How Would Mayoral Candidates Approach Labor Negotiations?

Make Oakland Better Now!’s Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire was answered by 8 of the ten candidates.  All of the completed questionnaires are available for viewing at our web site, here. Since some Oaklanders may want to compare candidate responses to each of the questions, we will be publishing the responses sorted by question here at Oaktalk over the coming days.  We previously posted the answers to our questions about Oakland’s November ballot measures here, about the city’s structural deficit here, and about candidate budget priorities here.   Today, we post the answers to our fourth question, this one dealing with the candidates approach to balancing interests when negotiating with the city’s unions.

Question 4.            Each of the city’s labor agreements will open during your term as mayor, which means that wages and benefits will be up for negotiation.  As mayor, what will be your plan for balancing the city’s interests in maximizing taxpayer services per tax dollar and retaining and attracting skilled and motivated employees?


[Note:  this candidate combined his responses to questions 2, 3 and 4.  Please see that response at his response to No. 2, here.]


Oakland suffers from diffuse, often unintelligible leadership from city hall. Often no one seems in charge; too often, no one is. It’s become commonplace for the mayor and council simply to defer to city staff to make (or not make) hard choices.

As a result, Oakland faces a cash-flow problem perilously close to insolvency.

It is my goal as Mayor to reorganize the city consistent with the reality of our economic times. Since 80% of the budget is personnel costs, city workers must actively engage in resolving the growing fiscal imbalance. That’s what a leader does; it’s what a mayor must do.

To date, no one in city hall has done anything – or even made a suggestion about what the city’s facing.  I hope I have made myself clear throughout my campaign – I have a long history of working closely with organized labor to successfully navigate challenging issues – mediating conflicts, building coalitions to pass key legislation, and creating public policy that builds and strengthens government’s ability to effectively deliver services while respecting the dignity and rights of its workers.  I will continue to work closely with labor leaders to solve our city’s most intractable problems, and see labor as a key partner in the lasting health and well being of our city.

I will immediately engage in strong leadership in city hall – it’s what I do.  Providing leadership to get things done – even uncomfortable things.  My qualifications for the job of mayor are my 21-year resume.  Not rhetoric – results

No other policy area or priority will matter if we don’t first address the long-term, chronic and structural budget problems our city faces; that begins by sitting down with labor over a set of real figures that are commonly agreed upon and facing the reality.  The mayor and council have yet to do this in the last four years.


I hope to “grow our own employees” as much as possible, especially in the public safety departments where about 80% or more of the employees do not live in the City. This means working with high school internship and career academies and the community colleges to train and recruit Oakland residents. If done right, this will reduce crime, strengthen the schools, and keep city revenues in our local economy. I expect statewide pension reform will take place within CalPers and the city will be part of that. I would like to extend cafeteria plan benefits combined with changes that might reduce health care costs.


First of all, I’m not going to wait for a contract to be open to convene a meeting with interested labor groups to determine how we balance our budget and close these massive deficits. In January, I will call that meeting immediately. It is my belief that all unions regardless of contract status will participate because they are only too well aware of the fact that our city is teetering at the edge of bankruptcy now. Bankruptcy is the nuclear option. A scorched earth policy that renders existing labor agreements unenforceable. I have no desire to see ourcity add bankruptcy to a resume that already highlights crime and poor education. It would be difficult for me to attract new business development to a city saddled with bankruptcy. Nevertheless, it is an option, and its existence is what will bring labor groups to the table to negotiate. I cannot really answer the part of your question that deals with “maximizing taxpayer services” here because all of that will turn on the outcome of negotiations to close our deficit. What I can say is that every agreement we reach will meet the criteria of serving all of Oakland’s interests and must be part of a long-term fiscally sustainable solution. To the extent there is pain, it will be proportionally shared by all parties.

As Mayor, I will take the first step in this direction by voluntarily giving back the raise Mayor Dellums gave himself and reducing my salary to serve as an example for others.


Here, again, I will be able to save jobs. Granted, the benefits package must be looked at in a more reasonable way. However, I do not think we will need to cut front-line employee wages. I do, however, intend to cut the salaries of upper-level management. Oakland has been victimized by this type of bias and mismanagement for far too long.


I will ask people to ask themselves, “what can I do for Oakland?”, rather than “what can Oakland do for me?”.


It is essential that the next Mayor work effectively to resolve labor negotiations. This includes working with the community and city workers to improve service to the public in these tough economic times. This includes, as mentioned above, the pension imbalance, and also using more cost-effective strategies to end layoffs, such as retirement incentives. (Since senior workers are more highly paid than junior workers, when there are reductions in workforce size, it is more cost-effective to use retirement incentives rather than using the “last hired, first fired” approach). This includes also reviewing the needed number of managers, and seeking other strategies, such as making permits available online, to save money and improve service for the public.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

Leave a Reply