The City of Santa Barbara and the Service Employees International Union Local 620 General Unit are in the midst of a battle over a new contract.
The most recent contract between the two entities expired on March 30. Negotiations for a new contract began in January, but the two sides have been unable to reach a new deal that would affect several hundred city employees.
More than 100 members of the union attended Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting to call for higher wages and better treatment.
“For the past several months, I have been sitting across the table from this council’s representatives listening to excuse after excuse as to why the city is unwilling to support their frontline, essential workers,” said Laura Robinson, a field representative with SEIU Local 620.
The union says frontline workers represented by SEIU Local 620 demand cost-of-living increases to fight inflation and a history of inadequate cost-of-living pay adjustments. They noted that inflation is at 8.5%. Representatives also said that city services are suffering because of understaffing, inadequate wages and a high cost of living in Santa Barbara.
The specifics of the disputes, and the percentages and amounts that each side is offering, are not yet public because the state’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, allows elected officials to keep details of labor disputes private until there is final approval of a contract.
In general, the negotiations are over various elements of compensation, including salary and health benefits, along with other costs.
“While there continues to be a gap between what the city has offered and what SEIU has proposed, we are committed to being a good steward of public funds within the confines of the city’s current financial environment, while also recognizing the impact of nationwide economic factors such as inflation,” said Wendy Levy, human resources manager. “The City of Santa Barbara is committed to reaching an agreement with SEIU General Unit.
“We value, respect and appreciate all of our employees, including those represented and unrepresented by bargaining groups. The demonstration yesterday at City Hall is a protected activity and was done on our employees’ own time. We support all employees being able to voice their concerns to City Council on issues that are important to them.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse said the union was bringing their message to the public, “which is absolutely their right to do.”
“The public got to hear their points and arguments,” Rowse said. “I know many people out there can relate to the current economic situation.”
The SEIU Local 620 represents about 440 general employees, which includes public works. In May 2020, the city approved a 2.5% salary increase, retroactive to March 28, and an additional 2.5% salary increase for March 27, 2021.
Among the speakers Tuesday was Kathy Goo, who has worked for the Community Development Department for nearly 24 years.
“Your city staff deserves a fair contract,” Goo said. “The cost of living and medical costs have increased drastically, and many find their wages are not adequate.”
She said this is the first year ever that she has had to be placed on payment plans to pay her bills because her paychecks are inadequate.
“I often have to decide whether I can afford to eat, or pay my utility bills,” Goo said. “And I am one of the few lucky ones living in affordable downtown housing, yet I can barely afford to live in the city I serve.”
The Police Officers Association and Firefighters Association are also in contract negotiations with the city. Their contracts expire on June 30.
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.