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San José City Council Approves Agreements With Unions to Avoid Strike

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A sign on a building reading "San Jose City Hall."
City Hall in San José on Aug. 1, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

The San José City Council on Tuesday approved agreements with two unions representing nearly 4,500 city workers, averting a historic strike that threatened to disrupt basic city services.

The vote follows the announcement of a deal reached late Monday, hours before a scheduled work stoppage that would have been the city’s largest in more than 40 years — potentially shuttering libraries and community centers and also delaying permitting and inspections. The council’s approval came despite objections from Mayor Matt Mahan, who blasted the pact as irresponsible and predicted it would lead to painful budget cuts.

Union leaders cheered the deal, which will give employees an immediate 6% raise.

“Workers have power, our labor has power,” said Michael Jun, a development officer with the city’s Housing Department. “I’m really glad we came to an agreement and the city came back to the table and listened to our needs.”

The three-year contract also includes a 5% wage hike in the fiscal year beginning July 2024 and a pay increase of at least 3.5% in July 2025. The final year raise will increase to 4% if city budget analysts project a surplus of at least $10 million in 2025, according to a bulletin sent to union members and shared with KQED.


City workers represented by MEF-AFSCME Local 101 and IFPTE Local 21 will also receive eight weeks of paid family leave, up from one week, along with eight hours of new personal leave and a lump sum payment. Union leaders said they did not secure their desired outcome on callback pay — a bonus for extra work performed on short notice.

But the key sticking point throughout months of negotiations was wages. Workers represented by the unions maintained that wages in San José are not keeping pace with other municipalities, leading to employee turnover. Mahan argued that an overly generous wage offer would result in layoffs or service cuts down the road.

“Our unions did their job,” Mahan said. “But our council did not do its job. Our leaders were elected to represent the people, and the needs of the people took a back seat. The reality is, we are gambling with the services people rely on.”

Mahan supported a 5% raise in the current fiscal year and said the council must now amend the spending plan it passed in June to account for the new raises.

“The council will have to reopen the balanced budget that we just passed and find a few million dollars to cut,” said Mahan, who implied the raises could lead the city back into the kind of fiscal problems it experienced last decade.

“We have seen this movie before, so I am frustrated with where we are,” he said.

But Councilmember Pam Foley said she voted for the contract along with eight other council members in order to aid workers and avert a work stoppage, even if it means cuts down the road.

“It’s just really important that we have labor peace right now,” Foley said.

“We really depend on Public Works, Department of Transportation, Parks and Rec — all of those staff to help make life easier for residents,” Foley added. “If they’re not happy, it makes it very difficult for them to do their job and my staff to do their job to take care of our residents.”

More Around San José

It was Foley and Councilmember David Cohen who pushed for the council to return from summer recess on Aug. 1, a week earlier than scheduled, in an attempt to break the gridlock in negotiations. Last week, the unions announced that 99% of members had supported a strike vote, and the two sides returned to the bargaining table repeatedly in recent days as a potential strike drew near.

The deal falls roughly in between the two sides’ last public offer: The union previously asked for an 18% wage hike over three years, while the city had offered 12%.

A spokesman for MEF-AFSCME Local 101 said union members would vote on the contract beginning on Aug. 22. The council is expected to debate how to rebalance the current fiscal year budget in September.

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