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City employees picket for fair wages and new contract

City workers gather on City Hall steps during picket. (KBAK/KBFX){p}{/p}
City workers gather on City Hall steps during picket. (KBAK/KBFX)

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City employees came out for their first picket in front of City Hall before Wednesday night’s city council meeting. They said the city doesn’t want to negotiate fair wages, and keeps delaying the full economic proposal workers are asking for.

Now, they hope to find out why.

Bakersfield city employees said they want their contract renewed, so they can finally get the higher wages they’ve been asking for.

However, that contract has been expired for months.

“Our contract expired in July, so we’ve been waiting for a new contract and even negotiations since then, so at this point it just feels like they're stalling," said Juan Salazar, a construction inspector for the city of Bakersfield and a member of the SEIU Local 521.

Under the contract, city workers cannot gather to picket. Now since it's expired, they're free to assemble, which they did for their first picket.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 represents these workers, and their members made these demands at a city council meeting on January 25th.

“We’re understaffed, we’re overworked, and all we asked is to get a better wage, fair livable contract, like everybody else," said Salazar.

“The cost of living keeps going up, but our wages stay stagnant," he continued.

According to the SEIU, on February 2nd, the city told them their wages were a priority, but they were waiting on results based on a Classification and Compensation study before moving forward, which they said would happen soon.

The SEIU now said the city has informed them that the soonest they’ll hear a full economic proposal will be in early April.

“We’re all struggling, we’re understaffed, a lot of the people that were here before are not here now," said Salazar.

"It’s really starting to be a struggle to just do normal everyday things," said Brett Brough, a city employee who works in the sewage department.

Brough said for him and many others, his wages have barely gone up in the last few years.

“Maybe, a dollar more an hour since I actually started working here, and that’s in the last eight years.”

Still, Brough said he wants to stay, despite many others leaving for better pay and benefits.

”The crew that I actually work with right now, is a really great crew. I love working with these guys, we’re honest ," he said. "That’s why I stay.”

The workers emphasized their want for the city to work on recruitment and retention of employees, because they said without them, parks, streets, and even sewage systems would look a lot different.

“A lot of services that we take for granted, people take for granted that stuff is basically going to come to a halt if we can’t get a contract settled with the city," said Salazar.

Brough's job is a perfect example of this.

“We go through and make sure that all the sewer systems that go down the middle of the city streets and all that kind of stuff are flowing the way they’re supposed to be following, so you’re not actually having sewer come up out of the manhole.”

The SEIU said the city’s legal obligation is just to meet with them to discuss the problem, which they have already done.

In a statement from the city about the employees , they wrote:

The City of Bakersfield has negotiated new contracts with the Police and Fire Unions during the past year. The City continues to meet with SEIU union leadership about a new agreement. Those negotiations are ongoing, economic proposals have been presented by both the City and union leadership. The City is keenly interested in improving recruitment and retention, as demonstrated in the salary increases on the City Council agenda this evening. The City will not comment any further on those negotiations.

“We’re not asking for something crazy, we’re just asking for a fair and livable wage and contract," said Salazar.

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They said they will continue demanding answers, until something changes.

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