIU chapter president.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan during a meeting of the Bay Area Toll Authority oversight committee April 10, 2013, in Oakland.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan during a meeting of the Bay Area Toll Authority oversight committee April 10, 2013, in Oakland. (Karl Mondon/Staff file)

The contracts for non public safety workers are up at the end of June, which is also the deadline for the council to pass a two-year budget.

Union members have not had a cost of living raise since 2007. They have also given up at least 10 percent a year in pay since 2009 as the city struggled to balance its budget during the financial collapse.

Many of those concessions are due to end in June, but the city is now asking union members to pay more toward their pensions and health benefits as both costs are expected to jump over the next two years.

The contracts for Oakland police and firefighters, who rank among the city's highest paid workers, don't expire this year, making it harder for the city to try to extract new concession from them. Police next year are scheduled to receive a raise that had been deferred.

With the city reeling from two consecutive years of major crime spikes, Quan has proposed spending about $15 million on four police academies that would graduate an estimated 160 new officers. The academies would bring the department's staffing back up to about 700 officers for the first time since 2010.

Any further boost to the police force, which topped out at 837 officers at the end of 2008, would likely have to come from a voter approved parcel tax measure, the mayor said.

Quan said she tried to be fair to all city unions, but noted that public safety has been the top concern of residents.

The need for further concessions, she said, is being driven by pension costs that are projected to increase 26 percent over the next two years and about 50 percent over the next five years as the state pension system finally accounts for losses during the financial collapse.

"That is an unsustainable growth unless we share the increased costs," Quan said. If Oakland doesn't confront the pension issue, she added, "we're just going to keep shrinking every year and I don't think we can do that."

The city has lost about 20 percent of its workforce over the past decade as it veered from the fallout of the technology bubble to the housing crisis.

Quan's budget forecasts the city's general purpose fund, which pays for most services including police, parks and libraries, growing from about $409 million this year, to $430 million in the coming year, and $457 million the following year. Much of that revenue growth, however, will be offset by increased costs.

General fund spending on police would jump $24 million during that period, from $168 million to $192 million.

Quan's budget would generally limit service cuts. Senior centers and recreation centers would reduce hours, and nonprofits such as the Oakland Zoo would receive fewer city funds. However, the furloughs that closed City Hall and libraries about once a month would end.

The budget doesn't set aside money to start addressing the city's more than $1 billion in liabilities for not having fully funded employee pensions and retiree medical benefits.

Quan's proposal will likely serve as the framework for a final budget that must be approved by the City Council. Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Desley Brooks both expressed concern that the budget focused too much on police.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf praised the proposal and said she hoped the council would find funds to add additional civilian employees to the police department.

Quan, who has chilly relations with Oakland's police union, has counted on the civilian unions for support both to win the mayor's job and to beat back recall efforts.

She urged the unions to work with the city. "If we can pull together, I think that we going to grow together," she said.

The labor negotiations appear likely to be tense.

SEIU members recently occupied the office of a top city manager. McElroy told council members Tuesday that if the city does not negotiate fairly, "it's going to get real unpredictable in Oakland."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.