Oakland – If you thought the City of Oakland resolved its issues with its workers after the 2018 Workers Strike, think again. The City of Oakland is on the brink of what will be its second workers strike in just two years (and when the Oakland Unified School District Strike of 2018 is considered, third) – an unprecedented occurrence.
And the main driver of the problem is the same ultra-high housing costs that have caused record levels of homelessness in Oakland.
This is my interview during last year’s Oakland Workers Strike, and with SEIU 1021 Representative Frankie Izzo:
Many City of Oakland workers say that either they, or other colleagues, aren’t making enough money to live in Oakland. And the Oakland Post’s Ken Epstein reports that a 22-year City of Oakland employee named Cheryl Dunaway, and a Local 21 union member, said told the Oakland City Council that she became homeless and had to leave the city. “I work in Oakland, but I can’t afford to live in Oakland,” she said. “I used to, but now I can’t. I commute around four hours a day.”
The main problem is that the City of Oakland workers who represent Local 21 want a 3 percent increase, which the City of Oakland claims it can’t afford. One City of Oakland friend of this blogger said that “They offered two percent. If that’s the case, I’m sure we’ll strike. Keep tuned to the next budget meeting on Monday. The Union will hold a rally before the meeting. And a budget must be approved before July 1st.”
Council President Kaplan Says Oakland Under-Reports Revenue
But, Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan recently uncovered information that should be included in this conversation.
Council President Rebecca Kaplan reports that the City of Oakland consistently takes in more revenue than it forecasts, and has done so for the last seven years.
In “Oakland Budget Wars: Rebecca Kaplan Attacks City, Mayor Schaaf, With Numbers”, a post at Oakland News Now, Kaplan presented an analysis of data that shows how much money the City of Oakland’s own under projections have left on the table.
Kaplan asserts that the City of Oakland will realize a surplus of $40 million; she plans to use unrestricted 3 percent growth in revenue which is $18.3 million in 2019-2020 and $19.05 million in 2020-2021. Overall Kaplan makes the point that the City of Oakland’s budgeted revenue is less than what is actually collected.
It’s a point Local 21 workers agree with.
“For almost a decade, the City of Oakland has consistently under-projected revenue by large margins,” said IFPTE Local 21 Bargaining Team member and Oakland Revenue Operations Supervisor Nicole Welch. “Each year, we hear the same story — that there isn’t enough money for services or to help city workers keep up with the cost of living, but each year the City closes
its books with millions in extra revenues. This year alone the City estimates that it has almost $40 million in surplus general purpose fund revenues. At the same time, the City budgets millions of dollars for positions that it never intends to fill and redirects those funds to special projects, increased overtime and private contractors. It’s time for the City to invest in its workforce and the critical services we provide.”
Several Oakland City Councilmembers Back City Of Oakland Workers Say Local 21 Reps
As of this writing, several Oakland City Councilmembers support the City Of Oakland Workers increase request (they’re still bargaining) asked for by Local 21 and they’re led Council President Kaplan, and District Two Councilmember Nikki Bas. With so little political support, and yet with so much in terms of money need just for City of Oakland workers to live, the storm clouds are forming for yet another workers strike.
A Comprehensive Plan Tying Together Housing, Economic Development, And Wages Is Needed
The City of Oakland has to start thinking out of the box with its workers. First, the City Council should pass a policy edict that no City of Oakland worker should be homeless and the City will provide housing for them. Second, and to that end, the City of Oakland should have its own workers housing – a special place for City of Oakland workers, and built for City of Oakland workers. Something on the order of a 300-unit multi-famly complex would go a long way toward solving the workers housing cost problem.
That way, the City of Oakland could use tax increment financing to help pay for such a structure under SB-628 Bealle, which calls for TIF to be used to provide low-income housing. The lower rent profile actually helps both the City of Oakland and its workers control overall costs. The City should also seek a corporate naming rights partner to help pay for the facility. This is something the City of Oakland has never done, but is necessary in today’s housing climate.
And the City should provide housing vouchers to help those in need and until the new housing is ready for them. Another way to help pay for this housing project so rents are low, could be a revenue anticipation note (yes, we already did one last year, but the City can do another one). Combined with the TIF bonds, the resultant rent payments could be made to be super affordable for City of Oakland workers.
That, combined with the wage increase, would really help a lot of City of Oakland workers get housing they can afford. The “economic development” part of this, is where Oakland provides the available job positions by unfreezing them.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media