A large majority of Santa Cruz city workers have authorized a strike, claiming the 3.5% increase offered in the most recent round of negotiations is not enough to make a living in the county, where the cost of rent has been reported as the second highest in the nation.
SEIU Local 521 Vice President Juan Molina said that 95% of workers authorized the strike, a majority he said will send a clear message to city officials that, while not yet an official strike, one is imminent unless union demands are met.
“…This city doesn’t run by itself,” he said. “If all of these workers were suddenly gone tomorrow, what would happen? Our water wouldn’t be clean, our streets would be filled with trash, and we wouldn’t have safe streets to walk on.”
More than 40 people attended the conference, a group that included city workers and public officials.
“To be clear, we do not want to strike,” said parking facilities technician Gabriella Salinas-Holtz. “But the city’s unfair labor practices and illegal tactics have forced us to prepare for a work stoppage to secure the investments needed to provide safe services for the community.”
During their last bargaining session, union members asked for a 7.5% pay increase, a $4,000 one-time pandemic payment, and an additional 2.5% pension costs, which City Manager Matt Huffaker said is impossible. Negotiations are still ongoing, he said, adding that the City is hoping to schedule another meeting as soon as this week.
“I understand our SEIU members would like to see more offered at the negotiating table, but we have to balance meeting their demands with the city’s available resources in the short and long term,” he stated in an email. “With that said, we are eager to return to the negotiating table and work collaboratively to reach a fair agreement.”
Senior Planner Catherine Donovan pointed out that city workers continued to work, despite the dangers of Covid and agreed to a pay reduction to help the city weather the storm.
“During the pandemic, city workers took a furlough to keep the city afloat,” Donovan said. “We worked hard, some of us from home but many in the trenches exposed to the dangers of Covid.”
David Tannaci, who works for the water department, described the praise from City officials for their tenacity during the pandemic as “empty praise.”
“At this critical moment, our elected city council and management have the opportunity to set themselves apart, show their prowess as leaders to resolve the revolving door of staffing,” he said.
After the brief press conference, some workers attended the 12:30pm meeting of the Santa Cruz City Council, where they stated their demands before the members went into closed session.
“Every single City Council member is going to have to make a decision before they go into closed session today,” said SEIU Chief Elected Officer Riko Méndez.
However, open meeting laws typically prohibit elected officials from discussing issues not previously placed on the agenda. But the council can bring the issue back at a future meeting.