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Let Them Eat Cookies - A Guest Column

During the last few weeks in San Jose, Mayor Matt Mahan, and City Manager Jennifer Maguire, along with the usual cadre of publicists and office staff, made several hastily arranged visits to various City departments throughout the city with a singular purpose: hand-deliver cookies and treats to the frontline staff as a token of appreciation. Within hours, photos of these whirlwind photo-ops make their way to social media, and the general public is treated to the sight of city workers smiling enthusiastically, cookies in hand, straight out of the strike-busting playbook used by so many would-be union busters before them to remind workers that “we’re all a family here.” Meanwhile, those very same city employees are preparing to go on strike in what could be mere weeks from now. Having issued their “last, best and final” offer of a 5% pay increase in Fiscal Year 2023-2024, 4% in 24-25, and 3% in 25-26 - while rejecting labor’s paid parental leave proposal outright - the City defended its stance by issuing a statement that included the following: “The City has found that in Fiscal Year 2023-2024, the City has offered a general wage increase greater than or equal to 14 of the 15 market comparators with closed contracts, and in Fiscal Year 2024-2025, the City has offered a general wage increase greater than or equal to 8 of the 10 market comparators with closed contracts...” While this might sound reasonable - or even generous - to some, it belies the hard truth that every City of San Jose employee knows intuitively: wages in the city have lagged behind other Bay Area communities for years. According to new guidelines released by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, workers making less than $96,000 a year are now considered “low income” in Santa Clara County–meaning that most city workers now fall into this category. Offering a “greater than or equal to” wage increase for two years does nothing to offset the pay cuts and “lesser than” wage increases city workers have suffered dating back to 2008. And the City’s inability or unwillingness to pay its workers fairly – despite a $5 billion budget and a nearly 40 million dollar surplus – comes with a cost that cannot be measured in dollars. One needs only to look at the staggering number of vacancies in city positions to understand the magnitude of this problem and the ignorance currently on display by City leadership. Ask any Department Manager in San Jose, and they’ll tell you the same thing - workers stay in their positions for a year or so to gain experience and then quickly move on to more lucrative positions in other Bay Area locations. Workers that remain in San Jose are routinely asked to pick up the slack for former co-workers that have headed to greener pastures, suffering stress and anxiety from increased workloads that frequently result in burnout. On the face of it, a 5% wage increase may sound appealing. Still, when you consider that the Consumer Price Index tracked a 4.2% rise in inflation in the Bay Area from April 2022 to April 2023, it becomes clear that the City’s proposal does nothing to help alleviate the financial burden faced by city workers, or the staffing crisis faced by the city. And as city workers leave in search of more reasonable compensation elsewhere, the problems that San Jose residents face - things like trash and illegal dumping, deteriorating public infrastructure, vandalism, graffiti, and blight - just continue to get worse. The labor unions representing City of San Jose workers, AFSCME and IFTPE, came up with a straightforward slogan that cuts straight to the heart of the problems City employees and residents face: Staff Up San Jose. The city needs staff to improve traffic and pedestrian safety, staff to operate and secure our international airport, staff to answer 911 calls in our most desperate hours, staff to run our community centers and libraries, and so much more. The unions seem to understand the severity of the issues caused by these vacancies; City leadership, on the other hand, clearly does not. To help retain talent and address the staffing shortages, the unions put together a proposal that included substantially higher wage increases for city staff and actual paid parental leave, only to have it shot down. City leadership seems determined to keep the wages of City employees right where they are - at the bottom of the Bay. And by issuing a Final Offer that includes no meaningful gains for city workers and fails to address the staffing crisis affecting city services in any meaningful way, Mayor Mahan and the City Council have made a very familiar sounding statement of their own: Let them eat cookies…

  • Written by an anonymous City worker


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