The largest labor group representing Santa Rosa city employees has voted to affiliate with the Teamsters in an effort to give itself greater leverage in negotiations with the city.

The 410 members of the Santa Rosa City Employees Association last week voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters Local 856, which represents about 8,000 workers in the Northern California.

"It is the opinion of the current SRCEA board that the time has come for professional support," said union president Mike Reynolds.

The labor group has been an independent organization since it was formed 67 year ago. Negotiations with the city have become more adversarial and costly in recent years, and the leaders of the SRCEA, all of whom are volunteers, felt they needed the backup a national union could bring, Reynolds said.

The employees represented by SRCEA, who include a broad spectrum of non-public safety workers from planners to financial analysts, have been working without a contract since last summer.

Ten days of voting ended last week with 86 percent of members choosing to affiliate with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 1.4 million workers nationally.

The national union already represents six assistant city attorneys in their protracted labor negotiations with the city. Reynolds said he has closely watched the representation the attorneys have received and has been impressed.

Both SRCEA and the attorneys late last year declared their negotiations with the city to be at an impasse.

"The sticking point of the current negotiations is absolutely based on salary," Reynolds said, noting that employees haven't had a raise in four years.

Both groups have called for fact-finding, a new and time-consuming process before a three-member panel made up of a neutral fact finder and one representative each from the city and the union.

The attorneys and the city held their first closed-door fact-finding session in January, and the process was continued until late April.

The city has been trying to require any increases in salary to go toward paying for the soaring costs of employee pensions, said Fran Elm, the city's human resources director.

"We do want to start giving raises, but we also want to start managing our pension costs," Elm said.

She noted that on Tuesday the board of the $277 billion state employee retirement system, CalPERS, approved new life expectancy assumptions that will cause the city's contribution rates to increase yet again.

In addition to giving SCREA more professional representation, Reynolds said he expects a future vote on requiring all members represented by the union to pay dues. Currently only about 78 percent of represented employees pay dues, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @citybeater.