San Jose approves pay bumps for 4,500 city workers, avoiding major strike

What may have become the largest San Jose city employee strike in decades fizzled on Tuesday after councilmembers approved a significant pay bump for about 4,500 of its workers, a major win for South Bay labor organizers who claimed their members were being short-changed in one of America’s most expensive metropolitan areas.

The two unions negotiating with the city — MEF-AFSCME Local 101 and IFPTE Local 21 — secured 14.5 to 15% wage increases over the next three years, about 3% more than what the city’s final offer was in June before talks broke down.

The two labor groups — which represent employees who work in libraries, parks and the city’s airport — threatened to have its members walk off the job starting Aug. 15 for three days if a deal wasn’t made, an action that would have disrupted key municipal services.

“It feels great,” said MET-AFSCME negotiating member John Tucker. “I know our members are excited to get back to work.”

Tucker said union members will vote to ratify the contract next week — and that the deal represents the highest jump in wages in over two decades.

For months, the two unions have argued their employees aren’t adequately paid, resulting in thinly stretched city departments and low morale. In total, the city has about 7,000 workers.

But city officials like Mayor Matt Mahan and budget director Jim Shannon have pushed back against those claims, warning that an increase in salary bumps could lead to a difficult financial state for San Jose, which has historically passed tight budgets.

Estimates from last week predicted labor’s salary request will cost $23.9 million more than what the city offered. According to the city manager’s office, the pay bump will require this year’s budget passed in June to be revised.

If a contract hadn’t been sorted out by Tuesday, the resulting strike would have been the largest since 1981, when city workers protested salary conditions for women employees. The only other strike in recent memory occurred in 2007 when a small group of building inspectors protested disciplinary rules.

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