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Bargaining Impasse with City of Santa Barbara

Economic Issues Block an Agreement

On September 11, 2018, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 620 and its General Unit members went to the City Council meeting to speak on behalf of the General Bargaining Unit. The discussion was to present to the City Council information on the impasse with the city’s negotiations with the union.

Approximately 50 members of the General Unit were present. Six of them and their lead negotiator gave a presentation was concerning the last, best and final offer from the city’s lead negotiator. They requested that the city direct their lead negotiator to go back to the bargaining table to work on an agreement that would be comparable to all parties concerned.

The union has made significant movement, but we are at a stalemate on the economic portion of the agreement. Specifically, the delay in completing the contract is the separation between the parties on salary increases, vacation cash-out, certification pay, and salary inequities.

We started negotiating on January 25, 2018. Fifteen bargaining sessions took place before an impasse was declared. We then had one mediation meeting with a State of California mediator. When the city was asked for one more mediation, it declined the union offer to meet one more time.

The Union is asking for a 2.5 percent increase in salary per year over a two-year contract. The Consumer Price Index for Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim running at 3.7 percent for the first seven months of the current year. The General Bargaining Unit feels that their proposal to the city was a reasonable offer. The city has offered a 1.5 percent increase for the first year of the contract and an additional 0.5 percent increase for the second year of the contract for a total of 2 percent for Year Two.

The union presented information on the median household income in Santa Barbara from the latest Data USA figures, which is $66,916. The average wage for the General Unit employee is approximately $65,500 per year. Other information presented was the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara, an average of over $2,600 per month. This would take two weeks of pay for the average employee, and it does not even account for utilities, transportation, clothing, insurance, and food for their families.

The city labor negotiator has said that the General Unit employees request for the 2.5 percent salary increase was unreasonable. Other agencies within the geographical area are giving their employees a minimum of 2 percent salary increases per year.

When supervisors and managers in the city have salaries in the high five to six figure range, the absolute dollar amount of raises for the average General Unit employee that SEIU Local 620 are significantly lower. As reported by Transparent California, the lead negotiator for the city earns $168,000 per year with a total compensation package of approximately $242,000 per year. A one percent increase in her salary is significantly more compensation and cost to the city than a one percent increase for our represented employees; they make less than $66,000 a year on average. We feel that the city does not totally understand the plight of the General Unit employees.

In addition managers receive $1,700 per month for medical, and supervisors receive $1,600 per month. Front-line staff receive $1,020 per month for single employees and $1,100 for employees with family coverage. It appears that front-line staff’s families deserve less medical and lower wages.

The city through the negotiation process has not been willing at times to work with the union when we have given them creative proposals with several alternatives on how to adjust salaries without putting a heavy financial burden on the city’s budget. All of our ideas offered to the city negotiation team have been declined without looking into how the cost could be spread out over a longer time.

The Union negotiation team was given a budget presentation from the City Finance Department that showed an 28-year employee retiring from city employment received about a $100,000 annual pension. This is not true unless it’s a management person. The average retirement for a 20-year General Unit employee, according to figures from CalPERS, would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000. With that being said, the average public employee does not pay into Social Security, with the exception of Medicare, which is mandatory; thus, the average employee receives no Social Security benefits.

As the representatives for all the General Unit employees at the City, SEIU Local 620 is simply asking for a fair agreement. This means an agreement that meets basic needs, to support at least a modest lifestyle in a high-cost city.

Mike Woods is a field operations supervisor for SEIU Local 620.

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