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The Burlingame B

The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

Burlingame workers strike over speech suppression amid contract negotiations

AFSCME+members+walked+back+and+forth+in+front+of+Burlingame+City+Hall+holding+picketing+signs.
Jake Rothstein
AFSCME members walked back and forth in front of Burlingame City Hall holding picketing signs.

The San Mateo County American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 829 union picketed in front of Burlingame City Hall for 16 hours on Monday, Dec. 4, citing intimidation and suppression of free speech from City Management as they negotiate a contract. The strike, attended by over 100 AFSCME members, guest speakers and union supporters, was the first since 1981.

“There were three incidents of unfair labor practices where city managers threatened employees after they spoke up to the city council and exercised their rights and public comment to advocate for fair wages and better working conditions,” AFSCME representative Rod Palmquist said. “[One example was] after [an employee] spoke at city council, the superintendent of parks told the employee that the mayor of Burlingame, Michael Brownrigg, takes comments personally and that we, as in AFSCME, have to watch what we say.” 

In response, AFSCME helped workers file official retaliation charges against Burlingame with the California Public Employment Relations Board. Even with the suit filed, AFSCME reported continued suppression of speech from Burlingame managers. The lack of progress was a key motive for the strike, which received support from 96% of the union.

“The retaliation and the unfair labor practices kept happening [after the suit was filed],” said AFSCME member Dante Campania, a sewer lead worker. “Nothing was said from city council or city managers [regarding the suit].”

AFSCME states that the strike is solely in response to retaliation and unfair labor practices and bears no relation to contract negotiations and worker compensation. However, these issues are inherently related because the alleged intimidation occurred when the two concerns were voiced to the city council. Currently, AFSCME is six months into negotiating a contract with Burlingame, locking all raises and bonuses until a contract is finalized — one that AFSCME hopes will include a wage hike.

“Our wages are going further and further behind, and we’re experiencing pay cuts in real inflationary terms,” Palmquist said. “If you compare the jobs in Burlingame with other areas and cities, workers are paid less for doing the same work that is more highly compensated by other regional cities around the Bay Area.”

With rising living costs and uncompetitive salaries in the Bay Area, many workers have sought higher-paying work in other counties.

“We’ve lost several people. Just in the last year in the water division we had three guys come in. We trained them for a year and a half, two years, they got their licenses, were just starting to get going, and all three of them left within a month or two,” Water Quality and Meter Lead Worker Richard Stephens said. “They got promoted to lead worker, but then they left to go to a higher-paying position [in other counties].”

Workers that do stay struggle to afford to buy or rent in Burlingame — one of the most expensive cities in California — and must contend with lengthy commutes. 

“Almost everyone commutes into [Burlingame],” Campania said. “Even when I started, people were commuting in from really far. We have a lot of people coming across the bridge every day. And it’s just gotten worse and worse and worse. You know, we seem to be getting further out and further out into the valley.”

Due to picketing, the Burlingame Public Library was closed until 2 P.M. (Jake Rothstein)

Speakers, including San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, touched on both the cost of living and salaries in the Bay Area.

“I think at the end of the day, what I hear from my constituents is they can’t afford to live here. And what I’m hoping for today is that the city and labor get together and really figure this out. We all have common interests, and that common interest is to make sure that we serve the residents of Burlingame,” Canepa said.

The AFSCME strike led to a delayed library opening, though it didn’t have a major effect on public safety as there was still a minimum number of required workers operating critical utilities in case of an emergency. 

“We proactively reached out to the city to make sure that we were maintaining critical services for health and safety,” Palmquist said. “Our members also work in sewer, water supply, City Hall and payroll in utilities in processing payments for residents — really, most of the city. We’re the largest union in the city.”

One thing that many union members mentioned was a lack of respect and appreciation from Burlingame city leadership.

At a basic level [we want] respect. The city doesn’t respect us

— Rod Palmquist

“We deserve to be heard. We deserve to have the things we’re saying about what we need in workplaces and with wages be taken seriously, and I’m just disappointed,” Burlingame Librarian Jennifer Bousquet said. “I think they’re investing a lot of time and energy in fighting us instead of working with us.”

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Jake Rothstein, Managing Editor
Jake Rothstein is a senior at Burlingame High School and is a third-year student in journalism. Jake is excited to be the new co-managing editor for the Burlingame B. He is an avid runner on the cross country and track teams and enjoys building and designing software applications. In his spare time, Jake enjoys being with friends and family and reading the news.
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