Strike Imminent? County’s Health, Dispatch Workers Go Public with Grievances

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

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. So with the Affordable Health Care Act, the County is worried that people will use other providers when they’re given a choice?

    I think the question the Board of Supes should be asking themselves is:  Is the Affordable Health Care Act providing a graceful exit for the County to get out of the healthcare business?  They should take it.

  2. This is the 21st century.  Unions are outmoded implements of worker organization. They are unnecessary and cumbersome and only serve to clog up the flow of production with the befuddling mess of union bosses and politicians alternating screwing and serving each other.  All while creating more public debt.

    This is the 21st century.  We are not talking about 19th century worker conditions with Boss man private factory/mine/mill company run stores and housing set in abysmal worlds.

    These are public employees.  They work for their community, their neighbors, themselves.  Since they are public employees everything is public – including all the information about wages, benefits and working conditions.  Matrices can easily show what a worker living in San Jose, CA should have as a wage/benefit take home adjusted for COLA and any other consideration.

    It’s all public – put it out there.  Everything adjusts automatically.  A ______ worker here will be fairly and adequately compensated for their labor.  Then there is no need for a union or union bosses or threats of strikes because there will be no grievance concerning wage/benefit.  It is all uniform, balanced and equitable.

    If there is some issue concerning public safety that is public interest and should be public information as well. 

    This is the 21st century.  Having public employee unions is archaic and outmoded.  Do away with them.  Everyone gets treated the same as the public worker in the next town over and there is nothing to gripe about.  We will have happier and more productive public employees, no risk of corruption and a public better served.

    • hughbiquitous, the 21st century you talk about is looking more like the 19 th every day. All unions, public and private were needed then and even more so now. I can’t understand how people like yourself don’t realize the money and the benefits you receive were not a side benefit of unions. The unions and their members negotiated conditions that benefited themselves AND all others around them. Take off the blinders and maybe even join a union. You won’t go wrong.
      Retired proud IBEW union member.

      • rsomero – you are right in some respect, we are getting to be something like the 19th century but not for reasons you think. #1 we’re in a global ecomony now so paying a union person $50/hr + to build something here that can be built in Taiwan for far less makes no sense to the consumer.  #2 we are allowing too much cheap labor into the country – low wage people who take entry level (read after school) jobs away from young people while trying to support a family is crazy and spurs stupid things like “Living Wage” ordinances – It’s an after school job dammit.  Also we flood the market w/ HB1 visa workers from mostly Asian countries that cut out our technical work force.

        But the topic here is PUBLIC employee unions which is a far different area than say – – oh maybe the IBEW. SEIU is just a pack of gluttonus dogs eating away at the public nut. Public employees don’t need a union because they are PUBLIC employee and ALL info about wage/benefit/conditions/etc is public information.  A city electrical worker can see online what the true and fair wage/benefit should be.  So can his/her employer – the public – adjust accordingly or go work in the private sector.

        Jerry Brown got us into this Public Union pile of Do-Do when he signed the Dills Act during his Moonbeam years as Gov.

        When he ran again this time he swore he had the public unions in his “back pocket” actually he’s in their back pocket and the public taxpayer is paying the price of being Jerry’s dirty underwear next to that backpocket.

        Here’s a trend to check out rsomero – how long has Calif been controlled by one major political party?  How long has Calif been sliding into the Detroit-like sinkhole?  Which political party is stuck (contribuitons, etc) on the end of the Public Employee Union weiner?

        Figure that out rsomero and you’ll begin to understand why we are in so much trouble – all due to PUBLIC employee unions.

    • Complex organizations, in order to function effectively, depend upon the multi-faceted personalities of the individuals of which they are comprised. When unionization is introduced to a labor force, the innate human traits of reasonableness, a sense of fair play, generosity, humility, and trust are subtracted from the personalities of the individuals. The result is a labor force that might as well be comprised 100% of the most ruthless, relentless, and avaricious labor law attorneys, each of them with an axe to grind, always on the lookout to capitalize on opportunities for economic gain- even exploiting those inadvertantly provided by management’s attempts at generosity- none of them with the tempering qualities that balance the personalities of most people, thus making it possible to deal with them reasonably.
      In the free market, the immutable laws of economics serve to keep this dynamic in check. In public service, however, there is no natural restraint. Even FDR and George Meaney understood the folly of granting government workers the power of collective bargaining.

    • 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.

      I looked at the Merc’s 2011 public employee salary database.  The base pay for pharmacists looks to be about $130k, and most of them wind up with at least $180k in total compensation.  I’m sure they aren’t going to Wal-Mart for minimum wages.

        • To Reliableinformer – the voter does not need to be misinformed or mindless.  As noted in my other post (21st Century) we don’t need public unions.  Make everything public including wage/benefits that are in line w/ like public positions elsewhere compensated for cost of living, etc.

          then workers will be fairly compensated, the public will be getting good service and there will be no need for awkward and ill suited public employee unions.

          For the record I have no dog in this fight other than as just a ordinary citizen.  I am not for/against any one side or group.  Can Reliableinformer state that?

          Any politician that reads this should have the moxie to step up and agree this is the sensible thing to do and the fair way in which to deliver public services to the public taxpayer.

          Perhaps someone could start a petition?

          The BART strike, this strike, that strike, teachers’ strikes everywhere – has anyone noticed that they are all PUBLIC employees in position of trust?  There is something wrong about public employees holding the public hostage.  Pay the employee what they are worth based on indices derived from across the country, adjusted for local cost conditions and yearly COLA.  NO need for public employee unions.  No vat of moral goo for politicians to get stuck in.

          And then Reliableinformer – there will be a happy and content public workforce and the public will not be mindless and misinformed.

        • You either haven’t done a good job communicating your message, or you have and it’s not a message that voters will support.

          If things get bad in San Jose, I will move.  Actually I am thinking about moving now.  When that happens I wish all of you that have pensions from the City of San Jose all the best.

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