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Berkeley leaders labor over union demands

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday June 26, 2002

City leaders met privately Tuesday evening in an abnormally long session that signaled continued difficulty in drawing up new contracts for more than 1,000 frustrated city employees. 

The closed meeting, which delayed the start of its regularly-scheduled public meeting, followed the unification of four city unions over controversial municipal contracts due to expire next month. Cost of living adjustments, retirement benefits, and worker compensation provisions are at the heart of union concerns. 

After months back and forth, union leaders gave City Council two things to think about Tuesday: a 2.7 percent pension after age 55 instead of 3 percent at age 50; and a 6 percent cost-of-living wage hike instead of previously discussed 8 and 9 percent increases. Union leaders dubbed the demands as compromises in their bargaining position. 

Council’s deliberations over the proposal were not public. State law says that wage negotiations can be private until a contract is in place. 

“I don’t get into the numbers game, but I want an all-out push this week,” Mayor Shirley Dean said. She expects a new contract to be settled by Friday. How much the city was willing to compromise, she would not say. 

Union leaders are classifying their demands not as raises, but as increases that are compatible to what other city employees recently were given. Salary hikes as high as 30 percent for police officers and city managers are cited in the union’s statement to the city. 

“Why are some walking away with the beef and others the wrappers?” asked Tom Farrell, a union representative of Local One. 

More than 300 city employees marched in front of the City Civic Center Monday and at least half as many protested outside City Council Chambers Tuesday night. 

“We stand united. We will get respect,” was a common cheer bellowed by the workers. 

The four unions in collaboration include Local One, Local 790 of Service Employees International Union, Local 535 of SEIU and Local 1245 of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Their representation reflects a range of professions from mid-level managers to technical and trade positions.