UPDATE: SEIU approved a strike authorization with 96 percent of voting members in favor.
Santa Clara County workers marched down Hedding Street to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” Monday evening, as SEIU 521 union members voted for the right to authorize a strike.
SEIU 521, comprised of 8,000 county employees, cast ballots to elect the option to call a strike—which members say they likely will—in protest of the county’s latest offer in negotiations to renew the labor contract that expires this month. Voting continues through the end of Tuesday.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on an ordinance this month that would force the county to start paying off $1.8 billion in retiree healthcare debt with 30 yearly payments of $233 million, starting five years from now. To help afford that plan, the county’s asking employees to chip in more for their own healthcare costs.
One provision in the county’s most recent labor contract proposal asks the union—comprised of a range of employees from hospital workers, 9-1-1 dispatchers, criminalists, child support workers, vector control techs and more—for 8 percent healthcare contributions, down from the originally requested 20 percent. The union isn’t having it, arguing that the county won’t be able to recruit quality talent with benefits like that. Calls to the union’s bargaining unit were not immediately returned.
“At stake are community services and getting a fair contract that will allow the county to recruit and retain a cutting edge workforce,” says an entry posted this morning on the union’s blog. “During the rally, workers talked about the impact of the county not investing in workers or service.”
Emergency dispatcher Todd Stotesberry said at Monday’s rally that the county’s refusal to restore salaries cut during the recession and demand higher benefits contributions insult the people it employs.
“The county is refusing to invest in our workforce,” he’s told the union’s blog. “We are not able to recruit, train and retain quality employees. We are understaffed and being forced to work overtime. Dispatchers are burnt out. In our job mistakes mean the difference between life and death. This is a major public safety issue and it’s happening because the county is refusing to invest in us. Our community deserves better.”
South Bay Labor Council (SBLC) head Ben Field, Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association President Lance Scimeca, Government Attorney’s Association President Max Zarzana and AFSCME Local 101 President Laverne Washington attended the rally.
A source at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center told San Jose Inside that some radiology techs called in sick last week, galvanized by ex-SBLC head Cindy Chavez’s election to the District 2 county supervisor’s seat. The hope is that another labor-backed elected official will help facilitate a favorable outcome in negotiations for the unions.
Another hospital insider, who spoke with San jose Inside on the condition of anonymity, says some of those who want to strike or had called in sick are less motivated by politics and more by the county’s management and their refusal to compensate them more.
“Inept management is a top-down problem from [county executive] Jeff Smith and [deputy county exec.] Luke Leung to the flavor-of-the-day CEO and the rest of the top brass at Valley [ Medical Center],” the hospital tech worker says. “It is not a reflection of my hardworking dedicated co-workers who care immensely for and about the populace we serve. As our leaders fumble about, redefining our mission statements and pay lip service to how important quality healthcare is, it certainly isn’t reflective in how they treat and compensate us.”
Vote totals are not expected to be counted until Wednesday morning.