By Ken A. Epstein
SEIU 1021, which represents 1,500 city workers, along with other unions that represent Oakland employees, held a rally at city hall and packed Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to make sure they were seen and heard.
After more years of cuts to their salaries and benefits, the economy is turning around, and they want to make sure Oakland officials recognize their suffering and that they need a wage increase.
The city has more money, according to the workers, but public officials, in a rush to spend millions of dollars on public safety, have forgotten the workers who make sure streets, neighborhoods and parks are clean, well lit and maintained.
“The city needs better policing, not just more police officers,” said Dwight McElroy, a Department of Public Works employee and Oakland chapter president of SEIU 1021.
“The city needs to reinvest in city programs and services that have been lost due to major cutbacks and job losses,” he said.
According to union estimates, city employees have given back 25 percent of their income since 2008, saving the city $30 million. The city has also laid off 20 percent or about 800 of its workers.
As a result of work furloughs and concessions, workers have lost homes and have had to seek second and third jobs in order to survive, said McElroy.
“All of us have suffered in the city’s economic crisis. Many of us have lost our jobs. Many of us have lost our homes. Many of us have lost our savings – all of us are financially crippled,” said Shirnell Smith, employee at Oakland Police Department and SEIU 1021 bargaining team member, speaking at the meeting
Despite the improved economy, “The city has plans to continue to take from us,” said McElroy. “City administrators are taking advantage of a previous down economy and the workers are suffering, as are residents who count on these vital public services.”
“We are direct service providers. We are the individuals who actually make an impact on the quality of life for the multitude of employers and the citizens in Oakland.”
Negotiations between SEIU and IFPTE Local 21 and the city began last month.
Employee contracts expire on June 30.