OAKLAND -- Members of the city's two largest civilian public employee unions have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike as negotiations with the city continue to stalemate.

SEIU, Local 1021, and IFTPE, Local 21, which represent more than 3,000 city workers, have not set a strike date, although union members and city officials say there is talk of a two-day strike around the July 4 holiday. Oakland municipal workers have not walked out on their jobs since 1946.

The strike authorization vote was approved by 95 percent of SEIU members, who do everything from drive city trucks to trim street trees, and 94 percent of IFTPE members who have management jobs. Police and firefighter contracts do not expire this year.

"It is a bad time in the city of Oakland when employees who have been so loyal have to take this type of measure, said SEIU Chapter President Dwight McElroy.

With Oakland recovering from the 2008 financial collapse, city negotiators have proposed ending furloughs that cost many workers roughly 9 percent of their annual salaries in recent years. But the city has not offered raises and has asked workers to pay 10 percent of health insurance costs and half the anticipated increases in employee pension costs.

The unions counter that the city is intentionally underestimating about $45 million in anticipated tax revenue over the next two years to make it appear that it needs further labor concessions and potential layoffs to balance its books and boost police staffing.


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City leaders have maintained that their revenue projections are prudent and that expenses are rising faster than revenues. Oakland will pay an additional $13.8 million next year to fund employee pensions, whose costs are rising as the state pension system factors in money lost during the last recession.

The labor dispute has become intertwined with city budget negotiations. The City Council must approve a two-year budget by June 30 -- the same day the union contracts expire. Council members Desley Brooks, Larry Reid and Noel Gallo have called for civilian workers to get a 3 percent raise. In a statement this week, Mayor Jean Quan also called on the City Council to set aside some funds to boost employee pay.

IFTPE has asked for a 5 percent raise each of the next two years.

The civilian unions have lost jobs and salary as the city struggled to stay solvent over the past five years. The unions haven't negotiated a raise since 2007 and union members have given back salary each of the past five years.

The givebacks followed a period of substantial union gains. In the six years leading up to the financial crisis, both unions secured contracts that increased salaries 20 percent and pension benefits 35 percent.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.