Over 400 Oakland City workers picketed outside City Hall on September 25. A sea of purple and blue shirts united in the streets, literally on 14th and Broadway, as union members of SEIU Local 1021 and IFPTE Local 21 stopped traffic to send a message to the Mayor. Oakland is facing a crisis and residents are being starved of city services.
“We’re severely understaffed, and have more than 600 vacant positions. That’s 600 people who are not filling Oakland’s potholes, preventing residents from getting evicted, paving streets, or helping our homeless population. We’re doing the work of 2 to 3 people, sometimes 4 or 5. And we’re underpaid. But we stay because we love Oakland,” said Felipe Cuevas, City of Oakland heavy equipment mechanic and SEIU 1021 Oakland Chapter President.
SEIU 1021 President Joseph Bryant at the workers’ press conference reflected on another side of the vacancies, as he told of a union brother, born and raised in Oakland, who was homeless for a long time before being hired as a city worker. “Now he’s gainfully employed, he loves his job, he loves serving the city of Oakland,” Bryant said, “and there are 600 other opportunities that could have the same impact on somebody’s life.”
President Bryant was taking about Oakland City Worker Davin Barnett Jr. He works in the Oakland’s Illegal Dumping Department picking up trash and servicing homeless encampments.
“At one point in time I was homeless. I was sleeping in the back of 1999 Honda Accord, said Barnett. “I did everything possible and followed all the procedures to get this job. If Oakland has hella (600) jobs, then Oakland should higher hella people.”
The Mayor and City Administration has not addressed workers core issues: the high cost of living in the Bay Area, chronic understaffing that endangers vital city services and the protection of key benefits and civil service rights.