SAN LEANDRO -- In its last action before a new mayor and council member took oaths of office, the City Council approved two-year contracts for city employees at a standing-room-only Monday night meeting.
Public speakers were divided on whether the council should approve the contracts, which were finalized at a closed session last week, or wait until incoming Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilwoman Pauline Cutter were seated and could join the discussion on the subject.
Those urging the council to approve the contracts were city employees and labor representatives, while those on the other side were aligned with Cassidy, who included pension reform as a major part of his campaign to get elected.
"This (approving the contracts) goes against the wishes of the people of San Leandro who elected the new mayor for issues including pensions," said businessman Tim Holmes, who ran Cassidy's campaign. "It's in contradiction with the sworn mission of this governing body."
Cassidy said fiscal uncertainties in both the city and state budget makes it ill-advised to approve a contract at this time.
"We have had to make sacrifices, and we're not in a position of fiscal health where we get to end those sacrifices that we need to make," he said, adding that the work of city staff is appreciated -- there were many in attendance -- and that "in an ideal world, there would be no furloughs and we would all get big raises."
The contracts are very similar to those previously approved, with the main difference allowing for six furlough days instead of the 12 that were imposed this year. Wages remain the same, and employees and the city previously agreed to split increases in medical and dental insurance premiums.
Five of the council members approved the contracts, with Bill Stephens and Ursula Reed abstaining. Both said that while they saw nothing wrong with the process that generated the contracts, they would not be averse to waiting until the Cassidy and Cutter were on board to offer their opinions.
City Attorney Jayne Williams said it could create a legal issue if the new council wanted to revisit the provisions made through collective bargaining with unions.
"The City Council action is part of the negotiation process," she said. "To do something else at this time could expose the city to some risk."
Councilman Jim Prola agreed and moved to approve the contracts.
"It's our legal responsibility to bargain in good faith," he said.
"If we go back now, that would be regressive bargaining and possibly illegal, and if there were a lawsuit, I think the employees would win."