County Avoids Strike in Deal with SEIU 521

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.

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


  1. •  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.

    If you’re someone that was in one of those “lower steps of the salary schedule” you’ll almost certainly get more than a 5 percent salary increase when you move into a higher salary step.  I bet that the 5 percent increase is for those that stay in the same salary step and position.  Does the 5% raise apply if you are promoted into a higher step or position?  Or do you get more than more than that?

    • Wadsworth skimmed over the details.  Originally most positions had five pay steps.  You would start at step 1 and would promote to the next step each year until you reach step 5.  Two years ago the county put in two bottom steps called 98 and 99 that lowered the starting pay for new hires.  The new contract gets rid of these and so only helps people hired since the last contract.  The 5% raise is for everyone and is broken into a 2% effective January and a 3% effective in July.

  2. Only in government could this save money.
      – a couple of billion healthcare bill, lets make them pay .03% of that per year
      – But we really don’t want them to pay, so lets give them a raise: 2% per year to cover the.03%
      – they cant afford the healthcare promises, so lets keep promising unlimited healthcare for life.
      – nix the two lower steps means each new employee starts at 10% more!

    Way to save money county!!

  3. Its Amazing what can happen when two sides can sit down and openly and honestly negotiate with each other. This will has not will not be the case in San Jose . The only way things stand a slight chance is by going thru the Court Systems . Looks like that will be the new “Negotiating table” Thanks to Reed and his band of Liars and Cheats

    • It’s clear to me that both sides worked to come up with a characterization of the agreement that minimized the cost to the county.

      There are positions in the county that command salaries over and above what the county, and, lets be honest, other county workers want to allow.  If you’re one of those in a high demand occupation then you have to accept less so that others will get a bit more.  However, if you’re one of those that has to accept less, then you can still leave.  If you’re one of those that got more, then party on dude!

    • It’s amazing what can happen when two sides can sit down and openly and honestly figure out just how much of somebody else’s money they can take. And then congratulate themselves about it.
      That’s what’s amazing!

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