Public employee strike averted

City of Gilroy

GILROY—A public employee union in Gilroy and city officials have reached a tentative agreement to avert a two-day strike the labor group planned for later this month, city officials announced Tuesday.
AFSCME Local 101, which represents 100 water maintenance workers, streets and parks crews, police dispatchers, building inspectors, recreation employees and office workers with direct citizen contact, will not be striking Nov. 9 and 10 in Gilroy as initially planned.
Under the tentative agreement reached Monday night during closed session negotiations, the city will give AFSCME Local 101 employees a 2-percent base salary increase this month, and another 2-percent salary increase in July 2016, according to city human resources director LeeAnn McPhillips.
Before negotiations broke down Oct. 5 with the city’s declaration of an impasse, the union requested a 4-percent salary increase for all its employees each year over the next three years.
“We could never have done that,” Woodward told the Dispatch, of the compounded 12.5-percent overall salary increase. “It’s a good thing to avert a strike and it’s a good thing that calmer heads ultimately prevailed.”
The tentative salary increases negotiated Monday night—which are slated for consideration by the city council Nov. 16—are closer in line to those worked out with 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.
Interim city administrator Ed Tewes called the tentative deal “a reasonable and responsible compromise.” The tentative agreement itself will be posted to the city’s website by Friday.
In addition to the pay increase, the city also agreed to conduct a comprehensive study next fall comparing job classifications and compensation in Gilroy with those of other cities—something the labor group requested throughout the last six months of negotiations.
AFSCME Local 101 business agent John Tucker said in an interview with the Dispatch the survey will show “a number of front-line employees are significantly under market.” He said Gilroy’s wages for employees in the union vary between 5 and 15 percent below the market average.
Prior to the impasse, city officials countered that Gilroy’s compensation package is competitive and in market.
“We’re not trying to get back up to market average overnight,” Tucker said. “We realize it could take some time but we just want the acknowledgment we’re below.”
While the city agreed to conduct the salary study, McPhillips said Tuesday the city is under no obligation to do anything with the data other than share it with the union.
“There is no commitment on the part of the city [based on the tentative agreement] to do anything with that informational report. That would potentially be discussed in future negotiations, but at this point we’re just agreeing to gather the information and share it with both sides,” McPhillips said.
Had the city acceded to the union’s demands, Woodward said he can imagine the “legitimate outrage others in the city would have felt if we had done something different for AFSCME after everybody else already informally accepted a 2-percent raise.”
“We’ve had seven years of balanced budgets and we just couldn’t do that,” Woodward stressed.
Tewes said he was pleased to see the threat of a strike fall by the wayside.
“In the end, we found that our positions were not that far apart,” he said.
Since emerging from the Great Recession, when Gilroy laid staff off in order to balance its budget, Woodward said Gilroy’s informal negotiations process has served the city and its labor groups well.
He pointed out that every other bargaining unit accepted the city’s offer of a 2-percent salary increase—without resorting to the hiring of a negotiator or outside attorney. Negotiations between city officials and AFSCME Local 101 representatives began in April.
“Every single labor group has been able to get to a resolution without a formal process, just sitting down and talking it out,” he said. “AFSCME was the only exception.”
An AFSCME Local 101 representative said Tuesday its members are relieved the city and its employees were able to come to an agreement. The decision “both addresses our members’ concerns and keeps city services running,” union president Randy Carpenter said in an emailed statement.
“We look forward to continuing to serve this community, ensuring that the city of Gilroy is safe, clean, prosperous and one of the best places in the state to work and live,” he added.
“In the end, we found that our positions were not that far apart.”
— Ed Tewes, interim city administrator

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