OAKLAND -- They didn't snarl traffic or bring commuters to their knees, but Oakland municipal workers walked off their jobs for the first time in more than a half century Monday and threatened to do it again if the city doesn't sweeten its contract offer.
Hundreds of blue-collar workers and desk jockeys, whose contracts expired Sunday, manned picket lines outside City Hall, public works yards and the main library, all of which were closed to the public.
Police officers and firefighters stayed on the job, and top city managers worked out of a police building, but nearly all city services were unavailable. A lone parking attendant crossed the picket line and doled out tickets, even after city pronouncements that parking enforcement would be suspended.
At the heart of the dispute is the city's demand for a fresh round of concessions from workers whose jobs don't involve public safety. Those workers want concessions of their own after five years and tens of millions in givebacks that helped the city stay solvent during the financial crisis.
The city said it gave considerable ground Friday in a proposal that included 3.5 percent raises over two years. But workers, who are demanding raises between 10 and 13 percent, said management still was demanding that they pay more toward their pensions and begin paying for health benefits. Those concessions, they said, would result in reduced take-home pay for people already struggling to support themselves.
Librarian Amy Sonnie said she moonlights as an apartment manager and a freelance editor to help pay off her student loans.
"Anytime there has been a (forced) furlough day, I'm like, 'Who needs an editor,'" she said.
Councilmembers Larry Reid, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks pledged support for the estimated 3,500 striking workers at a noontime rally. Brooks told striking workers that the city was acting like "a big bank -- the type that made all that money off your backs."
Oakland's coffers are being filled with tax proceeds from a soaring real estate market. But city leaders have cautioned that rising employee health and pension expenses will cost Oakland $11 million this year and considerably more in future years. The city has sought to make unions pay half of the anticipated pension increases.
City negotiators also have proposed making workers begin paying toward their health coverage, although union members said the latest offer lowered the requirement to $100 per month. Workers said the offer also included a provision to permanently shut down City Hall between Christmas and New Year's Day and make employees use their vacation days if they wanted to get paid during that period.
Mayor Jean Quan did not attend the noontime rally, instead issuing a statement that the city was looking for a deal that respected workers while safeguarding the city's fiscal health. "A stable financial outlook will enable the city to provide employees with predictable compensation and benefits and provide the community with predictable service levels over the long term, avoiding future layoffs," the statement said.
Quan, who has traditionally enjoyed support from the civilian unions that organized the strike, has come under fire for not pressing city negotiators to make progress at the bargaining table.
"I think the mayor has basically done nothing," said Darryl McElroy, a union printer. "The workers supported her; why isn't she supporting the workers?"
Several people were turned away at city buildings Monday morning. Jessica Zapruder walked two miles with her young sons to the library only to be told of the strike. She said she supported the labor action but said the library's voice mail mentioned nothing about it. "I'm angry about that," she said.
Otherwise, it appears the big losers were people who didn't feed meters under the city's direction only to find that one parking attendant had decided to cross the picket line. The attendant wouldn't give his name to a reporter but said he opposed the strike.
The city can't stop workers from crossing the picket line. City officials would not say Monday whether the tickets would be nullified.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.