Sunnyvale seeks court injunction to block employee strike

- City officials said Wednesday that they are seeking a court injunction to prevent its union workers from walking off the job, a move municipal leaders say would cause the "disruption of essential City services."

More than 450 city employees who are members of the Sunnyvale Employees Association are preparing to walk off the job after 98 percent of its members voted Tuesday to authorize the strike. The city workers have decided to strike because they say they haven't been given a pay raise in five years. 

City officials said Wednesday that union leaders had rejected Sunnyvale's "best and final offer," which included a 10 percent wage hike over the next 15 months, the continuation of a 30 percent employee pension contribution and full health benefits.

The city asked the court to require water pollution control plant operators, environmental chemists responsible for maintaining water quality, water and sewer plant crew leaders, landfill technicians, public safety records specialists and fire department fleet mechanics to remain on the job.

"It’s regretful that SEA has put the City in the position of having to go to court to make certain that essential employees don’t walk off the job and put public health and safety in jeopardy," Sunnyvale Mayor Glenn Hendricks said in a written statement. "After several attempts to negotiate with SEA about essential employees during strike, we have been left with no choice but to take this action in the public’s interest."

The union was set to notify city leaders about its strike plan on Wednesday. After two years of failed negotiations, city workers say they've had enough. The mayor said the city must be fiscally responsible.

Hundreds of Sunnyvale city employees, part of the Sunnyvale Employee Association overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike that could bring non-emergency city services to a halt.

“We aren't asking for a handout,” said Gus Velasquez who works for the City of Sunnyvale. “We are asking for what is fair and for what we deserve.”
               
Velasquez has worked for the City of Sunnyvale’s Water Department for 13 years. Unable to afford to live in Silicon Valley, he drives 79 miles every day one way to his home near Modesto.

“If we can't get a raise right now with Sunnyvale growing and the economy is booming here in Sunnyvale, we are never going to get a raise,” said Velasquez.

Velasquez is among the passionate blue-collar workers who packed the Sunnyvale Community Center demanding a fair contract, specifically a 14 percent pay raise over a seven year period. The city has offered 10 percent. The workers have not had a raise in five years.

“It doesn't keep up with the cost of living, it doesn't keep up with surrounding agencies,” said SEA President John Simontacchi. “It's not a fair and equitable deal.”

“The city has a very fair and competitive offer on the table,” said Sunnyvale Mayor Glenn Hendricks.

Sunnyvale’s mayor says the union's proposal is not fiscally viable, despite an independent fact-finder ruling in the union's favor. The city could be forced to cut services.

“We have a $300 million CalPERS hit and their proposal is $82 million above what the city is proposing,” said Hendricks.

If city employees do strike, impacts could be felt in the library, parks and various city departments to the 140,000 residents.

“I think it may be a bit rash to think about planning a strike right now,” said Steve Sweeney of Sunnyvale.

“Myself and my wife are both teachers,” said Travis Wood of Sunnyvale. “We are finding out even with our salaries combined it's hard to live in this area so I do support them. I understand,” said Wood.

The mayor said essential services, including police and fire, will not be impacted. The union will give the city reasonable notice and said the strike could happen in the next few days.

By KTVU reporter Azenith Smith.
 

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