Seven members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 were arrested by order of the mayor during a Santa Cruz City Council meeting on May 26. After speaking on behalf of SEIU, the members locked arms in front of council members shouting, “What do we want? Contracts. When do we want them? Now.”
After refusing to leave the meeting, the members were handcuffed with plastic zip ties, escorted out of City Hall and detained at the Santa Cruz Police Department, and released later that evening.
Santa Cruz Police Department media representative Joyce Blaschke said the members “were arrested for public disturbance but were only detained as long as it took police to do a background check and fingerprinting.”
Prior to the arrest, hundreds of SEIU members and allies rallied together in front of the Town Clock around 6 p.m. before marching down Pacific Avenue to City Hall “to hand-deliver a letter from the community to City Council demanding a response to the need for a living wage, affordable housing and community investment for all,” according to SEIU’s press release.
Santa Cruz Service Employee contracts are due to expire in June, and that evening, City Council planned to discuss the proposed budget for 2016. This plan outlined new financial contracts that members of the SEIU said were inadequate.
Outside City Hall, ralliers grouped together, blew whistles and shouted their demands on each corner of the intersection of Church Street and Center Street. Children wore purple shirts with “SEIU” printed in white type, and some sat in red wagons laughing and shouting along with their parents in solidarity. Despite the seriousness of the ralliers’ concerns, many cheerful faces were seen in the crowd.
Among the smiling faces was Ted Rossiter, a member of the SEIU bargaining team and a tech specialist in the Information Technology Division of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Services Department, also voiced this concern. He acknowledged this frustration along with other looming consequences of the city’s new proposed budget.
“Just living here, the prices are going up, but [the city’s contract] offer is to give us less money over three years,” Rossiter said. “These are all the people who want to get paid a fair wage for doing a good job.”
Rossiter said a little known fact is that city workers have to pay for their retirement while receiving an average of $34,000 per year without any social security or benefits.
Workers represented by the SEIU include librarians, janitors and waste management drivers whose professions range in pay. SEIU organizer Jeffrey Smedberg — one of the seven members arrested — said the jobs with the least amount of compensation usually belong to women.
“The city contract workers have been in negotiation with city management for several months now, and the contract is due to expire at the end of June,” Smedberg said. “The city is asking the workers to take a pay cut and keep women in lower-paid positions.”
Mayor Don Lane said it was understandable that city employees wanted an increase in payment, especially because of the rising cost of housing in Santa Cruz.
“City Council is very much in the middle of negotiations with SEIU,” Lane said. “I hope we’ll have productive bargaining sessions over the next few weeks and come to a positive agreement.”
The City Council meeting ended without an agreement or consensus. Rossiter, SEIU bargaining team member and a tech specialist in the Information Technology Division of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Services Department, said City Council held another meeting the day after despite SEIU’s requests to have it at a time when service employees aren’t working.
Lane said council members spent much of the rescheduled meeting going through the budget to identify possible sources of additional dollars to add to city workers’ compensation resources.
“This would have happened with or without the demonstration yesterday,” Lane said. “The demonstration emphasized how strongly city workers feel about their need for additional compensation and it will keep us focused on their needs.”