On Tuesday, Dec. 5, approximately 3000 city workers walked out of their jobs and went on strike, shutting down most of the city government.
Librarians, childcare workers, street cleaners, sewer workers and parking enforcement officers are among those who walked off their jobs. (It’s a good time to let your parking meter run, by the way.) Police and firefighters are exempt from striking. What hasn’t made the headlines, or been talked about much, is that the city’s Planning and Building Department has also been closed this week.
During the strike, there will be no city workers inspecting buildings for safety. No one will be around to accept applications for new housing or office space developments. No staffers will write reports on upcoming construction projects to share with the Planning Commission.
The closure of the Building and Planning Department should concern everyone. City safety inspectors not doing their jobs can have catastrophic results. And if city planners are not accepting applications for new developments, the slower it’s going to be getting new housing and office space built. The Planning Commission was going to hear a report on a 29-story mixed-use building at its meeting on Wednesday, but the meeting was canceled, its agenda items moved to January.
Over the past year, this publication has made a great deal of noise about the treatment of construction workers in the city. Our main point has been that while we all want more housing and mixed-use development, we cannot sacrifice family-sustaining jobs and opportunities for young workers to learn their professions. We can’t devalue work to solve a crisis.
But slowing the pace of housing construction will exacerbate the current housing crisis. Workers at the Planning and Building Department are vital to making sure we get additional housing without needless delays. They play an important role in getting construction workers to work. We need to get them back to work.
We stand by our brothers and sisters at SEIU 1021 and IFPTE Local 21 who are leading the strike. The workers have been without a contract since July. They are asking for wages in line with the cost of living in the Bay Area, stronger health and safety protections, and for the city to respect their skills by not hiring as many part-time workers to do full-time work.
The unions put forth a proposal that would have allowed them to keep working for another year while negotiating agreements for the two following years on their contract. The city rejected the unions’ plan and offered up a take-it-or-leave-it deal of its own. The city is ultimately responsible for the strike.
We hope the city will agree to the unions’ demands or come up with a compromise worthy of its workers. These men and women are vital to the future of Oakland.