County workers begin strike, services continue

The union representing nearly one-half of Santa Clara County’s 22,000 employees went on strike at selected locations Oct.2, the first county employee strike in four decades.

Service Employees International Union Local 521 said it called the strike because of the county’s “refusal to bargain in good faith over the reorganization of work in the Department of Family and Children’s Services.”

The county said the union has walked away from negotiations over a new five-year employment contract, with the union saying the county should offer more than 3-percent raises per year for five years.

A union bulletin listed the Public Defender’s Office, fleets, roads and airports and San Jose Family Resource Center as taking part in the first day’s action, involving about 700 workers. The SEIU said it would rotate picketing teams among county offices, including offices in Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill until it gets the contract dispute is settled.

County Executive Jeffrey Smith said the contract placed on the table at the last bargaining session with SEIU Local 521 Sept. 27 was the most the county could afford. He said the county would continue to honor provisions of the previous contract, which expired June 16.

South County sites with SEIU members include county government offices in Morgan Hill and San Martin, a behavioral health center in Gilroy and the DePaul Health Center in Morgan Hill and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy.

County officials said it was continuing to provide health, social and other services despite the pickets and walkouts. The county reported spotting 150 picketers at 12 county facilities.

It was unclear at the end of the first day how long the work stoppage would continue. County facilities “remained open with minimal impact to services,” the county reported.

“The work stoppage has not interrupted the county’s ability to provide services to the community, and we’ll continue working to keep it that way,” said Smith at a mid-morning press conference. “We encourage residents to visit the County’s website for the most accurate information and updates on our operations.”

According to Smith, the union’s proposal involves a three-year wage increase, with a 6 percent raise the first year followed by 5 percent hikes the next two consecutive years. They also proposed wage increases even higher for some job classifications. “It’s more than double compared to our offer,” Smith said.

SEIU has accused the county of reorganizing the Department of Family and Children’s Services without first consulting employees who would be affected by the change.

“This is an unfair labor practice strike based on Department of Family and Children’s Services director conducting a reorganization of the agency without employee input,” Valerie Pickering, a social worker supervisor at the department said.

In expectation of an SEIU work stoppage, the county had developed contingency plans to ensure essential services would continue. It reported that five departments were “minimally” affected by the work stoppage, including the Department of Child Support Services, Facilities and Fleet Department, Roads and Airports Department, Social Services Agency Family Resource Center, and the Public Defender’s Office.

The Family Resource Center remained open on the first day of the strike.

The County and SEIU have been in labor negotiations for the past five months. Although the SEIU Local 521 contract expired June 16, the county said it has continued to bargain in good faith with SEIU, and said it is observing all contract terms and conditions. 

“The county would like to continue bargaining in good faith, however, SEIU’s latest proposals are unsustainable in light of projected revenues and a slowing economy,” Smith said in a statement Oct. 2.

“There has been a difference of opinion between the county and SEIU about the projection of revenue in the future. The county is very concerned about an economic downturn, and slowing revenue growth,” Smith said. “The county is not only worried about a fair wage and an equitable contract, but also making sure the contract and associated salaries are sustainable in the future. The union has focused on recent revenue trends that were stronger, but future revenues are not expected to be nearly as strong.”  

The county said it has already offered SEIU “significant” increases in salary and benefits, including a 3 percent general wage increase each year for the next five years.

The incremental budgeted cost for general wage increases for SEIU for salary and benefits over five years would be at least $570 million.

Additionally, the incremental budgeted cost for non-general wage increases would cost at least another $55 million over that period. Combined, the county said its latest proposal to SEIU would be at least $625 million over five years.

?If that proposal were extended to all of the county’s unions, the total incremental salary and benefits budgeted cost over five years would exceed $1.5 billion.” Smith said. 

The county maintains a website dedicated to labor relations updates, including an update on the most recent negotiations with SEIU on September 27, 2019.

The County will continue providing service updates at www.sccgov.org/strikeupdate during any future SEIU work stoppages.

Nicholas Chan of San Jose Inside and Jaqueline McCool contributed to this report.

1 COMMENT

  1. Santa Clara County spending has skyrocketed and the number of employees exploded over the past decade. Cut staff by 20% and give the remaining, better performers a moderate raise

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