Despite calls from county employees and labor advocates to reconsider, Santa Clara County continued on its path to lay off employees in anticipation of balancing its 2021-22 budget.
In a 3-2 vote Nov. 20, the Board of Supervisors pushed through the elimination of 170 county positions. Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese cast the dissenting votes.
Supervisors will take up the issue one more time at their next meeting Dec. 8 to finalize the cuts, which would eliminate 132 currently unfilled and 38 filled positions. The move is estimated to save about $10 million annually.
Instead of these cuts, Chavez said she would have “been very supportive of removing all of the funded vacant positions” instead.
“As the county’s largest employer, I realize complete avoidance of layoffs was unlikely,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg before casting her vote. “That said, the anticipated loss of employment for 38 individuals today is devastating.”
Ellenberg noted the number of layoffs could have been much higher considering the county’s $200 million-plus shortfall, and the increasing costs of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Santa Clara County employs about 19,000 people. The layoffs equate to one-third of one percent of the workforce.
“This is still not perfect, but I do believe today’s recommended action reflects tremendous respect we have for our workforce,” Ellenberg said.
Santa Clara County SEIU 521 union members along with disaster service workers held a car caravan at the county building in downtown San Jose Nov. 19 to protest the job cuts.
Ryan King, a clinician for Momentum for Health and a steward representing SEIU Local 521, was among the 30 people who participated.
“It was empowering to see our fellow workers across the county standing with my fellow brothers and sisters demanding that the Board of Supervisors don’t cut essential services,” said King.
King said the COVID-19 pandemic, budget cuts and layoffs have sent morale to an all-time low. Due to the safety concerns and added responsibilities, King said he and his colleagues were asked to be flexible and had to fight for the ability to work remotely.
“Basic message is that we are essential. The community needs us. We see more and more clients and it means that we have less time with clients,” King said. “These clients aren’t getting the full robust services they deserve.”
More residents called into the supervisors’ meeting to show their disapproval.
“I recall all of you saying that you would do everything possible before doing layoffs,” said Elizabeth Lacey, an employee of the Sheriff’s Office. “I don’t feel that you have done that. You’re forcing people out there with no insurance in a COVID-19 environment.”
Because the layoffs are part of the county’s next budget cycle, the changes will not go into effect until March.
Eugene Luu contributed to this report.