Lookout Update: 95% of city workers’ SEIU voting members reject contract offer, authorize strike

SEIU SantaChief Elected Officer Riko Mendez speaks at the union's press conference on Tuesday morning.
SEIU Santa Cruz chapter chief elected officer Riko Mendez speaks at the union’s news conference Tuesday morning.
(Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Contract talks between the City of Santa Cruz and its workers represented by SEIU haven’t budged. That has resulted in 95% of the union’s voting members rejecting the city’s last, best and final offer, and authorizing the bargaining team to prepare for an unfair labor practice strike. The union announced the vote results at a news conference outside Santa Cruz City Hall on Tuesday morning.

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Santa Cruz city worker contract negotiations sig

After several days of voting on what the City of Santa Cruz has called its last, best and final contract offer, Service Employees International Union Local 521 (SEIU 521) — which represents about 600 of the city’s workers — announced that 95% of its voting members voted to reject the offer and authorize its bargaining team to prepare for an unfair labor practice strike.

About 50 union members, supporters and local activists and politicians attended a Tuesday morning news conference outside city hall. Notable attendees include veteran politico and mayoral hopeful Fred Keeley, Monterey Bay Central Labor Council executive director Cesar Lara, City Councilmember Sandy Brown, and Santa Cruz City Council District 4 candidate Hector Marin.

The union’s bargaining team will continue to negotiate with the city. The union planned to address the Santa Cruz City Council during its Tuesday meeting.

The two sides appear a distance apart on the numbers.

The current offer includes a 3.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA), a one-time payment of $1,500 and raising all salaries above the living wage, according to the city’s human resources director, Lisa Murphy. It is the same proposal from June, and would cost the city an estimated additional $670,000 from the general fund.

SEIU’s most recent proposal included requests for a 7.5% COLA, a $4,000 one-time payment, and for the city to pick up an additional 2.5% of the cost of member pensions.

The city estimates that SEIU’s proposal would cost $1,988,200.

Santa Cruz SEIU chapter president and bargaining team member Ken Bare said the workers do not want to have to strike, but it might be the best tool they have.

“We really need to progress,” he told Lookout on Tuesday. “If things keep going the way they’ve been going, it will go on for months.”

Bare added that it’s hard to say when a strike might officially begin, but that the ball is in the city’s court.

“It’s super dependent on the city at this point,” he said. “Think of it like two parallel lanes; the city is in one, and we’re in the other. If they don’t cross, then we need to take action.”

“There continues to be a great exodus of workers due to the city’s insistence on a last, best contract offer that will leave the workers behind,” Santa Cruz SEIU chapter vice president Juan Molina said at the conference. “It’s a recipe for making the turnover and short-staffing crisis in the city even worse.”

Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker said the negotiations are a balancing act.

“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 said. “That said, we are eager to return to the negotiating table and work collaboratively to reach a fair agreement.”

Huffaker added that he remains optimistic, and that another meeting could be scheduled as soon as this week.

“Negotiations are still underway until an impasse is officially declared,” he said. “I have tremendous respect and appreciation for our employees, and I remain hopeful that we will reach an agreement in the near future.”

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