SEIU Local 521 on Tuesday reached an agreement with Santa Clara County leaders to reconvene negotiations, according to union spokesman Victor Gamiz.
The decision came as an SEIU-led strike entered its sixth day, with hundreds of employees joining the picket line in a protest impacting public health, social services, fleets and roads and emergency dispatch.
SEIU, which represents 12,000 county service employees, called the strike last week over alleged unfair labor practices, protesting a planned relocation of a Family Resource Center and citing high caseloads for workers in the Department of Family and Children’s Services as the cause of unsafe labor conditions.
The county fired back with its own complaint, accusing the union in a state filing with leading an unlawful strike.
According to the county, SEIU failed to provide legally required notice of its action, citing numerous instances where the union explicitly refused to disclose information about the planned strike. The county cited as evidence a memo in which union leaders withheld information about which county departments would potentially be impacted by the strike. “We won’t be distributing the list of sites until tomorrow, as this makes management’s job tonight a little bit harder this way,” the union wrote to its members the day before it commenced the strike.
The union disputes the county’s claim that it ran afoul of state labor law.
“We’ve held a press conference,” vice president of SEIU Local 521 Mullissa Willette says. “We’ve met with the Board of Supervisors. We went to [County Executive] Jeff Smith’s office with 100 workers, telling him that he cannot close the Family Resource Center. He knew exactly what we’re fighting for. We gave plenty of indications.”
The county also alleges that the union began the strike before reaching a deadlock—an unlawful practice unless the strike is about unfair labor practices.
Union organizers, however, say that’s exactly why they’re striking. “We agree,” Willette says. “We haven’t reached an impasse. We’re on strike because of the unfair labor practice that we filed over the reorganization of Family [and] Children’s Services.”
But Smith calls that a phony excuse, a smokescreen for the union’s unreasonable demands for pay raises. “Any claim by the union that the strike is an unfair practice strike is a thinly veiled attempt to gain the additional protections offered by an unfair practice strike while actually conducting an economic strike,” reads the county’s unfair practice charge filed with California’s quasi-judicial Public Employee Relations Board.
“They’ve made promises that are unrealistic and unsustainable,” Smith says. “In order for them to back off, they would have to admit to their members that they made a mistake. They don't have the courage to do that. Now, they’ve painted themselves into a corner.”
This article has been updated. To read the county’s updates on the strike, click here.