Santa Clara Co. Postpones Moving Family Resource Center

Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors delayed the relocation of its Family Resource Center, whose proposed move became a flashpoint in the ongoing SEIU Local 521 strike.

Instead of moving the social services hub to West Julian Street in downtown San Jose, the board opted to keep it at 591 N. King Road in East Side. The decision came at the behest of Supervisor Dave Cortese.

Thousands of service employees originally called a strike because of the relocation, accusing the county of unfair labor practices. Despite the decision to keep the center at its existing facility, SEIU-represented county workers returned to the picket lines today. The union says the renewed strike comes in response to unfair labor practices at O’Connor and St. Louise Regional hospitals and the De Paul Urgent Care Center.

On November 5, the board will revisit the conversation about whether the family resource center will stay where it is or move to some new digs. In the meantime, the county will continue to search for a new site, one that’s closer to the current location.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez suggested that the county should conduct focus groups with the family resource center staff and clients to gauge their preferences.

County executive Jeff Smith gave the board his blessings on Tuesday, reassuring the supervisors that the county could stop the relocation for the time being. “There’s no urgency so we can put it on hold until further notice and come back,” he explained.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg seemed taken aback by the characterization.

“I’m a little surprise with Dr. Smith that you said there's ‘no urgency,’” she said. “The move seemed to be the straw that led to so much of the dissatisfaction and unrest right now. I wonder—if it wasn't urgent—did we really need to do this in a public and seemingly assertive way?”

“I guess I overstated,” he replied. “The plan was in place and we thought we were solving an important problem with a reasonable solution. However it did blow up politically.”

Indeed, union workers were enraged upon hearing of the relocation, accusing the county of excluding them from discussions. Smith previously said the county planned the move because of issues with the landlord.

The dispute sparked a weeks-long strike with union workers demanding higher wages and protesting staff shortages and the resource center relocation. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremmont) and Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) joined the picket lines while presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris tweeted in support of the striking workers.

Francesca LeRúe, the director of the Department of Family and Children’s Services who led the relocation effort, has since left her post. “She came from LA,” local union negotiator Valerie Pickery said. “She had some preconceived notions of how to reorganize. She started the reorganization without having any input from our members. It’s a violation of our contract.”

Meanwhile, the local union is voting on the county’s latest contract proposal: a 3 percent wage increase over the next five years, removing its prior request for union workers to pay 2 percent health care premium. Some 750 union members cast their votes on Monday; the results are expected to come out by Nov. 5. But Pickery expects union members to strike down the deal.

“I don’t think Dr. Smith even looked at our proposal,” she said. “They gave us a proposal that was no different than what they were already offering. People are very unhappy with Dr. Smith. We will continue to strike.”

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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