Wednesday, October 1, 2008

City workers rally for new contract


On the day their current contract expired, a group of Santa Barbara city workers gathered on the steps of City Hall for a “friendly” rally of unity to ensure reaching a new contract remains a top priority for city leaders.
While both sides agree that negotiations are progressing, members of the SEIU Local 620 said they just want to make sure the city is taking them seriously.

“We support them,” said Bob Evans, a city carpenter for 23 years who has helped negotiate four contracts. “We do a hard job to keep the city right and they need to support us.”
Kristine Schmidt, the city’s employee relations manager and chief negotiator, said discussions at the bargaining table have remained respectful and positive.
“We are actually doing fine in our negotiations,” she said. “We are making a lot of progress, particularly with our largest unit.”
Schmidt said it’s impossible to speculate when an agreement will be reached “because there are two dancers in the dance,” but said it’s possible a contract could be settled soon.
“We’re really down only to the economic issues,” she said.
Mick Sherer, the union’s steward and education coordinator, said it’s likely that city workers will have a signed contract in the next few months.
“People feel like there is great communication with management,” he said. “…I don’t think there are a lot of people feeling very angry or disappointed.”
He said the rally, which attracted approximately 50 city workers sporting purple union shirts, was designed to get employees involved and send a peaceful, if not serious message.
“This isn’t meant to be an incendiary rally or something meant to go against any unfair action by the city at all,” Sherer said. “…They really want to let the city know they should be a top priority.”
The Service Employees International Union represents approximately 840 city employees. Those in the “general unit” include engineers, planners, custodians, clerical workers, librarians and streets maintenance employees, among others.
The smaller “treatment and patrol unit” includes water and wastewater treatment workers, and airport and harbor patrol employees.
Rick Ornelas, who has worked in the streets department for three years, led the group in a “unity clap” before taking the microphone.
“We are the backbone of the city,” he told the crowd. “You don’t see us, but a lot of the things we do are supportive.”
Jarrett Garcia, currently a sergeant with Airport Patrol, agreed, adding that the city’s employees take great pride in their work. While he doesn’t live in Santa Barbara because it’s too expensive, he still considers it his home.
“I call Santa Barbara my home because this is where I work and this is where I like to be,” he said.
The union’s previous four-year contract with the city expired yesterday. Schmidt said the length of the contract being negotiated is still being determined, but added that they typically range between 2 to 4 years.

No comments: