Tue, 03 Oct 2023

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - San Jose's mayor faced criticism Tuesday after he criticized city officials over an agreement to make program cuts and settle new pay agreements with several city worker unions.

San Jose's City Council voted 9-2 Tuesday to approve agreements to increase union workers' pay and modify the city budget. Mayor Matt Mahan, voting against the measure, had called on city residents to challenge the motion, weeks since the city struck the deal with unions on Aug. 15.

"I am strongly opposed to these cuts," Mahan said Monday on Twitter. "Next year, and the year after that, we will likely see larger deficits and greater cuts in key services as a result of these unaffordable pay raises."

Mahan said Tuesday that he would vote against the city's plan for service cuts, as he thinks it is "completely unnecessary" to make those cuts to balance the budget.

Of city workers, the mayor said: "They have done their jobs, and they deserve the raise. There's good reason for this push to maximize these raises." 

"However, the council's job as elected officials is to think holistically about our limited resources, balance trade offs and think about the long term," Mahan added. He noted that the city has $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance on city infrastructure, and declines in sales and property tax revenues are likely to continue.

City Manager Jennifer Maguire proposed cuts to popular free city programs and events, traffic safety measures and crossing guard staffing in order to cover cost of living raises under the new bargaining agreements. 

In a presentation to the San Jose City Council on Tuesday, Maguire announced that agreements have been ratified with several regional and international bargaining units to last through June 30, 2026. She said the deals' ongoing costs exceed the amounts already approved in the city's 2023-2024 budget - approved during negotiations with the union in June - and a clear estimate will not be known until February 2024. 

Maguire said that the total to cover the new union agreements with all salary raises is currently $28.7 million, $13.8 million of which is already covered by the general fund, and $11 million will be covered from the salaries and benefits reserve.

City staff said that San Jose faces a budget shortfall of about $2.8 million within the next year, and cuts to some programs are necessary to reduce the budget shortfall. Under current economic conditions, the city could see an additional shortfall of $22 million in unfunded programming in coming years.

Only Councilmember Dev Davis was absent for the final vote. Some union workers spoke, saying they felt discouraged facing a long battle to get paid more. Others chastised the mayor for publicly complaining about having to pay them more, and city officials for blaming them for the service cuts planned in order to afford pay raises. 

Sarah Abroff, an associate transportations specialist for the city, said she depends on the deal for increased parental leave, as she is 32 weeks pregnant.

"Please do what you know is right for San Jose employees, families and the betterment of the city overall," Abroff said. 

Mary Morse, who works in the city's environmental services department, said the bargaining agreement "gives us space to focus on the services we need to provide for the city."

"I also ask you to engage with us city workers to help find solutions," she added. "Cutting high profile services isn't exactly innovative, and blaming workers certainly isn't new."

Others criticized the plan to operate within a deficit.

"As a city we cannot become accustomed to deficit spending, especially when we have a backlog of city projects that we have yet to even pay for," San Jose resident Kathy Fuchs said. "We cannot spend what we do not have."

Under the deals with the city, more than 4,000 workers will get 6% raises in the coming year, 5% raises the next and 3% raises in the third year, along with other benefits such as eight weeks of paid family leave, up from one. The unions pushed for steeper yearly incremental raises rather than the ones ultimately agreed upon, asking for an 18% total raise over the next three years to meet the high cost of living in Silicon Valley.

San Jose is one of the most expensive cities to live in the U.S., and the average city worker is paid $52,000 annually, while the median gross rent for a home is more than $2,300 per month.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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