Our City’s facilities, shores, parks and lands are overburdened and understaffed while at the mercy of our elected officials, who are failing to implement what is needed to keep public spaces functioning: livable wages and safety for the Santa Cruz City workforce.
According to a 2022 compensation study commissioned by management, the City pays its SEIU-521-represented workers more than 15% below the median wage of comparable public employers.
Accounting for total compensation, we receive nearly 9% less than we would by simply working elsewhere.
In this economic environment, many of our co-workers are succumbing to predatory lending, maxing out credit cards, taking on second jobs, living on the streets, in their cars, or wiping out their savings to be able to provide for themselves and their families.
We often find ourselves in situations where basic resources to maintain public facilities are unavailable or unreasonably denied by management. Our safety exposure isn’t limited to refuse, wastewater, bacteria, blood-borne pathogens or needles and human waste discovered during routine cleaning.
Our coworkers who service public spaces in disrepair are also subject to physical, mental and emotional assault while on the job. Even while underpaying and under-protecting its workforce, City management maintains the highest surplus in its general fund balance for at least a decade.
Much of this large surplus in the general fund was created on the backs of City workers. On paper it is clear the furlough we endured during the pandemic accounts for a significant portion of unprecedented funds available. Strikingly, our staff retention crisis—caused in large part by inadequate compensation and safety protections—could be fixed if the City chose to invest in its workforce. However, Santa Cruz is a de facto training ground for workers who leave for better-paying jobs once their training is complete. Retaining good workers is more efficient and far cheaper than hiring and training new workers every year.
Management fails to understand or care about the impact of low wages and inadequate safety on our ability to keep Santa Cruz running, and their behavior in our contract negotiations are arguably worse. First, management claimed there was “no money in [their] budget,” then they began utilizing every tool available to disempower us: canceling bargaining sessions, submitting incomplete proposals and showing up late or unprepared. Negotiations are now at a standstill.
The decisions by the City don’t only impact us as workers, but the public who fund our positions. We take offense to the management’s behavior, which forced many of us to make major life sacrifices including living on the fringes of Santa Cruz society.
Every member of the public that needs our services deserves the best that we bring to the table. We ask the City to do the same.
SEIU 521 City of Santa Cruz Bargaining Team
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