Special closed session Oakland City Council meeting could end strike

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About 3,000 Oakland city employees went on strike Tuesday to protest what they said are unfair labor practices.

The strike is set to enter a second day on Wednesday, but at the same time, city council will hold a special closed-session meeting that could put an end to the strike.  

Union leaders said the employees also are protesting the city's use of part-time workers, staffing levels, cost of living concerns and workplace conditions.

The largest union on strike is Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents more than 2,000 public works employees, parking enforcement officers, Head Start instructors, and early education teachers.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf alleged in a news release on Monday night that the strike is unlawful because the city and the employee unions with which it has been negotiating for seven months are not at impasse.

"We view this strike as unlawful and will file an unfair labor practice charge," Schaaf said.

However, spokespeople for Schaaf, the city and the City Attorney's Office haven't responded to inquiries about whether the city has filed a lawsuit and is seeking a court order to stop the strike.

International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents about 1,000 professional and technical employees, including engineers, building inspectors and planners, is engaging in a sympathy strike with SEIU Local 1021.

In addition, about 20 city employees who belong to Local 1245 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are respecting Local 1021's picket lines.

SEIU Local 1021 spokesman Chris Flink said the union believes its strike is legal because it's an unfair labor practice strike, which he said is lawful and protected activity.

SEIU says it only wants a one-year contract with a four-percent increase. 

"We want to come to a resolution. We want to get back to work providing the services we provide for the City of Oakland," said Felipe Cuevas, a heavy equipment operator. 

The city wants a longer contract. The mayor says the city is offering a four-percent year increase for the first year, with the possibility of of a two percent increase in the second year depending on revenues. The city has also proposed an additional 96 cents per hour increase for street maintenance crews cleaning up homeless encampments. 

Flink said the strike will continue "until the city comes back to the bargaining table."

He said no further negotiations were scheduled Tuesday afternoon, so it appears likely that the strike will continue on Wednesday.

Schaaf said teh city is willing to go into formal mediation. 

"When workers are striking, we are not at the negotiation table and that's where we need to be," Schaaf said. 

But the union's chief negotiator says not all the sticking points have to do with money. Other issues include mandatory overtime and staffing shortages. 

City officials said that due to significant staff shortages, the strike is forcing the closure of nearly every city facility and program.

Suzanne Ziegler was trying to use the library only to find it closed. 

"It's always regrettable. It always hurts somebody. The shorter they can make it the better," she said. 

However, sworn police and fire personnel won't participate in a strike since they are represented by other unions.

City officials said they're also prepared to address any public works emergencies if they arise.

Rob Szkowny, SEIU's chief negotiator says the city refused the union's offer of help from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. 

"Bring in an informal mediator, former Mayor Willie Brown, and just sit down and talk today and there won't be a strike. The city said no," Szkowny. 

Flink said city employees have been picketing at various city facilities today and held a large rally in front of City Hall at 1 p.m.

Union members held an informational picket at the corner of Broadway and 14th Street beginning at 5 p.m., near the site where Schaaf hosted a fundraising event for her re-election campaign.

"Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Libby's got to go!" they cheered outside the event.  

Union officials said it costs $1,600 per person to attend the  fundraising event.  

Oakland City Council is set to vote on the one-year contract Wednesday afternoon. 

KTVU reached out to three council members. Two said they would vote for the one-year contract. The third declined to answer how they would vote. 

A simple majority will get the one-year contract proposal approved.