The labor negotiations on Zoom on Monday, July 12, 2021. Credit: Berkeleyside

Contract negotiations between the city of Berkeley and the SEIU 1021 bargaining unit that represents about a third of the city’s workers have continued this week in the public eye.

Watch the July 13 negotiation at noon

The chapter — the Community Services / PTRLA branch of Berkeley’s SEIU Local 1021 — represents about 500 of the city’s 1,400 or so workers. Members include librarians, planners, senior services, mental health and homeless outreach team members, recreation workers, council aides and IT staff, among many others.

In recent months, the union pushed the city to take the unusual step of opening labor negotiations to the public. In response, the city created a website where it has posted many of the documents that have been discussed, along with links to most of the Zoom negotiations sessions, the next of which began Tuesday at noon.

The city’s contract with the union expired at the end of June, but both sides have continued to work toward an agreement. On Monday afternoon, each side proposed a new version of a package deal.

The proposals, and associated costs, have shifted repeatedly since bargaining began several months ago but, as of Monday, the main issues at stake were the timeline for proposed salary increases, and whether they will be tied to inflation; whether it will be a two-year contract or a three-year deal; and how much city workers hired since 2013 have to pay into their pension funds.

According to the city’s financial estimates — which the union has questioned as far as accuracy and assumptions — the city has placed the cost of the latest union package at approximately $10 million over two years compared to the city’s package, which has estimated cost of $16 million over three years.

(The union has said it is working to come up with its own figures, but those were not presented during Monday’s meeting.)

On the subject of salaries, the city is offering a 4% increase in the first year, followed by 3% and 1% increases in subsequent years.

The union has asked for a bump the first year equal to the Bay Area CPI (with a cap of 3.8%) followed by an increase equal to the CPI the following year as well, with a 3.2% cap. Workers have noted that City Council salaries are tied to inflation and that worker salaries should be, too, because workers have getting priced out of the Bay Area.

As far as pensions go, the city has proposed to reduce the contributions newer workers pay by 8% over six years. The union says the timeline needs to move faster, with the reduction happening over three years.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley gave a 10-minute overview of negotiations during the June 29 City Council meeting. It was a rare occurrence that may have been prompted by extensive worker comments at public meetings earlier in the month as well as the open bargaining agreement. (Negotiations are usually confidential and take place behind closed doors.)

“We are doing our best and we have given a generous proposal to our bargaining groups,” Williams-Ridley said that night. She noted that the city had been working hard to bargain in good faith with all eight of its bargaining groups, and had recently reached tentative agreements with several of them.

Williams-Ridley told officials and the public that, as part of worker benefits, the city — historically and going forward — covers 100% of the costs for medical coverage — benefitted workers pay neither premiums nor co-pays for a Kaiser plan — and that the city “is absorbing all of the increases in pension contributions across the entire organization.”

In March, staff provided a 62-page overview of its unfunded liabilities, writing that “the City’s pension contributions for all City employees are anticipated to increase more than $40 million over the next ten years putting a strain on resources and services.”

Over the next year, Williams-Ridley told officials, the city is expecting increases in medical costs of nearly $4 million as well as an increase in pension costs for workers other than police of nearly $3 million.

Williams-Ridley also pointed out that the current pension agreement for newer workers was something the union had agreed to as part of bargaining in 2015 — driven by pension system changes at the state level — in exchange for a 5.58% “offset” in salary increases. The city was not asking for that offset back, she said, even with the proposed rampdown of pension contributions in the next six years.

At the time of her remarks, according to the city’s figures, the union’s package was estimated to cost $26 million over two years compared to the city’s $13 million package over three years. So the sides have come closer through its discussions in July. But there is still work to be done.

“There are some huge issues that are being discussed and it’s important that we work through them with the union,” Williams-Ridley said that night. “I look forward to a successful resolution as soon as possible and I am committed to this process.”

Correction: As of Monday, the city had offered a 4% increase in the first year, followed by 3% and 1% increases in subsequent years. Berkeleyside misstated the final year as 2% due to a typo, but that has been fixed.

Avatar photo

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...