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Strength in Numbers Prevails Following Intense Negotiations

By Paul Burton, Contributing Writer

Unions representing City workers reached tentative agreements with the City and County of San Francisco in early May – increasing wages over the next three years and maintaining benefits.

“City unions got the highest raise they have seen in my time,” said San Francisco Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tim Paulson. The City workers will see a wage increase of 11 percent over three years, with a three percent raise effective July 1, 2019, a one percent increase effective December 28, 2019, and increases of 3.5 percent in 2020 and 2021. The unions also maintained health care and retirement benefits, and won improvements in other areas. Paulson said the building trades won wage increases for sewer plant treatment employees, equity raises, and made improvements in lead time and foreman pay that hadn’t been raised in years, and which will bring the public sector construction workers in line with the private sector.

“The unity among all the unions – the skilled trades, service workers, Municipal Employees Association, individual building trades unions, and IFPTE – helped win gains for all workers,” Paulson said. “The City early on presented a doom and gloom report about the economy and the cost of labor and pension liabilities. We said, “You have money coming in, with higher property valuations and a booming tech sector.” Paulson said the City declared an impasse after only eight hours of bargaining in the first month of contract negotiations. Then the independent arbitrator brought in to negotiate the deal sided with the City and tried to split off different bargaining units. “We were united, and every single bargaining table said ‘no’ to the City’s tactics,” Paulson said. Paulson said public employee unions and the San Francisco Labor Council will form a task force to look at making sure the kind of “dog and pony show” the City engaged in by forcing an impasse, doesn’t happen again.

San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Rudy Gonzalez gave credit to the co-chairs of the Public Employee Caucus – John Stead-Mendez with SEIU and Larry Mazzola, Jr. from the Building Trades – for keeping Labor united. “We saw great solidarity and coordination between the unions and bargaining units,” he said. Gonzalez said while the unions did not get everything they wanted, “The deal is fair, and some longtime union members say it’s the best they have seen.”

Gonzalez said Labor went up against a culture in City management where they project low budget numbers to justify meager wage increases or concessions, then report a windfall in revenue after the deal is done. “They were strategic in trying to peel off some units and shop different deals to smaller bargaining units,” he said. He noted that the 26 independent, democratically run unions did well to stick together against City management. The City also tried to undermine its unions – floating the idea of firing public sector workers if they went out on strike. Gonzalez said Labor’s position is “we never gave up the right to strike.”

The City had offered a small wage increase of 2.5 percent annually over the next three years, claiming there could be another recession, even as the tech sector is still booming, property values rising and revenue for the City increasing. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees, Local 21 (IFPTE), which represents 5,700 public sector employees who work for various City departments and agencies as well as at San Francisco International Airport, recently released a policy brief on how the middle class in San Francisco is shrinking – 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, according to the report. If the City does face a deficit of $200 million or more, base wage adjustments would be delayed by approximately six months in years two and three of the new contract.

IFPTE 21 leaders called the deal “historic” – pointing to improvements like an additional floating holiday, increased funding for an Employee Development Fund that will increase to $1 million and be distributed twice annually, and improved benefits and protections for exempt/temporary employees – including a Joint Union and City committee to review proper use of exempt positions. IFPTE also secured additional time for the union to review contracting out proposals, as well as a process for outside contractors with specialized skills to train and transfer knowledge to Local 21 members – a kind of reversal of past practices of having public sector workers train outside contractors to do their jobs. Other wins for IFPTE include improved language and training to address discrimination – with a joint union and city committee to address the union’s concerns specific to discrimination against workers.

San Francisco Building Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tim Paulson and President Larry Mazzola, Jr. led the negotiations for the Building Trades. The plumbers, electrical workers and laborers have their own collective bargaining agreements but still bargained with the other trades. A Consolidated Crafts coalition including other building trades unions negotiated on separate multi-craft agreements. Paulson and Mazzola were also 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.

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