Gilroy public employees union threatens strike

City of Gilroy

GILROY—After six months of negotiations with the city, a labor union representing about 100 public employees in Gilroy has threatened to strike for two days in November, according to interim City Administrator Ed Tewes.
City officials announced Friday that the AFSCME Local 101, representing water utility workers, building inspectors, streets and parks crews, police dispatchers, recreation employees and office workers with citizen contact, rejected the city’s “last, best and final offer” of a 2-percent base salary increase and another 2-percent increase on July 1, 2016. The union also rejected the city’s offer of mediation by a neutral third party, Tewes said.
AFSCME is seeking a 4-percent base salary increase each year for the next three years.
The city and its legal counsel have declared an impasse as a result, Tewes added.
Charles Sakai, a San Francisco-based attorney representing the city, formally declared the impasse in an Oct. 5 letter to AFSCME leadership.
The city’s final offer also includes a 5-percent increase in its share of employee medical and dental coverage costs, according to LeeAnn McPhillips, the city’s human resources director.
Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject the city’s final offer Oct. 20 and in a separate vote authorized a strike, according to Tewes.
McPhillips said union members argued they are “significantly undercompensated compared to their counterparts in other cities.” Following up on that concern, she said the city compared the union’s salaries with 10 other local government agencies in the region and determined the city’s compensation package “is competitive and in market.”
AFSCME Local 101 business agent John Tucker called the offer “inequitable” in a Wednesday letter to city officials confirming the vote to strike. He said less than 8 percent of union membership voted to accept the city’s final offer, with 94 percent of members voting.
“Our requests have been more than reasonable,” Tucker said, adding that the union asked the city for a comprehensive salary and staffing study to determine how Gilroy’s compensation compares to others in the market beyond the prior regional survey. Current management salaries are already above the market average, Tucker added, and are not equitable compared with those of front-line employees.
The city declined to conduct the study, arguing there is not sufficient evidence Gilroy is lagging behind when it comes to wages.
Sakai stated, on behalf of the city, the 4-percent annual increases are not consistent with salary increases negotiated among the city’s other labor groups. A 2-percent base salary increase was given to all other city employees earlier this year, including police, fire and members of the Gilroy Management Association.
Sakai told AFSCME leadership that their unwillingness to modify their wage proposal led to the impasse. “It should come as no surprise that your proposal remains unacceptable to the city,” Sakai wrote in the Oct. 5 letter.
AFSCME leadership notified the city on Thursday its employees intend to strike on Nov. 9 and 10, according to McPhillips. She said all parties plan to meet Tuesday to discuss “essential employees who are not able to strike.”
“It is disappointing that the union has decided to abandon negotiations, and to reject the city’s offer to mediate, and to jump to a threat to withhold service to the community,” Tewes said, stressing the city’s offer is “reasonable and fair to employees and taxpayers alike.”
“They want 12.5 percent compounded over the next three years. We’re just not going to do it,” Mayor Don Gage said Friday. “We’ve got to stay within our budget. If we gave them what they’re asking for, we’d have to lay people off or cut some sorts of services.”
Gage said a two-day strike will not significantly impact city operations. He said city officials have asked AFSCME leadership for a list of employees who intend on striking and are preparing to keep services in operation, regardless.
“We’ve already got our strike plans in order and two days is nothing,” Gage said. “The managers can certainly fill in [for those on strike] and move people around in positions, so we’re not too concerned.”
The strike will begin at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 9 and continue through 11:59 p.m. Nov. 10, according to AFSCME’s Tucker. He told city officials he’d notify them if further strikes would be necessary.
“Year after year, we have been asked to do more work, with less money and less staff,” he said in an Oct. 20 letter to the city protesting its final offer and declining its offer for mediation. “Our members care about the work they perform and the services they provide to the citizens of Gilroy.”
The city’s negotiations with AFSCME began informally in April, but failed to yield an agreement, McPhillips said. Formal negotiations began in June before breaking down this month.
Tewes said he’s hopeful the union and the city can work out a solution.
“There are responsible options still available that would avoid a strike, that will adversely impact the community and harm the ongoing relationship with our employees,” he said.
Gage was less optimistic, however, saying he doesn’t believe the issues will be hammered out by Nov. 9. The informal negotiation process has served the city and its labor groups well over the last few years and has not led to service disruptions or strikes, he said.
“To me, it would be a disservice to give them more because they’ve been getting regular raises like everybody else. And they’re being paid above average,” Gage added. “I think the public would be very disappointed in the city [if we approved this]. We don’t have money to waste.”