Trades, IFPTE, SEIU Fighting to Strengthen Middle Class

By Paul Burton, Contributing Writer

As Organized Labor went to press, negotiations between the City and County of San Francisco and unions representing City workers were ongoing, but still at an impasse. After meetings facilitated by a federal mediator, the two sides were set to go into arbitration in mid-April.

“To date, we are incredibly disappointed with the City’s economic proposals,” said San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tim Paulson.

Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 (SEIU) and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees, Local 21 (IFPTE) held a rally April 11 at City Hall to call for a fair contract with living wages and to “disrupt inequality.”

IFPTE President Gus Vallejo pointed out that public sector workers had helped the City balance its budget after the 2008-2009 recession – essentially freezing wages and agreeing to pay a larger share of contributions to their pension fund. Now with the economy booming, Vallejo said, “The City is offering a really meager wage increase.” Vallejo said while the City has argued that it can’t increase wages beyond its current offer of 2.5 percent annually over the next three years because there could be another recession, mainstream economists from Goldman Sachs recently changed their position on the likelihood of a recession, noting that there is only a 10 percent chance of a recession in the near term.

IFPTE represents 5,700 public sector employees who work for various City departments and agencies as well as at San Francisco International Airport and is a member of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council. The union recently released a policy brief on the shrinking middle class in San Francisco, even as the City’s economic forecast is robust and revenue from property taxes continues to grow. Since 2005, City and County revenue has nearly doubled to $10.4 billion. In the last four years alone, revenue has increased 23.5 percent.

SEIU 1021 noted that the City is following a similar model as the tech companies – with 15 percent of city workers classified as temporary employees who do not receive a living wage or the protections, benefits, and rights of full-time employees. The temporary workers are essentially at-will employees without union representation or civil service protections. IFPTE is seeking civil service protections for them.

Over 2,000 workers rallied. As one group of marchers chanted, “2.5 has got to go,” another marched to the headquarters of Uber to highlight the need for technology companies to pay their fair share of taxes, rather than be given tax breaks and subsidies.

After marchers returned to City Hall, San Francisco police arrested 24 people who blocked the street in front of City Hall in an act of civil disobedience.

Solidarity among the unions representing City workers has been especially strong this year, including Building Trades unions who represent construction workers in many City Departments. San Francisco Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tim Paulson and President Larry Mazzola, Jr. are leading the negotiations for the Building Trades. The plumbers, electrical workers, and laborers have their own collective bargaining agreements but still bargain with the other trades. A Consolidated Crafts coalition including other building trades unions negotiates on separate multi-craft agreements. Paulson and Mazzola have been involved in the bargaining for the individual building trades union contracts, the multi-craft contract, and on the Public Employee Committee that includes other public sector unions as well as building trades unions.

All City contracts expire in June, with various public sector units in bargaining now except for police and fire.

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