Oakland city workers to return to work Tuesday; strike 'suspended'

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In a statement issued Monday evening, SEIU Local 1021 and IFPTE Local 21 says the seven-day strike in Oakland is suspended and that about 3,000 city workers will be back on the job Tuesday. 

City of Oakland characterized the day's "confidential" mediation process as "productive". 

"The parties were unable to reach a comprehensive settlement, but have agreed to additional mediation," the statement read. 

"It's been a tough week for Oakland," said Mayor Libby Schaaf. "I want to thank SEIU's bargaining team for their commitment to the mediation process, and for bringing workers back to work in service of our community. I want Oaklanders to know how deeply I appreciate their patience during this disruption. We are committed to bringing swift resolution to any outstanding issues and to ensuring that our community receives the services they deserve now and into the future."

SEIU Local 1021's chief negotiator Rob Szykowny addressed media earlier at a 6:30 p.m. news conference and said workers are in no hurry to go back on strike and that they were "cautiously optimistic" after claiming the city had bargained on "bad faith" for eight months. 

The representative said ideas are going across the bargaining table and that the city's final ultimatum stance has changed. Szkowny said he'd like to see today's tone to continue in the negotiations and that the mediator has been helpful. 

When asked at the news conference about city workers facing the conditions of homeless encampments that have gone uncleaned and not maintained for seven days, Szkowny said they would confront it "professionally like they do every day." 

Union leaders earlier said negotiations between the city and with a third-party mediator were expected to go into the night. 

SEIU Local 1021 President Felipe Cuevas, a heavy equipment mechanic described the development. 

 "The City Negotiators wasted a lot of time bargaining in bad faith. We met with David Weinberg, the mediator, and we're moving forward and continuing talks with City Negotiators with his help. While we didn't settle a contract tonight, City Negotiators have adopted a new tone and demonstrated flexibility and openness to continue negotiations."

City Council committee meetings originally scheduled for tomorrow were cancelled earlier today and will not take place. The City Council's Rules Committee will confirm the dates of future Council meetings and items to be rescheduled at its next meeting on Thursday, December 14.

About 3,000 city workers stayed off the job again Monday despite agreeing to sit down with a state mediator, which was occurring simultaneously as the seventh day of the Oakland strike. 

The workers represented by SEIU Local 1021 and IFPTE Local 21 have been striking since last Tuesday. Their contracts expired in July. 

Schaaf said the unions have already had an 8 percent raise over the previous two years and the city is offering a 4 percent wage increase retroactive to July 1 and a possible 2 percent wage increase in June 2019, depending on growth in city revenue.

According to the union, the strike is not over wages but instead is to protest unfair labor practices by the city, workplace conditions, understaffing levels and cost of living concerns.

SEIU Local 1021 represents public works employees, parking enforcement officers, Head Start instructors and early education teachers while IFPTE Local 21 represents about 1,000 professional and technical employees, including engineers, building inspectors and planners.

That last offer by the city included a 4 percent raise in the first year of the contract, another 1 percent raise guaranteed in the second year and another 1 percent raise contingent upon the city hitting certain revenue milestones. The union rejected that offer.

It's been hard on all sides, including those people who haven't worked for a week.

"There won't be much under the tree this year," said librarian Alice McCain. "Me and my coworkers are hurting bad."

In a letter SEIU Local 1021 issued Monday to Mayor Schaaf, the union complained about short-staffing, dangerous working conditions and for the mayor to reflect Oakland's values in a political landscape of "emboldened white supremacy."