Just under 60 percent of the city employees represented by Palo Alto's largest labor union took an unpaid "furlough day" today, which the city administration is calling an illegal one-day strike.
City officials reported that as of ll a.m. 305 union employees stayed off the job of the 526 who were scheduled, or 59 percent of the union workforce -- 210 employees showed up for work.
Workers represented Service Employees International Union (SEIU) marched and chanted at City Hall and around downtown throughout Thursday afternoon in what they described as a "self-imposed furlough."
They said the action is intended to save the city $281,000.
The union, which represents 617 city workers, has been in heated contract negotiations with the city since May. The union's contract expired on June 30.
"Palo Alto is known for its innovation," the union stated in a Thursday press release. "The self-imposed furlough day is a creative way employees are taking the initiative to help close the budget deficit."
The union announced Tuesday that workers would spend Thursday afternoon cleaning streets and parks and schools. Workers gathered near City Hall in the morning and marched around the neighborhood, picketing and chanting along the way.
As a result of the strike, the city kept all libraries closed except for the Mitchell Park Library, which is scheduled to be open from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday. The Utilities Customer Service Center at City Hall was closed Thursday and routine Public Works and utility-maintenance projects were halted.
City parks and recreational facilities had reduced staffing levels, but remained open throughout the day.
City officials had called the union's action an "illegal strike" and warned that disciplinary actions might be forthcoming.
Keene said the city was granted a court injunction requiring 99 union workers who are deemed "essential to health and safety"
to report to work Thursday. These include police dispatchers and workers who operate the Regional Water Quality Control Plant and the city's water, gas, electric and wastewater collection systems.
"We are pleased that the court agreed with us yesterday and issued an injunction that
required these SEIU employees to come to work alongside the employees who chose to come to work today," Keene said in a prepared statement. "Having all these employees working together ensures that we can remain focused on protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community and our employees."
The city had asked the court to designate 108 workers as critical to health and safety, but the judge excluded some in animal control and areas not deemed as essential to community well-being.
The city had asked the union on Sept. 8 to agree to exclude the workers from any work stoppage or strike action, but the union declined, Keene said.
The city and SEIU negotiators met Tuesday night in its latest negotiation session, and are discussing another time to meet, he said.
Keene said the city has presented another proposal to the union representatives, and that the administration has "dropped a lot of things" from its earlier negotiating position. He said details would soon be made public about what the city is offering, with a posting on the city's website.