More than 300 workers for the City of Santa Cruz on Monday morning amassed in front of City Hall, the Santa Cruz Wharf, the wastewater treatment facility and the Corporation Yard, marking the first time in the city’s history its workers have gone on strike.
The unfair-labor-practices strike means that garbage will not be collected in the city. Parking services are stalled and the landfill and city recycling centers are closed. Additionally, all libraries are shuttered except for the Capitola and Scotts Valley branches. Most city services were closed Monday, as were many city parks. Essential services such as police, fire, water and sewer continue.
Contract negotiations have been ongoing since early this year.
Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker said on Monday that the City and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 had agreed to use a state mediator, and a meeting was scheduled for later in the day.
“The City is eager to continue working towards an agreement as soon as possible,” he said.
The workers—represented by SEIU—on Oct. 4 rejected the City’s offer last week of a 12% raise over three years and a one-time $1,100 payment, saying it did not address the rising cost of living.
“We’re asking for fairness, that’s all,” said parking services worker Gabriella Salinas-Holz. “For them to deal with us fairly.”
The union says that the proposed level of pay does not attract new employees, or retain current ones, meaning the offer would not improve numerous vacancies or unsafe working conditions.
No union members would say what specific amount they would consider a fair offer from the city.
Jonna Hubling, who works in parking services, accused the city of a hardline approach during contract talks.
“They don’t negotiate,” she said. “They pay for high-priced lawyers to come in and say, ‘This is it.’”
The workers also accuse the city of union-busting, saying that they were not allowed to wear pro-union clothes or put informational signs in their work areas.
Huffaker said that is not true.
“The city respects the union’s right to self-expression, including their right to strike,” he said in a prepared statement.
The city allows employees to post union signs in their workplace as well as on their uniforms, Huffaker added, although posting of any non-city signage on vehicles is prohibited.