Thousands of Oakland City Union Workers Strike Against Unfair Labor Practices
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Thousands of Oakland City Union Workers Strike Against Unfair Labor Practices

SEIU Local 1021 Chief Negotiator Rob Szykowny discusses the recent strike and negotiations with the city of Oakland, California

By Michael Sainato

December 6, 2017


Over 2,000 city employees represented by SEIU Local 1021 and 1,000 workers represented by

IFPTE Local 21 staged a one-day strike in the city of Oakland, California on December 5, shutting

down street cleaning, library, other public services except police and fire services for the day in the

midst of seven month long contract negotiations.


The dispute between the unions and the city have continued through the unions’ contract expiration

in July 2017. The main point of contention in new contract negotiations revolve around salary increases

for employees. A 4 percent increase in salary has been agreed upon for the first year of the contract,

but the city is refusing to commit to another 4 percent increase in the second year. Instead, they

proposed a 2 percent increase if certain requirements tied to the city’s revenue growth are met. The

unions are arguing for salary increases that compete with the rising cost of living in Oakland, which has

increased substantially over the past few years. Median home values have increased 70 percent since

2012, and the median cost of rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2025, the seventh most expensive

rental market in the United States. Labor unions have also criticized the city’s practice of relying on

part-time and temporary workers over permanent employees for a significant percentage of staff.


In a statement, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff denounced the strike: “The union’s decision to strike

Tuesday will impact all Oakland residents, and particularly the most vulnerable populations — our

families who use libraries, our elders who rely on senior centers, our youth who play at rec centers,

and our working mothers and youngest learners who rely on Head Start programs,” Schaff said.

“We are disappointed the union leadership decided to strike, because we are not at an impasse.

We view this strike as unlawful and will file an unfair labor practice charge.”


SEIU Local 1021 Chief Negotiator Rob Szykowny disagrees. “The mayor's statement about the strike

illegality is factually incorrect. This is a protected unfair labor practice strike and the mayor simply has

no familiarity with labor law, it appears,” he told the Real News Network in an interview.


Szykowny explained that the unions gave the City of Oakland two choices to avoid a strike on December

4. “The first was to accept the one-year offer and we would be working today. The other way is we said,

’Just come in today and sit with us in a room with former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and let's

just informally talk about the dispute.’ We said that would keep us on the job today. They rejected both

those offers from us.”


During the bargaining period between the city and the local unions, Szykowny noted that several unfair

labor practices were committed by the city over the course of their negotiations, including the use of

temporary and part-time workers and underpaying workers.


“Unfortunately, because of the city's unfair labor practices, we now have no choice but to go on strike to

protest those unfair labor practices,” he said. In November 2017, the SEIU local 1021 filed unfair labor

practice charges against the city for allegedly changing the conditions of employment and not negotiating

with the union in good faith. Last week, the union filed another claim against the city for its use of temporary

workers.

Strikes will continue until city officials return to the bargaining table, but no new negotiations have been

scheduled so far. The strike has continued a second day into Wednesday. The Oakland City Council is

scheduled to conduct a closed session meeting on December 6 to review how to end the strike.

                                              

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