City workers rally for fair wages and negotiations

By Sheri Williams

City workers with Local 39 picketed in front of City Hall last month to protest low wages, increasing health care costs and a failure by Sacramento officials to bargain.

“The city is not interested in giving us a fair wage increase,” Local 39 member Ed Silva told media as he marched with more than 200 fellow union members and supporters. “I work with a lot of other folks who are dedicated to their jobs and I feel that we need to have a fair wage increase to continue to provide the good service that we already do.”

Local 39 has been working without a contract since June and the city has cancelled at least three bargaining sessions, said Local 39 business agent Laura Trapp. Some of its members start at $12.61 per hour, close to minimum wage. Trapp and others said that is not a living wage in Sacramento as rents and the cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years.

“Local 39 members are some of the most visible and hardworking Sacramento employees,” said Fabrizio Sasso, head of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. “They deserve to be respected, to make a living wage, and to know that the hard work they put in every day to make our city a better place also means they can support their families and pay their bills. The city needs to step forward and bargain in good faith.”

After police and firefighters, Local 39 sisters and brothers make up the largest segment of city workers. With more than 1,500 members, it includes garbage and sanitation crews, park maintenance staff, street repair crews, animal control officers, tree trimmers, 311 operations, community center staff, finance and IT workers and customer service representatives.

Local 39 member Branden Bradley said that as the cost of living has increased dramatically in Sacramento in recent years – up nearly 30 percent in a decade – a wage increase is vital to making his city job one that can support his family. He said he was marching because he wants to know that the “city actually cares about me as a person,” he said.

“All we really want is a fair and equitable increase,” Kevin Calhoun, a Local 39 member who works at a community center, told media. “We’re not trying to get rich and we’re not trying to break the city. But in this economy we’re getting left so far behind, and for some of us it’s becoming a struggle just to make it.”

Union members were startled earlier this year when the city gave a raise to contract workers that in some cases makes their hourly wages higher than Local 39 members. The city has also refused to increase its health care contributions, leaving Local 39 members to shoulder hefty costs that already eat into their meager pay.

“The city is giving cost of living increases to contract workers and we are not getting anything,” union member Jacob Fernandez said. “I just think that’s not fair if we are supposed to be a family like they said we are.”

Sasso and others said the Labor Council will continue its strong support of Local 39, and the union could be forced to strike if the city continues to refuse to bargain.

“They’re not asking for a lot,” said Sasso. “They’re not even asking for an increase that would actually keep up with the cost of living. Whatever gains they’ve made in their total wages recently have been offset by other things like the housing crisis.”