Ticked off that Santa Clara County refused to continue labor negotiations over the weekend and still demands forced overtime to patch up staffing shortages, the county’s largest union sounds like it’s ready to strike. SEIU 521 will hold a noon press conference to air its grievances, where health and emergency dispatch workers are expected to demand pay and benefits that would make it easier to recruit and retain qualified workers.
“Even as Santa Clara County officials dismiss concerns that the county struggles with recruitment and retention problems, county emergency dispatchers have been ordered to work overtime because of ‘staffing shortage,’” the union stated in a press release Thursday morning.
The county sent a letter to the union in July announcing that staffing shortages will require 911 dispatchers to work mandatory overtime this summer.
“County Communications is currently experiencing a staffing shortage that, in our estimation, constitutes an emergency situation,” writes Laurie Brown, a communications assistant director from the county exec’s office.
So far, the 60 workers left in the dispatchers office have logged more than 2,030 hours of forced overtime, which has added fuel to the fire in ongoing labor negotiations.
“Emergency dispatchers are trained to give childbirth and CPR instructions over the phone,” says Ryan Noble, a senior communications dispatcher. “When people dial 911, it is most likely the worst day of their life, and they are asking for help. Should that help come from a tired, overworked and burned-out dispatcher? Or do they deserve the best service the county can provide?”
Meanwhile, the county’s gearing up for implementation of the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1. More than 100,000 county residents will have the option to buy lower-cost healthcare through state-run Covered California, an online insurance exchange designed to implement the new law. That means the county hospital will have to compete for consumers against Stanford and Kaiser.
To succeed, the county will have to tackle mounting problems of recruiting and staffing to deliver competitive service. The county’s retention rate for physical therapists is 22 percent lower than all other Bay Area hospitals, the union says. The past three years have seen 15 vacancies of the 42 full-time equivalent positions.
The pharmacy has one of the worst retention rates right now—just 54 percent. In the past couple years, 15 pharmacists have left for higher-paying jobs at Wal-Mart or other hospitals, according to the union.
Dr. Russel Kosik, a radiology resident at Valley Med, will join the press conference at noon today to address the need to recruit qualified physicians-in-training, especially with the changes brought by Affordable Care Act.
The union voted for the option to strike earlier this month with 96 percent approval from voting members. About two-thirds of the county’s staff works at Valley Medical Center, which saw at least one entire department stage a “sick out” to protest delays in bargaining the first week of August.
Negotiations were already extended into August, and the Board of Supervisors will vote on an ordinance that would require the county to pay off $1.8 billion retiree healthcare debt via 30 annual payments of $233 million beginning in 2018. To help cover costs for the plan, the county is demanding workers give up some of their pay to cover their own healthcare costs.
“Investing in a cutting-edge workforce has been at the crux of Local 521 members’ contract proposals with the county since negotiations began in April,” says union spokeswoman Khanh Weinberg.
WHAT: SEIU 521 announces plan to strike
WHEN: Noon today
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose