Drawing on Occupy Wall Street tactics, Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union is increasing pressure on Mayor Ed Lee as its contract negotiations head into arbitration.
The mayor is attempting to close a $170 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year and has been renegotiating 27 labor contracts that will weigh heavily on The City’s fiscal future.
Members of San Francisco’s largest union of public employees had pledged to stage a City Hall “sleepover” Monday night, and they weren’t planning to have pillow fights or tell ghost stories. But despite early threats to bring sleeping bags and stay until they were ejected, by Monday night most of the workers had gone home.
Noting that the demonstration aimed to be “very peaceful,” labor organizer Carlos Rivera said workers were staging the “sit-in” to encourage top city officials to forgo regular raises and demand that large companies in The City pay more taxes for services.
The SEIU has been out in force recently on the streets of San Francisco, with a protest rally of 1,300 members last month during which 23 supporters were arrested outside Bank of America and a satirical advertising spot featuring older white men in suits panhandling on the sidewalk so they can buy yachts and mansions. Another print and digital ad depicts a janitor mopping the floor at City Hall, and reads: “While Robert Rosales was cleaning up City Hall, San Francisco’s biggest corporations were cleaning it out.”
Rivera stopped short of using “class warfare” to describe the recent conflict in San Francisco, although he said that’s what could be brewing on a national scale.
“I think we will start seeing a group of people joining the rest of the nation in being sick and tired of banks and corporations not paying their fair share,” Rivera said. “It’s just a bunch of ordinary people sick and tired of watching the rich people and major corporations take advantage of the little people.”
Targeting both the companies and City Hall, the labor group wants San Francisco’s business tax to generate tens of millions more than the $400 million it currently brings in to The City’s $6.8 billion annual budget. The Mayor’s Office is in the midst of trying to develop a tax-reform proposal for voters to decide on the November ballot, but the process appears to be bogged down in conflict between labor-intensive tech companies that want to nix The City’s payroll tax, and more traditional businesses that oppose making up the difference with a gross receipts tax.
The Mayor’s Office announced last week and again on Monday that it settled contracts with smaller city employee unions, including Plumbing and Pipefitting’s Local 38, and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers’ Local 21.