In a surprise pushback against the city’s largest employee union, councilmen Eric Friedman and Michael Jordan on Tuesday voted against their pay increases for 2020 and 2021.
It wasn’t enough, however., as majority of the council voted 5-2 to approve the raises.
The votes by Friedman and Jordan turned heads because of both of them were endorsed by the Service Employees International Union Local 620 in their respective elections, and were backed by the Democratic Party, which typically has close ties to the union.
For Jordan and Friedman, however, the vote was not political — they said it was realistic, based on the times we are living in.
“In the general economic state that is going on right now, people losing their jobs, companies closing down, unemployment skyrocketing, I feel that it sends a wrong message to arbitrarily pull out discretionary pay increases at a time when they are brought out of the context of a citywide strategy,” Jordan said.
Jordan bathed the SEIU members in respect before his vote.
“There are incredible people working for the city, under incredible conditions,” Jordan said. “All of our employees have been working in situations that have required them to be frontline employees, under the threat of infection from the pandemic, under the threat of taking home an infection to their families.”
But the timing is not right for him to support pay increases, he said.
“It is a bit of an odd time for us to be voting on these items in light of the ongoing conversations we have been having from COVID-19,” Jordan said.
The salary agreements were reached prior to Gov. Gavin. Newsom’s stay-at-home order in March. The formal approval, however, did not make it to a City Council agenda until Tuesday.
The SEIU Local 620 represents about 440 general employees, which includes public works. Under the agreement, they would receive 2.5% salary increase, retroactive to March 28, and an additional 2.5% salary increase March 27, 2021.
The cost of the General Unit agreement in Fiscal Year 2019-20 is estimated to be $99,716 to the General Fund and $96,974 to the enterprise funds, for a total of $196,690 citywide.
The cost in Fiscal Year 2020-21 is estimated to be $1,073,097 to the General Fund, $1,038,041 to the enterprise funds, and $2,111,138 citywide.
The City Council also on Tuesday approved raises for the the Treatment and Patrol units, which encompass 128 budgeted positions, and consist of wastewater workers, airport and harbor patrol officers, airport operations staff, and park rangers.
According to that agreement, employees will receive a 2.5% salary increase, retroactive to March 28, and an additional 2.5% salary increase March 27, 2021.
The cost of the TAP agreement in Fiscal Year 2019-20 is estimated to be $5,827 to the General Fund and $224,487 to the enterprise funds, for a total of $230,314 citywide. The cost in Fiscal Year 2020-21 is estimated to be $18,043 to the General Fund, $811,028 to the enterprise funds, and $829,071 citywide if labor concessions are not reached.
Friedman also praised the work of the SEIU employees
He acknowledged that the agreements came before the stay-at-home order.
“The world has changed,” Friedman said.
Friedman said he hears every day about people who can’t pay their rents, businesses that will never re-open, and high-unemployment rates rivaling the Great Depression.
He said that as a councilman he needs consider everyone’s best interest, not just one particular bargaining unit.
“It is important to understand as we go into bargaining, that we don’t look at our own departments and our own units individually,” Friedman said. “We need to look at the city organization as a whole.”
Friedman said he understands that there might be an appearance of inequity.
“It’s not fair, the timing of this is not fair to SEIU, but it’s not fair the public either,” Friedman said.
Union members and the City Council said the approval of the raises should have been just a formality because the agreements were reached three months ago. The city’s other unions, including police and fire, already received similar pay increases earlier in the year.
Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said the approval was a matter of equity.
“The agreements we are voting on today are not new,” Harmon said. “It was a quirk of timing that we didn’t move forward to ratify them by now. It is more important than ever that our employees, and by extension our whole city, know that they can trust our word.”
Harmon said some of the SEIU members even volunteered to change the sheets at hotels that are currently housing homeless people.
“These are working folks, and they deserve our respect and our good faith engagement, and it is respect they have earned over the years, but especially during this pandemic,” she said.
Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon agreed that the city should honor the agreement it already reached.
“In fairness to our good-faith negotiations that we have gone through this entire process, to have one bargaining unit, whichever bargaining unit that is, to take the hit because of timing doesn’t seem fair,” Sneddon said.
Darryl Scheck, field representative for SEIU 620, said the union is mindful about the city’s economic problems.
“Equity is the primary reason we expect the council to complete the ratification process of the tentative agreements that exist between the city and the union,” Scheck said. “We believe the council should have an interest in ensuring that our members are treated just as fairly as other groups that have arrived at agreements recently with the city.
“We also believe that through fair treatment, our members are more likely to respond favorably in the near future in sharing hypothetical allocated sacrifices by all at the city.”
The city and its chief negotiator, assistant city administrator Pam Antil, will go back to the bargaining table with the unions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic next fiscal year.
The city has to make cuts or raise revenues to save $12.3 million this fiscal year and another $9.7 million next fiscal year. For now, each city department has been asked to cut its budget by 5%.