OAKLAND -- The city's two largest civilian unions say Oakland leaders are crying poverty to justify demands for employee givebacks and that their only recourse might be to strike for the first time in more than a half century.
SEIU, Local 1021 and IFTPE, Local 21 on Tuesday scheduled a strike authorization vote for June 10 and 11. A "yes" vote would give union negotiators more leverage at the bargaining table by wielding the threat of a strike but wouldn't necessarily trigger a work stoppage. Oakland city employees last walked off their jobs during a general strike in 1946.
The unions' contracts expire at the end of the month and relations with management have become increasingly strained.
With Oakland recovering from the 2008 financial collapse, city negotiators have proposed ending furloughs that cost many workers roughly 9 percent of their annual salaries in recent years. But the city is not offering raises and wants the workers to pay more toward rising health and pension costs.
The unions counter that the city is intentionally underestimating about $45 million in anticipated tax revenue over the next two years to make it appear that it needs further labor concessions and potential layoffs to balance its books and boost police staffing.
SEIU researcher David Kersten said city property tax revenue is growing at more than a 10 percent clip -- the same rate as during the height of last decade's housing boom. Yet, the city is projecting only a 4.5 percent increase in 2014-2015.
The union also says the city is underestimating growth in sales taxes and the tax on home sales.
"The city can have its police officers, invest in public services and protect our jobs, but instead they are playing shell games with the budget," said Dwight McElroy, a city worker and SEIU's chapter president. "We must take a stand. If that means going on strike, we will."
The labor dispute has become a key element of budget negotiations as the City Council hammers out a two-year spending plan that will take effect in July. Council members Desely Brooks, Larry Reid and Noel Gallo have called for civilian workers to get a 3 percent raise. Police and firefighter contracts don't expire this year.
City leaders have maintained that their revenue projections are prudent and that expenses are rising faster than revenues. Oakland will pay an additional $13.8 million next year to fund employee pensions, whose costs are rising as the state pension system factors in money lost during the last recession.
Union leaders say the city is demanding workers pay half of future pension increases and 10 percent of all health care costs.
The average SEIU worker at the city makes $52,645, although the total cost to taxpayers rises to $87,514 when pension and benefits are included, according to a city report. Local 21 members, who have management jobs, make an average of $80,780, but their total cost of employment comes to $133,825 when benefit and pension costs are included.
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