After four months of negotiating, threatened strikes and sickouts, Santa Clara County reached an agreement Friday with its biggest union, whose employees agreed to chip in more from their own paychecks for healthcare in exchange for small raises.
“We are pleased that we were able to reach agreement,” County Executive Jeff Smith said in a statement. “We value the contributions of county employees. This contract includes a modest wage increase and now employees will be sharing in the cost of health premiums and contributing towards the growing cost of retiree health benefits.”
The agreement was approved with 85 percent of SEIU 521 votes.
“We believe we’ve reached a fair agreement that protects vital front-line public services and we look forward to continuing to work with the county on the challenge of recruiting and retaining a cutting-edge workforce,” said Karen Smit, a respiratory care practitioner who volunteered on the 8,000-member union’s negotiating team. “Out members’ vote to approve this contract is our affirmation that we will continue to put community first.”
With negotiations complete, the county can now focus on challenges like implementing the Affordable Care Act at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Highlights from the two-year contract:
• Workers will up retiree health contributions to $10 per pay period (before it was nothing) or $260 a year. The contributions will total $2.1 million annually.
• New workers will have to put in at least 15 years before qualifying for retiree health. A worker hired yesterday would have had to work just a decade for the same benefits.
• Front-line workers in the county hospital system will collaborate with the union to make sure they have direct input on how to improve the way the county manages healthcare reform, which rolls out in January.
• Workers will share the cost of health premiums.
• To lessen the high turnover rate, the county nixed the two lower steps of the salary schedule.
• Members get a 5 percent salary increase over the next couple years.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on the contract when they meet Sept. 10.