SEIU Puts Santa Clara County Strike on Hold Amid PG&E Outage

As the power goes down, so does the strike. At least for the time being.

Santa Clara County social service workers represented by SEIU Local 521 postponed today’s protest as officials declared a local emergency in the midst of the PG&E outage. But the fight isn’t over.

“Our members will remain ready to return to the picket lines at a moment's notice,” the union’s president and negotiator Janet Diaz said in a statement.

County Executive Jeff Smith said he expects the union to strike at Valley Medical Center, O’Connor and St. Louise hospitals Friday once he lifts the local emergency resolution.

Until then, the service workers’ union will give the county a break as at least 20,000 customers—or about 60,000 individual residents—in San Jose go without power. “Our decision to postpone all strike activities was taken out of our concern for public safety and our desire to fully support the needs of the residents who our members serve every single day,” Diaz explained.

Smith called that a wise decision. “We found out last night that they had scheduled a strike for three hospitals today,” he said. “We contacted their lawyers, saying that’s not appropriate since there’s an emergency going on.” And the MOU with the union states that the county can ask employees to cancel a strike during an emergency.

Smith expects to receive a proposal from the union by the end of today. The Board of Supervisors will hold a closed-session meeting on Saturday to discuss the proposal. The county will then return to the negotiating table with the union.

In the last eight days, thousands of Santa Clara County workers joined the picket lines in protest of alleged unfair labor practices by the county for reorganizing the Department of Family and Children’s Service and relocating a Family Resource Center. Union members have also raised concerns about staffing shortages and long work hours.

Several high-profile lawmakers have rallied behind the union. Presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted in support of the strike and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) made an appearance at the picket line last week.

Meanwhile, the county fired back with its own complaint, accusing the union in a state filing with leading an unlawful strike. But Smith said he’s hopeful that both camps will broker a deal before the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) takes action on the county’s complaint. After all, he said, “PERB is notoriously slow.”

The county executive also slammed the union for framing the strike as being in reaction to unfair labor practices. Smith said what it’s really about is the union’s demands for unreasonable wage increases. The union asked for a 6 percent raise in the coming year, followed by 5 percent raises in the following two. The county’s proposal involved a 3 percent raise in each of the next five years.

Since the strike began, Smith said the county has made adjustments to its proposal, though he declined to disclose the details of the modifications. To stay up to date on the strike, visit the county landing page here.

Nicholas Chan is a journalist who covers politics, culture and current events in Silicon Valley. Follow him on Twitter at @nicholaschanhk.

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