San Jose public workers protest city’s attack

June 27, 2011

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Public-sector unions held a rally at City Hall on June 23 which drew a crowd of 250. The demonstration was in response to Mayor Chuck Reed's proposed "Fiscal and Public Emergency," which seeks to do away with collective bargaining through passage of various ballot initiatives.

Organized by South Bay Labor Council, unions represented at the protest included AFSCME Local 101, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, California Nurses Association and Service Employees International Union Local 521.

A City Council vote was postponed from June 21 and rescheduled for June 24. But rather than voting on the "pension reform" proposal originally scheduled for the Council meeting agenda, the agenda was changed for the purpose of considering how long to delay the vote on the mayor's plan. The council voted to postpone a vote until August 2.

The city's budget battle takes place as the state continues its ritual of overdue budgets, which usually end in service cuts that severely affect education, the poor, disabled and the working class in general. In light of the general tone of austerity common in the state and nationally, it comes as no surprise that local governments have followed suit.

Reed's proposals--which are being compared to legislation signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker--would threaten collective bargaining and subject city wages and benefits to voter approval. Reed and other supporters of "pension reform" blame the $115 million budget deficit on the current pension plan for the budget crisis.

A new two-tiered pension system being proposed would force new hires, and eventually many current employees, into pensions that would yield much less in benefits. Those who opt to remain in the current plan would bear more of the liability and be forced to contribute considerably more for retirement.

Mayor Reed wants to reduce the city workforce by hundreds of positions--a move that appears to be a foregone conclusion. Union member Betty Washington called it a "sad day because it's the day 200 employees will lose their jobs" and "many will become the working poor." San Jose is only destitute "when it comes to working people," he added.

June 24, in fact, was the last day of work for 250 city workers. There will be a total 500 city employees who will become unemployed this year.

Speakers at the rally pointed out that it was not public-service workers who created the economic crisis but, Wall Street. "The criminals of Wall Street caused the crisis,: a member of the Democratic party told the crowd. He acknowledged that it was the Democrats that are behind this proposal in San Jose, as both Mayor Reed and all but one member of the council are Democrats.

Community organizer and union member Teresa Costalanes asserted that "collective bargaining is more than wages and benefits, its dignity in the workplace...if we lose it here we have lost it everywhere." She added that "unions are the political voice of the working class" and declared that "we will fight every moment and every step of the way."

At the end of the rally the crowd chanted, "Power, power, power! Unions got the power."

Some young unionists took part in a "Zombie Flash Mob" later in the evening. They proceeded to march through downtown to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." If the mayor's "reforms" are approved, these workers say they will become the "working dead." They camped out overnight to get front row seats at the following day's City Council meeting.

Council member Ash Karla has posted an online petition in opposition to Reed's proposal. To date, there are nearly 4,000 signatures. The goal is to reach 10,000 signatures by August.

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