Hayward City Council, left to right, Mark Salinas, Francisco Zermeno, Mayor Michael Sweeney, Al Mendal, Barbara Halliday, Greg Jones, Marvin Peixoto.

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL//LABOR/ANALYSIS | To the casual observer the continuing labor strife between Hayward and its city employees might appeared to be about city officials taking an extremely hard line against labor or workers asking for too much. While this is the dividing line it seems in labor disputes recently, there is a more pressing issue emerging in Hayward—an unfathomable, almost systemic lack of leadership from the mayor and City Council.

City employees have been without a contract since February. In the meantime, city negotiators led by City Manager Fran David have demanded five percent givebacks from employees on top of the previous cuts in pay and furloughs. Workers walked off the job for three days in August after the city declared an impasse. However, city officials and negotiators have rarely met with union leaders. Like a constant drumbeat, it’s been five percent or nothing. David even allegedly threatened layoffs if the union did not comply.

This wreck of a city management team, however, is good at keeping itself under the radar until now. Hayward is the family that sits at Thanksgiving dinner with phony smiles upon their faces while dark family secrets swirl among them without acknowledgement.

We are now heading towards November without any movement, whatsoever. So, what’s going on? What sort of fair negotiating tactics involves foot-dragging through seven months of negotiations without actually negotiating with the other side? It’s almost like the city of Hayward just expects its workers to simply give up and return to their jobs like the past year never happened. During a council meeting last Tuesday, union members spoke passionately about their plight while urging for the city to simply return to the negotiating table. “To me, it’s not about money, it’s about being fair and doing the right thing,” said Eldon Walker, a 27-year employee for the city.

Earlier in the meeting, a Hayward resident protesting speed bumps on his street, succeeded in getting the attention of the mayor and city staff. Mayor Michael Sweeney directed staff to “talk apples to apples” with the homeowner. Ariana Casanova, a labor rep for the Service Employees Union International, Local 1021, then asked for the same consideration. “We’ve been talking past each other and talking apples to oranges and I think it’s time that we get to this place where we all know we’re going to compromise, so we can get a contract and move forward,” she told the council. “What we are requesting will not bankrupt the city, will not hurt these residents, but will continue to build a better future for Hayward.”

The labor issue is unmasking a huge and nagging problem in Hayward. It’s a city without any distinguishable plan for its future. Large swaths of the city sit empty without any notion of transforming them into economic engines for Hayward’s tax base. A virtually six-lane freeway tears through its downtown to the hair-pulling consternation of visitors and residents trying to figure out its bewildering maze. Its downtown is shuttered for many reasons, but not because of quality of life issues like the chambers of commerce will have you believe, but since property owners are jacking up rents devoid of any interest from prospective tenants. Hayward’s schools are the worst in the county and its solution is to hire a new superintendent who is woefully under qualified for the job and potentially a hired gun with the sole duty to pass another exorbitant bond measure to satiate the powerful school construction lobby. Hayward even had two sex scandals, one involving its former city manager, now Councilmember Greg Jones, and another at the school board with two members secretly meeting in an extramarital affair. Both scandals failed to muster even the slightest condemnation from a single council member.

This wreck of a city management team, however, is good at keeping itself under the radar until now. Hayward is the family that sits at Thanksgiving dinner with phony smiles upon their faces while dark family secrets swirl among them without acknowledgement. To say the members of the Hayward City Council sit on the dais like lumps on a log in this labor dispute is almost a good analogy. But, in fact, they’re a nothing more than enablers for this fantastic failure of their own lack of leadership. To make matters worse, three members of this clan want to be mayor next year. All have virtually the same accomplishments, since taking the initiative with your own ideas is not something Hayward City Council members readily do, and all refuse to acknowledge their reticence toward this dispute speaks volumes to labor unions in the county. Remember, Alameda County is union-strong and Hayward is one of its most potent outposts.

Over the months, I have repeatedly harangued the three mayoral candidates, Councilmembers Francisco Zermeno, Mark Salinas and Barbara Halliday, for any nuance in their support of labor. Nothing but obfuscation follows. Come election season, the three will most likely espouse their support for labor in return for contributions and endorsements, but the fact remains that the current labor strategy did not comes from the city manager’s office or its negotiators. The direction to stand steadfast against city workers ultimately came from the mayor and the city council.

You may see Zermeno around town glad-handing union members in a comical fashion and hear Halliday and Salinas bob and weave on the labor question, but their future kowtowing speaks volumes for the lack of leadership in Hayward. In fact, if they had collectively led in the past there would not be any prospect for future deficits in Hayward, even if you squinted hard enough.