San Jose City Council OKs Raises in New Contracts, Averting a Threatened Strike

Aug. 16 update: A majority of the San Jose City Council agreed to an 11th hour deal on new contracts in a private session Tuesday, averting a three-day strike threatened by four unions representing more than half of city employees.

Members of four unions representing 4,500 city workers will vote on the settlement, which provides a 6% increase this fiscal year, 4% in July 2024, followed by another 1% in January 2025 and 3.5% in 2025-26, plus lump-sum payments of up to $1,200 for the biggest union and up to $1,770 for the others.

Unions representing a majority of San Jose city workers today postponed for 24 hours their plans to shut down most non-emergency city services for three days, to give city council members one last chance to affirm a tentative agreement on new multi-year contracts worked out in an 11th-hour special closed session earlier in the day.

The city released this statement at 3:30pm Monday:

“The City of San Jose and the Municipal Employees' Federation (MEF) and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21 (representing AEA, AMSP and CAMP) have reached conceptual terms.

“The union strike has been postponed for 24 hours pending tomorrow’s [Aug. 15] City Council closed session and approval of the terms.

“All city services, facilities and programs will be open and take place as normally scheduled on Tuesday.”

“We are confident that the city council will approve these terms,” the union coalition known as Staff Up San Jose wrote in a statement. “We are only pausing our strike until the council gives its formal approval (tomorrow).”

On Friday, MEF – the biggest union representing nearly 2,500 workers, was optimistic after an Aug. 10 mediation session, but warned of “poison pills” in the city’s latest offer.

On its website, the union reported:

“Encouragingly, the city finally demonstrated movement toward our position, signaling that our collective efforts are making a difference.
“However, it's important to note that this movement was not a step all the way toward the middle ground we've been seeking from them. As a result, we were unable to accept the offer presented to us. City administrators continue to plant poison pills within the agreement and leave out key tenets.

“The good news is that we are getting closer, and this progress can be attributed to our unwavering determination and the preparations we've made for a possible strike.”

“We are confident that our persistence will lead to winning for us and for the public services we deliver to our community.”

Nearly 4,500 San Jose city employees remained poised Monday to go on a three-day-strike, citing chronic understaffing and low pay.

The action would be the first wide scale strike among San Jose city employees in more than 40  years.

The unions and the city have been negotiating for months and the workers have been working without a contract since it expired in late June.

The unions are seeking a 7% pay increase, and complain that many city departments are understaffed. The city in June said its final pay offer was 5% the first year of the contract, 4% the second, and 3% the third.

The vote to strike Aug. 15-17 was announced Aug. 7 at a rally with city workers, representatives of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 and the Municipal Employees' Federation-American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local in front of San Jose City Hall.

The Municipal Employers Federation gave these instructions to its members on its website – instructions put on hold for 24 hours, which could be moot if the council agrees in public to the terms it agreed to today in private.

“The strike will begin on Tuesday [Aug. 15], at 6am, ending on Friday, August 18, at 5:59am.

“For shift workers, no one will leave work or report to work mid-shift (more details to come for people working swing and night shifts).

“Everyone must plan to attend one of the daily picket locations each day.

“There are a few different options for each day. Day one is a more extended day. The remaining two days will be shorter in length.”

The unions represent a majority of the city’s workforce.

“We are committed to negotiating a deal that's fair to everyone -- our workers and our residents who rely on the essential services our city provides,” said San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan in a statement. “But the hard truth is, this money has to come from somewhere. If my council colleagues want to go beyond our last, best and final offer of a 5% raise next year, they will have to identify which core city services they are willing to cut.”

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. 7% wage increase is not enough. The goal should be guaranteed living wage with a cost of living adjustment that reacts to inflation in real time, so that workers don’t have to worry about the cost of eggs or toilet paper or who knows what! I’ll be out at the strike in solidarity and maybe even interview some of the city workers to see what they have to think about that!

    The mayor talking about what city services need to be cut is such a see through bluff. Its a FIVE BILLION DOLLAR BUDGET. The amount of ridiculous projects in there that are wastes of money are undoubtedly countless. Solidarity.

