Strike update: Santa Clara County accuses union of unfair practices in complaint to state board
Santa Clara County service workers started striking on Wednesday, including these outside the San Jose Family Resource Center, which is run by the county's Social Services Agency. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

    Santa Clara County filed a complaint Friday with the California Public Employment Relations Board against the union leading a strike on behalf of the 12,000 county workers represented by Service Employees International Union.

    Friday was the third day of a strike SEIU Local 521 leaders say they hope will force county officials to invest in the services workers provide the community. Labor and management have been negotiating a new contract for those workers for more than six months. County leaders say a key sticking point in the negotiations have been about pay raises and that their offer of a 3% annual raise for the next five years is still on the table.

    The union says about 700 of its workers stopped working and went to the picket lines at various locations around the county to protest on Wednesday. Those numbers grew to 1,200 on Thursday with workers spread out over even more locations. County Executive Officer Jeff Smith filed the county’s complaint Friday after striking workers disrupted service in the county’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs for low-income mothers and their young children at two clinics.

    Now the county is accusing the union of using illegal tactics, including going out on strike without first reaching an impasse.

    “It is unlawful for a labor union to strike before the union and the employer are at complete loggerheads and it is clear no deal can be reached,” according to a statement issued by the county late Friday afternoon.

    The complaint filed Friday by the county alleges three other violations by the union including not giving adequate notice of its planned strike activities, striking at different locations on different days and not bargaining in good faith.

    The statement says the negotiators on the county’s side of the bargaining table want to get back to their deliberations, but the union won’t return to negotiations.

    “The county is willing to further negotiate with SEIU, but SEIU has not been willing to engage in further good faith discussions with the county and has instead initiated strike activities at various county facilities over the last few days,” the statement continued.

    The union, however, denied the county’s charges and pointed to it as more evidence that Smith and other county leaders aren’t taking the union seriously.

    “We do not believe that the county’s charge has merit,” said Chris Libera, a county worker at Valley Health Center and strike leader. “The fact that they would file a baseless charge against their own employees is another indication of their inability to deal with their employees’ legal strike action against the county’s unfair labor practices.”

    Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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