Hundreds of union workers continue fight with Santa Clara County

The battle between union workers and Santa Clara County supervisors rages on, as hundreds of workers sporting purple and red t-shirts crowded the board chambers last month before the supervisors parted for summer recess.

“Please be quiet so we can hear people speaking, so we don’t have to stop the meeting,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who led the meeting in lieu of President Joe Simitian.

One by one, nurses, social workers and county employees lined up to denounce the county’s handling of their union contracts as many said they face low or stagnant wages while battling with rising cost-of-living costs, child care expenses, hiked up rent increases and long commute times to make it to work.

The union workers included members from SEIU Local 521, many of whom work at Valley Medical Center and are currently re-negotiating their contract with the county, hospital workers disgruntled with the merger of O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, and librarians asking for higher wages.

“In the past, members of the board have shown that you care about providing people in our county with liveable wages– this is important to me and my coworkers,” said county mental health worker Carl Wright. “Workers like me struggle to make ends meet. It’s hard to keep up with the rent and bills and often any raises we receive are eaten up by increases in the cost living. In the past, I have had to work two jobs just to make my rent alone. As a mental health community worker — I still struggle.”

Hospital workers dealing with the county’s acquisition of the two major hospitals are still asking to keep their union — the California Nurses Association — instead of switching to the Registered Nurses Professional Association (RNPA), in fear that they will lose their seniority, sick time, pension and vacation benefits.

Both groups called out the county for failing to address their concerns.

“It makes no sense why we get paid less than hospital nurses and other public health nurses in the Bay Area,” said county nurse Monica Wong. “Please show that you value our work and are reconsidering a more fair contract.”

The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors will resume its meetings at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 13.

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