City of San Jose and Its Unions Are Deadlocked over New Contract

Mediation efforts have stalled, the city of San Jose is holding firm to its “last, best and final” offer and up to 4,500 workers are poised to strike if there is no agreement on a new 2023-24 employee contract.

Members of the city’s biggest union, Municipal Employees Federation AFSCME Local 101, were to begin voting Tuesday on whether to stage a three-day strike, putting the pressure on the city to sweeten its 12% three-year offer.

Mayor Matt Mahan said the city budget approved last month has little wiggle room to pay any more than the city’s June 14 offer of a 5% boost in 2023-24, followed by 4%, then 3% in the following two years.

The city also offered to increase its paid parental leave program to 160 hours and allow workers to use up to 160 hours of sick leave.

The unions are seeking a 7% raise in 2023-24.

In an invitation-only meeting with City Hall reporters on Friday, Mahan said the city’s offer compares to other municipalities in the Bay Area.

But a settlement announced Friday between Santa Clara County and a union representing 12,000 of its employees increased the pressure on the city to dig deeper into its pockets. The county workers will get 5% in the fiscal year that began July 1, followed by 4% increases in each of the two following years, plus a one-time $1,200 bonus.

In addition to the approximately 2,430 members of the Municipal Employees Union – one-third of all city workers – the contracts with another 560 workers in four unions representing building inspectors, engineers, maintenance supervisors and managers all expired June 30.
The unions are asking members this week to approve a three-day strike in August to press their case, if no agreement is reached on new contracts.

“Your negotiating team is unanimous in recommending a "YES" vote to authorize a three-day strike,”  union leaders said on their website.

Mahan told reporters Friday that union negotiators walked out of the first and only mediation session without an explanation. He said no date has been set for the next mediation sessions, but hopes they can resume.

While Mahan said he believes workers should be fairly compensated and stressed that, “We are committed to continuing to negotiate a deal that’s fair to everyone – our workers and our residents who rely on the essential services our city provides,” he said prospects of lower tax revenues limit the city’s ability to meet union demands.

“I am confident that the city has done a good job in extending ourselves,” Mahan said. “We are making a very fair offer to our employees. We want to pay our employees as well as we possibly can, without setting up service cuts or future deficits.”

“I don’t see how the city goes much farther without having to go through a very painful process, to reopen the budget we just passed and put real city services on the chopping block,” Mahan warned. “I don’t personally want to see us go there.”

The mayor said the city’s vacancy rates are down and new employees are being hired at faster rates.

Mahan said the unions need to face the reality of city finances.

“Our ability to increase wages is largely constrained by our revenues,” he told reporters. “The only sustainable way to raise wages is to grow the tax base.”

Mahan said a strike “would be a bad thing for our city and unnecessary.”
“I would certainly hope that is not a decision our bargaining units choose to make. That would be an unreasonable step to take and unfair to our residents.”


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. I do believe that Mahan isn’t telling the full truth. The City of San Jose decided to send representatives that didn’t have any negotiating power to the mediation; they didn’t intend to negotiate in good faith. Mahan also states in this article that he doesn’t want to make cuts that will cost the citizens of San Jose…..He doesn’t recognize that nearly 1000 intentional vacancies does cost the taxpayers and citizens?? The 4500 workers also represent 9-1-1 medical/fire dispatcher (who are also trained in CPR and provide life-saving instructions) are in this Union and our staffing is the lowest it’s ever been. We can’t attract enough qualified candidates with our pay being 20-30% lower than other agencies. We are the largest agency in the County of Santa Clara, and we are the busiest. We act as a backup for County of Santa Clara Communications but there is no agency that does it for us. Mayor Mahan is offering the “citizens will suffer if we pay our employees more” narrative but he neglects to paint a full picture or mention that there are people in leadership roles within the city that wear two hats and are compensated very well. I’m hoping that the Fire dispatchers don’t lose any more trained dispatchers to other jobs because we are barely hanging on.

    San Jose can do better —–Staff up and pay up, San Jose

  2. Fortunately, we are unionized so that we have the ability to resist what the City of San Jose expects from us. We unionized workers were the ones answering your calls for public services (911, sewer problems, street dumping, etc.) when everything shut down because of Covid 19.

