SANTA CRUZ — After months of failed contract negotiations between the city of Santa Cruz and city service workers with SEIU Local 521 workers will begin an unfair labor practices strike Monday. Those planning to strike next week include workers from maintenance, sanitation, public safety, library, parks and water departments, among others.
“We have people that are homeless working for the city of Santa Cruz,” said SEIU Local 521 Santa Cruz Chapter President Ken Bare. “I live here in Santa Cruz and so does most of my family and it’s a shame that the citizens are going to suffer, but it’s the citizens that need to tell the City Council that it needs to treat its employees properly.”
The strike is scheduled begin at 7 a.m. Monday, and Santa Cruz residents should expect delays or pauses in city services after that time, but those such as police, fire services, water and wastewater will still be available, according to the city. The unfair labor practice strike is a legally protected activity and workers cannot be fired or replaced for participating. The strike comes after the union rejected the city’s offer of a three-year 12% compensation increase.
“It’s unfortunate that it has reached this point,” said Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker. “But we are striving to meet the needs of our employees while also being fiscally responsible.”
Workers with SEIU Local 521, are frustrated with the city’s inability to recruit and retain employees to reach adequate staffing levels, treatment of its workers, and the attempts to compare cost-of-living adjustment proposals accepted by city executives to the salaries of front-line service workers, according to union organizers.
“The revolving door and our inability to retain workers is clearly not a priority for city executives who just received significant wage increases,” said Juan Molina, SEIU Local 521 Santa Cruz Chapter vice president. “Residents aren’t getting the services they pay for because we are short-staffed, and that’s because we are underpaid compared to other cities.”
Bare told the Sentinel that the union is willing to continue negotiations for a fair deal, but the city told the union to “kick rocks.” In response to the union’s strike announcement, the city filed a complaint against the union with the Public Employees Relations Board claiming an unlawful strike and bad faith bargaining. The union has 20 days to respond to the complaint dated Sept. 29.
“Santa Cruz residents are facing a strike because the City Council has enabled management to engage in unfair labor practices while trying to force its lowest paid to accept raises far below what it has offered top executives,” said Bare. “The city just gave its executives year one raises averaging over $4.30 per hour at the same time that they are trying to force over 100 of our front line service workers to accept less than a dollar per hour.”
Service Employees International Union Local 521 represents more than 50,000 public, nonprofit and private-sector workers in California.
For information about service disruptions, visit cityofsantacruz.com/serviceimpacts.