I’m here striking on my daughter’s fourth birthday instead of being at her classroom celebrating. It brings tears to my eyes to miss being there for my family, but today I’m here with my union family to stand up for respect on the job. Through the Great Recession, Oakland city workers endured four years of unpaid furloughs, salary freezes, and layoffs. We gave back and worked longer hours to keep the city moving with the promise that when the city economy recovered, so would we.
Libby Schaaf was among the people who made us that promise.
I’m appalled that I have to take my fourth day of unpaid leave to strike, simply to get a cost of living increase, not even to recover from our years of scarcity. We all know that the Bay Area is getting more and more expensive. We’re currently behind the cost of living, which doesn’t even include housing costs.
The city is getting its fair share of Bay Area growth. But it’s not willing to share that prosperity with the very employees that helped the city get through tough times.
The city of Oakland has a history in the past two years of greatly over estimating its expenditures and underestimating its revenues. And Mayor Schaaf is continuing to manipulate her numbers so she can paint a bleaker picture to serve her personal agenda. She pled to the media that we’re asking for money that she doesn’t have. But she isn’t sharing the whole story, and is instead cherry-picking numbers to support her position.
City workers who have stuck around because we love our city — I’ve been here for 20 years and counting — continue to get the shaft from Mayor Schaaf. For many of my union brothers and sisters, we’re one paycheck away from being a member of the homeless population we’re simultaneously working to support.
Let me be clear: This isn’t just about us falling behind. This is about the services we’re able — or unable — to deliver to Oaklanders. Any Oakland resident knows that our city simply isn’t doing enough to pick up illegal dumping, build better streets, keep our libraries open for our families, and deliver other services we deserve.
I’m regularly losing colleagues to cities that pay more. Just this year, a coworker with over 20 years of experience at the city of Oakland left for the same position with the city of Berkeley because it paid 20 percent more. Oakland used to be a great place to work. But another one of our young, bright staffers, who was on the job for just one year, left for a better paying gig in San Francisco.
The city of Oakland commissioned Koff and Associates to compare salaries for similar positions and found that Oakland employees are paid on average 10 percent less than other Bay Area jurisdictions.
This isn’t limited to cities like San Francisco and Berkeley; other working-class cities like San Leandro and Hayward pay far more.
When positions are vacant because staff leave for nearby jobs, or because we can’t recruit the best and brightest in the first place, Oaklanders lose. The city shouldn’t be squirreling away millions in surplus when there’s trash and potholes all over the streets.
We want to get back to serving the city we love, and we want to be able to afford to live in the city in which we work.
Ali Schwarz, is a project manager at Oakland Public Works and a member of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21.