    In response to “WHATEVER”:
    We are not “unionized” against the public, we are part of the public since many employees or family members of employees still do live here. The San Jose used to offer things that separated us from other cities, but Measure B saw an end to that. We lost a lot of experienced workers because of that debacle. And we’re hiring so if you’re unemployed, give it a go.

  3. It’s not just Mahan who isn’t telling the whole truth: City Manager Jennifer Maguire and Burke Dunphy (an expensive lawyer from Sloan Sakai hired by the city to “assist” in negotiating) are seriously misrepresenting facts about the City’s budget, retention, and hiring issues.

  4. City workers are not “unionized” against the public! City employees work hard to serve the public, and are proud to do so. Many workers are having to work uncompensated overtime covering the responsibilities of multiple positions in order to deliver essential services to the public. That’s because the City Management is unwilling to provide competitive wages to attract & retain sufficient staff — the vacancy rate has grown steadily over the past decade, and is now at nearly 1,000 unfilled positions.

    Unions/collective bargaining isn’t against the public: it is for the employees, many of whom are part of the “public” of the City of San Jose.

  5. For the record – San Jose Spotlight is a mouthpiece for failed policies and leaders in San Jose, and are terrified of the truth.

    On this topic – as a resident of downtown, we have seen our quality of life diminish, and at this point, probably wouldn’t know the difference if a strike occurred. The Union and City leadership sound foolish – and in the middle are the residents, particularly in lower resourced areas, wondering when both sides will grow up, get their act together and start working full-time again. The constant complaining between the County, City and School District employee unions is beyond aggravating at this point – and anyone watching has realized Unionized workforces don’t equate to happy or productive workforces. They equate to entitled and ineffective and unhappy workforces. We see it all across California on a regular basis.

  6. I agree with commenter WHATEVER. This union and Administration are negotiating over how much money taxpayers will have to pay. But the folks forced to pay the freight have no voice in the negotiations.

    Typically, electeds will ‘encourage’ their negotiators to approve a settlement no matter what the cost, since there’s always the next election to worry about. In fact, the tendency of electeds to pay too much is ever present; the last thing an elected wants is an angry union membership going to the polls. Best to give ‘em even more, then remind them of your generosity. But once again, who pays? Not the electeds! Whatever is agreed to will have to be paid by taxpayers, no matter what it costs.

    I don’t blame unions for taking advantage of the current situation, but it is wrong for the city to negotiate with no incentive to keep the city’s budget balanced. That is the #1 reason for the city’s chronic deficit spending.

    President FDR was very pro-Labor, but when it came to union demands to organize the federal work force, FDR said, “Hands off!” He refused to allow federal unions, specifically because the people who would have to pay the cost would have no say in the process.

    It wasn’t until the next 3-letter President was elected that Labor got that plum. President JFK agreed to allow federal bureaucrats to unionize in appreciation for Labor’s help in winning Chicago’s precincts. That was sufficient to win Illinois—and it gave JFK enough EC votes to win the election.

    But JFK’s magnanimous gesture was at the public’s expense. It cost him nothing, but every year it costs taxpayers more, and now collective bargaining is in every level of government; federal, state, and local.

    Unions are putatively barred from engaging in politics, but they increasingly disregard the law, using their collective union votes to support Democrat candidates. Since union votes are almost always decisive in local elections the average city resident is harmed by having no one to represent their interests. Instead, taxpayers are viewed as silent moneybags, forced to pay for every ‘negotiated’ pay raise.

    Unions are highly sensitive regarding what they believe is “fair.” But that only applies to unions; they don’t care about anyone else. If they did, they would be asking why the public is forced to pay for something when they have no say in negotiations. How is that fair?

  7. I love to watch you ungratefuls totally ruin and spoil the gifts you have been given. Taxpayers and business owners worked hard to build the bay area, sacrificed much and now you want to rape the taxpayers. Shame on you, watch out for your greed, because your pensions depend on population growth not decline. You will see.

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