Oakland, unions reach tentative budget agreement

July 1, 2011 12:15:04 AM PDT
Many social services will be spared after the city of Oakland reached a tentative deal with unions during closed-door meetings Thursday afternoon. The agreement did not come easily: Council members were in meetings throughout the afternoon and a public meeting started shortly before 4:30 p.m. where a vote was expected.

Seniors who normally cut up the dance floor twice a week at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center will be spared budget cuts by City Hall, so guys like Joe Peoples will still have a place to show off their moves.

"That's sad," Peoples said. "In fact, they're having that problem all over. We dance in Concord on Tuesday; they're having that problem there."

The City Council is down to the final hours before a budget must be approved. By July 1, the $58 million deficit must be balanced. To get out of the red, the city approved the $28 million sale of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.

After contentious negotiations with city worker unions, the city council finally struck a deal. Workers, including police and firefighters, agreed to give back more than $30 million in concessions.

"By doing that, they saved our libraries (and) many of the programs the city loves," said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. "So I want to thank them all."

Cuts to services, like a plan to close nearly all of Oakland's libraries, will be shelved for now, but there will still be painful cuts. As many as 200 city workers could be laid off, city offices will have 15 furlough days a year and fire stations could start having rotating closures after next year.

The givebacks mean some firefighters will trim about $8,000 from their paychecks, but union leaders say they had no choice.

"We do see how bad it is," said firefighter Chuck Garcia. "It's better for us to make concessions now than going bankrupt. Bankruptcy isn't good for anyone, including the citizens of Oakland."

Oakland city leaders passed the budget, just hours before their midnight deadline; the vote was 5-4 with Quan as the tie breaker.


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