Thirty minutes before the San Jose City Council went into closed session to decide whether to impose a 10 percent pay cut on public employees, Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio addressed the large group of union members and other citizens gathered for the meeting.
“If you’re angry, it’s ok to be angry,” Oliverio said, “because the system is all screwed up.”
Last Tuesday, the City Council decided to delay its vote on the 10 percent wage cut for city employees, after five unions provided a counter-offer that they claimed would be the equivalent of the proposed cut.
However, after studying the offer, City Manager Debra Figone and City Attorney Richard Doyle determined that it was unacceptable. Figone recommended the city impose the cuts and implement the Mayor’s budget proposal.
The motion passed on an 8 to 3 vote, with council members Pyle, Kalra and Campos opposing. The Council deferred action on wage and benefit concessions with the five labor unions until the Council meeting of Tuesday, June 22.
The council’s rejection of the union’s proposal hinged on a clause in the city charter regarding retirement contributions. The Mayor’s budget proposal took some money out of the employee’s retirement fund, but also made cuts in other areas. The unions’ counter-offer captured all 10 percent from the fund. According to Figone and Doyle, that violated the charter.
Christopher Platten, the attorney for the city’s employee unions, said union members were willing to waive the charter’s requirements. Figone responded that that was impossible.
“My understanding in my entire carreer is that [the charter] can only be changed by a vote by the people,” she said. “I do wish the union’s proposal would have worked, but it doesn’t.”
Mayor Chuck Reed agreed with Figone.
“I’m disappointed that we don’t have an offer in front of us that we can accept,” he said
Councilmember Rose Herrera, who Tuesday supported the decision to delay the budget vote, today backed the mayor. She emphasized that passing the budget should not halt negotiations, but that the decision had to be made because the city’s budget could not be thrown off schedule.
“We cannot print money or issue IOUs,” Herrera said. “We must do the right thing for the city.”
Council members Oliverio, Nancy Pyle, Judy Chirco and Madison Nguyen expressed frustration with a lack of communication between the city and the unions. Oliverio said the union-city negotiations should have been done in public, not in closed session.
“I think we have a failure to communicate” Pyle said. “My sprits went from very very high, to very very low. I’m really angry. I’m angry because we are making it harder and harder and harder to deal with us.”
After Pyle’s statement, the packed city council chambers erupted in about 20 seconds of applause.
Figone criticized union “tactics,” and expressed her own aggravation with trying to negotiate at the last minute.
“This is the kind of thing you get at the eleventh hour—disappointment,” Figone said.
Platten then notified the council that the unions were willing to go back into bargaining for another 24 hours, in order to iron out the charter technicality.
Reed immediately rejected the idea, saying that the council didn’t have enough time, and bargaining from the dais would create too many legal problems.
Council members Nora Campos and Ash Kalra said that they could not support forcing cuts on the unions. Kalra said by doing so based on a charter technicality, the city would open itself up to lawsuits.
“I do think there is great legal risk,” Kalra said. “There are incredible costs to litigation.”
Campos pleaded that the unions just needed more time.
“I don’t believe that we have exhausted all our options,” she said. “I am prepared to sit here in council chambers for the next 12 days to allow them to go back to the bargaining unit….until that is an option, I’m not going to impose.”
Chirco then made a motion for an official vote. “We don’t have the option of just postponing our budget,” she said.
During public comment, union members spoke emotionally against the city imposing cuts. They emphasized that the council’s decision boiled down to a trust issue. They said that by imposing the cuts, the city council would be saying that that they do not trust the unions.
“Imposition sends the wrong message” Platten said. “If you accept the unions offer, in 24 hours we can turn this entire situation on its head.”
After the council came out of closed session, they decided to hold off on finalizing potential concessions with employee unions until next Tuesday, in order to allow further savings on jobs and services. Councilmember Sam Liccardo made a motion to approve the mayor’s budget.
However, Pyle came forth with a last minute memorandum that would go forward with the mayor’s proposed budget, but with stipulations to use other funds to keep police and fire services. Pyle’s motion to approve the memo did not pass, failing on an 8 to 3 vote.
Shortly thereafter the council voted to officially approve the mayor’s budget, voting 8 to 3 – council members Campos, Pyle and Kalra dissenting.