HAYWARD -- Workers embroiled in a labor dispute with Hayward revved up their campaign this week, putting up on the busy downtown traffic loop a billboard accusing council members of giving themselves a raise while cutting employees' wages, an assertion the city calls false.
"The notion that council members are getting a raise is ludicrous," said Nina Morris Collins, the city's human resources acting director.
What the union is calling a raise for council members is, the city says, actually an increase in what Hayward must pay for benefits for all its employees, including union members. City Council members' pay has actually declined slightly.
Council members' base pay fell by about $260 to $24,960 a year since 2009, according to city records. But with health benefits and pensions, their compensation ranges from approximately $25,000 to $45,000 a year. Mayors make more.
"It's not like these groups are getting better health plans or a richer retirement package. It's just getting more expensive every year; that's the problem," Collins said.
After lengthy contract talks came to an impasse, the City Council in February unilaterally cut city clerical workers' pay by almost $400 a month and maintenance workers' wages by about $325 a month.
Citing escalating health and pension benefit costs, the council sought 17 percent cuts in total compensation for all its workers. Some unions have agreed to the reductions, and others are in negotiation.
After bargaining with Service Employees International Employees Local 1021 broke down, the city rejected a fact-finder's recommendation for gradual 4 percent raises, saying the report's conclusions did not address long-term liabilities and increased retiree health benefit and pension costs.
Since the council has imposed terms, some workers are in danger of losing their homes, a maintenance worker and union officer said. With the imposed cuts, average total compensation for a full-time SEIU worker is $80,906, according to the union. That includes medical and pension benefits.
"How do you tell your kid he can't play Little League?" asked Gil Hesia. "It's really tough to explain to your lowest paid employees that you're going to cut everyone the same when it's not the same. It hits us harder."
The pay cut also has hurt morale, said a library assistant.
"I've lost $160 per paycheck. It makes us feel we're not appreciated and our work is not valued," said Linda Masuko. "The council says they've taken cuts, too, but it doesn't affect them as much, because they have other income."
SEIU Local 1021's Hayward chapter represents almost 300 librarian assistants, water sanitation and treatment workers, street maintenance crews, crime scene technicians, 911 dispatchers and administrative staffers. They already had taken a 12 percent reduction in total benefits, and the city had sought an additional 5 percent.
"We stepped up. We did three years of furloughs, we took pay cuts," Hesia said. "How much more can you ask?"
The two sides have restarted negotiations.
"We're approaching the negotiations with a clean slate," said Kelly McAdoo, assistant city manager. She said the city is willing to consider different ways to meet the 17 percent goal, such as workers paying more of their dental and vision premiums or choosing a medical plan that requires higher out-of-pocket payments.
"But the council has been clear that the city needs to address its unfunded liabilities," she said.
Hesia said the city has not been willing to negotiate.
"You gave us 12 percent, now we want another 5 percent: That's their position, period," he said. "That's not fair bargaining, that's giving an ultimatum."
About 50 workers and union representatives rallied Thursday afternoon underneath the billboard on Foothill Boulevard at C Street and then handed out leaflets throughout downtown.
The leaflets erroneously say that City Council members do not pay anything toward their pensions. Council members have been contributing 8 percent to their pensions for about 20 years.
The billboard and leaflets are "both disappointing and extremely frustrating," McAdoo said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.