June 20, 2024
Unions representing around 4,500 workers were planning on walking off the job starting Aug. 15

Avoiding a potential strike that could have brought some services to a standstill, unions representing over half of San Jose’s administrative workforce struck a tentative deal Monday with city officials. The strike would have been the largest such action among the South Bay city’s employees since 1981 and comes during a moment marked by increased labor activity throughout all corners of the state.

Details of the deal between the city and the two unions — which represent around 4,500 workers — were not immediately available but are likely to include a jump in yearly salary raises until 2026, a demand that workers have been pushing for months.

The contract still needs approval from the San Jose City Council on Tuesday. Workers will also vote to approve the deal on a date yet to be determined, according to a union spokesperson.

If a deal hadn’t been reached, employees who staff the city’s parks, libraries, airport and other departments were set to walk off the job starting on Tuesday for three days — an action that would have almost certainly been felt by San Jose residents.

“MEF-AFSCME Local 101 and IFPTE Local 21 have made substantial progress in our conversations with the City over the weekend and into this afternoon,” a joint statement from the unions read, which included a note for employees to go to work on Tuesday. The unions did clarify they were suspending the strike until councilmembers approve the new contract.

San Jose employees ramped up pressure for better pay after their contract ended in June, arguing that city departments are inadequately staffed and morale is low among workers in one of the highest cost-of-living metropolitan areas in the country.

City officials — most prominently Mayor Matt Mahan — have denied these claims and voiced concerns over how the extra pay demands may impact a city budget that has historically been tight. According to the city’s estimates from last week, the union pay increase request will impact San Jose’s budget to the tune of $23.9 million per year.

Though San Jose is currently facing a small budget surplus, city officials expect there to be deficits in coming years, a financial situation that could be further challenged by worker pay increases.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Monday’s tentative deal.

The threat of a mass walkout among city employees was initiated earlier this month when a four-day strike vote among the two unions saw between 96% and 99% of its members approving the action, though the actual number of workers who participated wasn’t released. In total, the city has about 7,000 workers.

The union demands had the support of city councilmembers including Peter Ortiz, as well as Assemblymembers Alex Lee and Ash Kalra.

“It hasn’t been easy,” said Jesse Perez, a member of IFPTE Local 21’s bargaining team. “It has been challenging. There have been ups and downs. But I’m optimistic that we’re at a good spot here. We made some progress. I’m hopeful the city will do the right thing.”

The city’s last major strike occurred over four decades ago in response to equal pay for women employees. The strike lasted nine days with 2,000 workers and drew national attention — and ended with the city approving over a million dollars in pay adjustments for the women employees. In 2007, a small group of building inspectors went on strike over negotiations regarding disciplinary rules.

In late July, over 12,000 Santa Clara County workers were able to avoid a strike and secure the largest wage increases in more than two decades.