  2. There is no “living wage” for the general population in a City where the average home price is $1.4 million, and down payment to buy a home is $250,000, at least – and the necessity for a salary or combined income well over $300,000 per year. You can pay every city worker $125,000 per year and this would NOT solve the affordability issue. Essentially, these employees are demanding more money – and the City doesn’t have it. On top of that, the employees are demanding more money when over the past 3 years, service levels and quality of life have plummeted in San Jose. These workers can complain all they want – same with the County workers and other employees in high cost areas who want the impossible. This mythical “living wage.” Maybe it will register with some that constantly threatening strikes – and going on strikes in this State just shows that labor unions don’t equate to better circumstances for employees, and often times are counter-productive. If that wasn’t the case – we wouldn’t hear them constantly complaining in the State of CA. Literally, unions are constantly striking.

    Move to a lower cost area if you want a “living wage.” This is the sad truth that many who left CA had to confront. It’s the solution – as opposed to paying everyone six-figures or more, which is impossible.

  3. The city has a 5 billion dollar budget there is no excuse to not pay a living wage. Even if 125k isn’t enough the city can provide non-monetary benefits on top of that that are more cost effective like access to housing the city owns, discounts to services like healthcare and other services the city provides.

  4. False argument. It doesn’t matter how big your budget is if you have already spent it.
    If you don’t like what they offer, find a different job that gives you what you want.
    Problem solved, Easy Peasy.

  5. Steven – you are not factoring in the massive unfunded liabilities due to the City pension system, which is now over $4 billion owed, and it is NOT funded. That is rarely discussed with budgeting – but must be acknowledged as the debt will continue to grow. SJ is not in good fiscal shape – and we will see deficits grow starting next year.

  6. Meaning, currently the City owes like $9.5 billion, and only $5.5 billion is funded. This number will grow.

  7. Sounds like the people in charge have been wasting our money which of course they are. Regardless, the US economy is built on debt, that you think you can just ignore the problem and think San Jose can remain uncompetitive with other city’s and county’s and continue to function is wishful thinking. No one is going to commute for this if they can commute elsewhere which is closer for more money and benefits.

    It is a classic conservative argument that the “money isn’t there” or that “we’re over budget” is the excuse they make to not properly fund social services. These services pay for themselves in dividends with 700+ roles in the city not staffed the under staffing and pressure on people will any cause services and related economic activity in the city to fail. These business and gentrification (to entice higher salary tech companies and salaries into the city) focused politicians in office can only see the short term gains and not the long term ones.

    If we’re on track to be on a deficit, invest in the city over the next few years so that we’ll be back in the positive over time. Cutting and practicing fiscal conservatism just worsens the problem. Of course they are aware of that and are uncaring because at the end of the day they serve their special interests, not the city, nor the city workers, not the people.

    Again undoubtedly they are wasting the 5 billion and if it fancies them when the workers strike and demand, it would be just desserts for them to also call for a special re-election and so we can get a council and mayor that can recreate a budget for the year and next decade focused on actually running this city for the people who live in it and not to accomodate business as the “Heart of Silicon Valley”(cringe).

  8. Sounds like a classic Marxist argument to me. Demanding more of other peoples money while proclaiming to be a victim of those same people. The communist platitudes get tiring.

  9. I detect a touch of sarcasm in your post, as well as a strong dose of Irony.

    But I digress. The Public Employee Unions have again won they day and defeated the Public.

    I wonder which political persuasion the City Council people are who ultimately agreed to this?

  10. In 2012, City employees took a 10% wage cut, medical insurance costs quadrupled and that was another 10% of wages passed on to employees, and finally city employees had to increase their retirement contribution by 7% of their wages as well. The grand total was 27% or so. I know I was one of the negotiators for my bargaining unit. As a result of this our veteran employees left the City of San Jose. The average years of service for Environmental Inspectors plummeted from 15 years to 6 years. Other city employees stated that the City would experience not only a brain drain, but that the replacements coming in would train up for 1-2 years and then leave. This is exactly what you are witnessing now. So, you can pay your employees a living wage or not. But not paying a living wage is yielding 700+ vacancies. Oh, and the City of San Jose is the only municipality with 2.5% Step increases. Other municipalities have 5% STEP increases. San Jose is providing a financial incentive for employees to leave. Maybe, you need another Administrative Order from EPA? The last one only took 11 years and around $6 million to address. So, take care of your employees or they will go elsewhere.

  11. It’s not the “Living Wage” that presents the economic problem, it’s the pensions & the benefits.
    Forego the pensions (or at least the pension increases) and there becomes plenty of money for the “Living Wage”. But that’s not what this is really about, is it?

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