By Steven Tavares

During a combative, sometimes riveting, city council session Monday night, it was the union’s who struck back after a long campaign season in which their service was often villified by candidates. The council approved, 5-0, two city employee contracts covering over 300 workers and containing no wage increases for a third straight contract along with cuts in salary up to 2.8 percent from 6 furlough days. Vice Mayor Ursula Reed and Councilman Bill Stephens, in his final meeting before retirement, both abstained.

It was the night when many of San Leandro’s political leaders had to ante up and show their cards regarding their support of the two controversial union contracts and in many ways illustrated how they may interact in the future with new the mayor.

The negotiations with the San Leandro Management Organization (SLMO)and San Leandro City Employees Association (SLCEA) had been on-going for months. The end of their one-year contract expires at the end of this year. Mayor-elect Stephen Cassidy had urged the council to put off finalizing any deal with the unions until he takes offices Jan. 1. Throughout the campaign Cassidy had espoused fiscal responsibility and zeroed in on ballooning city employee pensions. The two deals, still to be ratified by the unions, do not contain concessions on the issue of pension. A string of opponents to the proposed union deal voiced concern to its possible affects Monday night.

“If they do not make concessions, they may not have jobs,” said Johanne Dictor, who described herself as a former union shop steward. Dictor also participates on Cassidy’s transition team. San Leandro School Board President Morgan Mack-Rose also criticized the deals for reducing the number of furlough days from 12 to 6 amid severe budget uncertainty. Dave Johnson, the CEO of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce asked the council to reassess the deals next year. “Patience may be the most prudent course of action for all of you,” said Johnson.

The notion the two deals could be altered in the new year under the incoming administration was rebuffed by the city attorney who said any changes to the deal under collective bargaining could put the city in legal jeopardy. Councilman Jim Prola thanked the employees for their concessions during the tough economic environment and said any changes to the deals would constitute “regressive bargaining,” which he noted is against the law. “I’m not going to be the Grinch and I’m not going to do something illegal,” Prola said.

Various speakers and councilmembers noted the current pension deals with city employees were adopted in 2000 as a way for the city save money while giving workers a pay increase. Sharon Cornu of the Alameda Labor Council said the next couple of years could be a continuation of the current economic doldrums, but the future could also be better. Like Stephens, Mayor Tony Santos was participating in his last council meeting. Santos continued his long-time support for union causes. “Workers need to work together to protect their rights,” said Santos. “For anybody to deprive any individuals of that right is a violation of the American dream.”

Cassidy and Councilwoman-elect Pauline Cutter had urged for a say on the vote when they take office, but the likelihood their potential votes against the deal could have changed the outcome of the vote was erased when the council unanimously approved the deals. While Stephens abstained on the vote saying he would support giving the new members a look at the confidential negotiations, but he doubted their opposition would made a difference. “You can delay the vote a couple of weeks, but I still don’t think the end result will be different,” said Stephens. Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak assured the incoming members the city’s negotiating team had bargained effectively with the unions and believed once apprised of the deal would agree with her assessment. “I hope you will ultimately see the merits of this proposal,” said Starosciak.

The potential two-year deals with SLMO and SLCEA will put all the city employee contracts in line to expire at the end of 2012. Highlights of the two city employee included no wage increases for the next two years. City employees will have gone five years without a pay increase by the end of the proposed contract. Workers will lose 2.8 percent of the salaries through 6 furlough days, with a re-opener clause that could increase the number within the next two years. Similar to their previous contract, city employees will pay half of any increases to their health insurance premiums. The city estimates cost-savings totalling $675,000 from the deals.