On social media, the activist group Agents of Change made their feelings known following the Salinas City Council vote to approve a Memorandum of Understanding that included a 2.25-percent raise, for each of the next three years, for the members of the Salinas Police Officers Association: “The pig salary increase passed by a 5-2 vote. Two newly elected council members of color who ran on the progressive platforms of reimagining public safety were the deciding votes.”
Agents of Change suggested their followers send messages to councilmembers Anthony Rocha and Carla Viviana González letting the two young electeds know how they felt.
Ugly descriptor of police aside, the need to know why the council voted the way they did – with only councilmembers Tony Barrera and Orlando Osornio voting against the increase – was real. As it’s been widely reported, in the Weekly and other outlets, the Salinas Police budget is 45 percent of the city’s whole budget – why, in a pandemic year in which the city is struggling to maintain services and with budget talks about to get underway, did they agree to give police officers more?
It goes back to 2018, when the previous MOU between the city and the POA, which represents all officers below the rank of sergeant, expired on Dec. 31. After failing to reach an agreement, the city imposed one on the union effective Sept. 23, 2019. Between then and now, the two sides have gone through what, in labor parlance, is known as “meet and confer.” Part of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, and sometimes better known as collective bargaining, it’s the law that mandates the process by which cities, counties and special districts negotiate agreements with their various labor unions.
Sit down at the table and make headway? Great. Sit down at the table, make headway and then decide to walk away? That’s when you’ve entered the dangerous world of what’s known as bad faith bargaining, and it’s a practice that could have landed the city before the Public Employee Relations Board, a quasi judicial-administrative agency which could have handed the city its ass without even blinking.
In other words, by the time the vote came to council on March 16, numbers had already been discussed and the union had already agreed to an amount equivalent to $1.7 million spread out over three years. Had the council opposed it at that point, they would have ended up before PERB, getting their asses handed to them. PERB could have come up with a number of its choosing and the city would have to live with it.
Rocha isn’t a stranger to ticking off cops. While a trustee at the Salinas Union High School District, he voted to ask the city to terminate its contract with the reality TV debacle LivePD, which embedded camera crews with the Salinas Police.
He wasn’t surprised by the ire the March 16 MOU raised. “I was expecting the backlash. It was an awful time to cast a vote. We have seen the activism regarding policing in the past year, and people are demanding change, not only of the police, but of their contracts.”
Rocha released a statement and took to Instagram Live to explain his March 16 vote.
González (herself a union member as a teacher) also took to IG Live. She and her campaign manager, Salinas activist Xago Juarez, had a Q&A in which González, metaphorically anyway, dropped on her sword over the vote.
“There was a rupture of trust, a breakage of trust and the understanding and the acceptance of that… first and foremost recognizing the hurt,” she told Juarez.
González said she knows she’s now under a microscope, only three months into what she hopes will be a four-year term – an indication that she may not be fully committed to staying in office for her entire term. This was her first vote on a major contract, and in the exchange with Juarez, he said that when people asked him to explain her vote, he couldn’t.
“Explain it to me like I’m a third-grader,” he said, “whose test scores are going to be used to invest in the prison industrial complex.”
González told viewers that she and Juarez are now working on a document described as “the people’s budget,” which will more reflect the wants of the community, she said.
Budget talks started March 24, after the Weekly’s deadline.