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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Union Bashing At City Hall

Shades Of Wisconsin
City Hall's Madison Moment

Tuesday night, Emeryville's lowest paid public union members descended on the council chambers, agitated after receiving notice from City Hall that they will have their pay cut, again.  The workers have  partaken in 19 good faith bargaining sessions with the city that have not produced a contract.  Some 42 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) city workers, laboring without a contract since June, let the city council know they're tired of being treated like a doormat Tuesday night.

Many city workers already do not make enough money to live on but the city is asking them to take another pay cut.  The city for its part asserts that Emeryville is facing "long and short term economic uncertainty" and the SEIU workers should bear the shared sacrifice and accept their pay cuts. The union contends that talk of shared sacrifice is unconnected to reality since it is only the SEIU workers that are really being forced to sacrifice.

Pay Day at Emeryville City Hall for SEIU workers.
Stephen Cutty, the field representative for SEIU noted the lack of symmetry in regards to the cost of living adjustments for three of Emeryville's public unions, "From 2006 to 2012 with a one year extension, the firefighters got a 26% adjustment and the police got 18% while SEIU only got 1.7%"  Mr Cutty told the Tattler that SEIU employees are already the lowest paid in the city, "The lowest paid SEIU employees get only $1800 a month while the lowest paid fire fighters and cops get $7,400" he said.  "Average SEIU salary is only about $4000 per month", he added.

Union representatives noted Emeryville's rainy day fund known as the 'Uncertainty Fund' is now more than 250% of what the Government Finance Officers Association's best practices recommends.  Workers contend these are the very uncertain times the fund is meant to ameliorate.  Further, they maintain Emeryville has a record of overestimating expenses and underestimating revenue to the tune of an average of $3.4 million per year.  The workers say if less than 10% of these excess funds were applied, it would be enough to cover all the cuts to the employees wages and mitigate the inevitable fractured services the city will experience with the cuts.

More than one worker Tuesday night noted the parallels between the language of Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker and the management at City Hall, raising the idea that perhaps it's not the interests and values of Emeryville's residents that's really being addressed by the management, but rather some other ideological agenda that's operative here.  Union representative Stephen Cutty said he thought Emeryville's recalcitrance to decently pay the SEIU workers can be traced to 1968 Memphis and the infamous garbage workers strike lead by Martin Luther King.  "The garbage workers there were also the lowest paid in the city", Mr Cutty said,  "It's sad that we're still fighting the same fight today". 


  1. Funny when our city manager and city attorney are busy writing huge contracts and benefits for themselves. This is a sad state of affairs, first we push poor working residents out of the city and now we are pushing poor workers to the brink. Sounds like some type of soc-economic cleansing going on.
    It's enough to make you wonder about this city's ideological stance. Change the city council in November and you can change the city management shortly thereafter.

  2. As a former member of SEIU Local 1021, I can say that sometimes the timing of your contract expiration really sucks. If the Police or Fire Union's contract was expiring right now you can bet that they City would negotiate for concessions and lower wages. Unfortunately, the other unions aren't up for a new contract, SEIU is.

    That said, this isn't a negotiation between good and evil--it is a negotiation between competing interests. I never faulted the City for their position in our negotiations. It is the City's responsibility to get the best deal it can and it is Labor's responsibility to get the best deal it can. In my experience, the union always wanted to sensationalize the negotiations, but if you are really going to get anywhere you have to understand and respect your opponent. The Wisconsin and Memphis analogies are neither accurate nor constructive to a mutually acceptable resolution.

  3. Competing interests to be sure, however the city, being an entity that represents ALL of the resident's interests including the non-monetary intangibles, has an extra burden to make sure our values aren't subverted. Unlike a corporation or even any individual, the idea of a city isn't to maximize the bank account. This union has stated that the bargaining done by the management at City Hall isn't representative of the people's values and they make a compelling and newsworthy point. At least, the people should know what's being done in their name.

  4. Just another example of those grubby grabby low skilled union workers picking the pockets of us
    right thinking conservative blowhards. If they don't like the pitiable bones we throw them, why don't they move to some Communist country where they'd be more welcome? Us complacent bigots have had enough, and we're not taking it anymore!