Opinion: City Workers are Standing Up for a Better Oakland

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Members of IFPTE Local 21, representing about 1,000 city workers, speak at Monday’s City Council meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

City workers are fighting for what we love: the people of Oakland.

City services, including picking up illegal dumping, filling potholes, and implementing affordable housing programs don’t happen by magic. Without an intentional investment in these services, it is not sustainable, and it takes people to do that work.

Oakland is booming, and still certain communities are not transitioning from the boom or services. City workers make these services happen, but 20 percent of non-uniformed civilian positions in the city are vacant. This is the highest vacancy rate in recent history. We’re stretched thin. Eighty percent of the people cannot do 100 percent of the work.

Nearly one out of every five positions in both the Department of Public Works and in the Department of Transportation is vacant. That means illegal dumping doesn’t get removed, and potholes don’t get filled because we don’t have the staff to get the job done.

Oakland is facing a housing and homelessness crisis, yet 23 percent of the positions in our Housing and Community Development Department are vacant. Oakland’s Rental Adjustment Program only has 18 full-time staff to serve 90,000 rental units. Each of our workers is working on more than 200 cases at any given time.

The backlog on processing illegal rent adjustments is up to five months. Many Oakland tenants can’t afford inflated rent for five months, and that wait period could leave them homeless.

This reality is not lost on the city workers who are working these cases. The reason we can’t keep positions filled in our city is because many of our coworkers leave for higher paying jobs—not necessarily at Google or Facebook, but at nearby public agencies where they can get a 15-20 percent pay increase.

We have chosen careers in public service because we are committed to our Oakland community. Oakland’s leadership and unions have a common goal to protect the health, safety and wellness of our workforce and constituents.

That’s why we’re demanding that the city’s leadership invest in city services, and this has to start with a fair wage increase for city workers.

City workers don’t go into public service for the money. We stuck through the Great Recession, when our take-home pay was slashed by 10 percent to keep the city afloat. Those of us that are still here continue to stay because we truly love Oakland.

Oakland deserves our very best city leadership working collaboratively to pass a budget that invests in city services and puts resources back into our communities.

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