SEIU: City workers avert strike vote over contract negotiations

March 03, 2006
Santa Paula News

After several appearances before the City Council, SEIU Local 998 members were scheduled to take a strike vote on Thursday, but instead will be voting on a new contract proposal.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesAfter several appearances before the City Council, SEIU Local 998 members were scheduled to take a strike vote on Thursday, but instead will be voting on a new contract proposal. But a strike is still a possibility, according to the union negotiator.“After two contracts, members are still without any raises, major takeaways, and now an offer of 6 percent over two years,” noted Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios of Service Employees International United/AFL-CIO. “This has angered members, as well as the Santa Paula residents themselves.”A strike vote is normally the first step to workers actually walking out or failing to report to work. If city workers decide to actually strike, it would impact park, street and water maintenance and refuse collection as well as clerical services, among others.In recent months, SEIU members have taken their grievances directly to the City Council, noting that they have not received raises in several years, even as workloads became heavier. Danny Carrillo, the SEIU negotiator for the local union, said that negotiations have been ongoing since December.
At one point, “We thought we hit a roadblock, neither side was moving and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz got involved and, surprise, surprise, things starting moving.”Although a proposal was crafted – a two-year contract with a 3 percent worker raise each year - union members voted it down. But Wednesday, union and city representatives met again and seemed to move closer to an agreement, according to Carrillo.Many city SEIU members, longtime employees, feel “they are not being respected,” and their salary demands are secondary to raises for police, fire and management. “Our members deserve a fair shake also. Unit members have not had any wage increases for the last two contracts,” even as executive management had increases in benefits and wages.“We have another impasse meeting today,” said Bobkiewicz on Wednesday before the session. “Where that stands is that we do one of two things: decide to get a mediator or go directly to the Council with the proposal.” Continued discussion is a “good thing,” added Bobkiewicz, and “we appreciate their willingness to talk,” but the issue must be settled.Carrillo said that the city has told SEIU members, who received an approximately $200 a month boost in their health insurance cafeteria plan last year, that “there is no more money, but we hear otherwise,” including funds held for unfilled positions that could be used for salary increases. “That money could go” to the approximately 45 SEIU members, noted Carrillo. “They’re tired of always getting the short end of the stick.”



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