Striking Santa Clara County workers to reject contract, point to ‘victories’
Hospital workers at Valley Medical Center joined the picket lines Oct. 17. 12,000 Santa Clara County workers represented by SEIU Local 521 have been on strike since Oct. 2. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

Santa Clara County service workers, on strike since Oct. 2, are expected to vote overwhelmingly today to reject an offer the Board of Supervisors made last week for a new contract — the county’s latest attempt to end workers’ protests and a six-month stand-off over working conditions, pay and benefits.

Workers will reject the deal, which union leaders say is the same proposal the county put forward months ago, but members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 say their strike is succeeding. Workers say their complaints about plans to move the San Jose Family Resource Center from East San Jose to downtown, as well as safety concerns at the Receiving Assessment and Intake Center have finally gotten results.

Today, even as workers prepare for the 11th day of strike activities, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to ask staff to consider keeping the San Jose Family Resource Center on the east side of the city. And union leaders say the RAIC is now separating younger children from the older ones, a safety concern they say they have raised with the county for years.

County social workers with the Department of Family and Children’s Services — the agency that oversees both facilities — say those changes are possible now because their strike forced the director of the department, Francesca LeRúe, out of her job.

“While this is a step in the right direction, Ms. LeRúe’s refusal to bargain over the reorganization of the Department of Family and Children’s Services put vulnerable families across our county at risk,” said Valerie Pickering, a social worker supervisor who has worked for the department since 2000. “It is a shame that it took us to strike to bring attention to these issues that for years have not been dealt with while county leadership refused to listen to workers. In the end, the power to work together to fix the issues that keep families from recovery services lies in the hands of the five county supervisors.”

Workers say they are pleased LeRúe’s departure seems to have broken a logjam that was preventing some of their most pressing concerns from being addressed — but they still plan to reject the county’s latest offer and continue the strike. LeRúe could not be reached for comment.

“While she is no longer in the position to dismiss our concerns, it is too little too late – our unfair labor practice strike will continue because our community deserves better,” said Erika Helms, a social worker at the San Jose Family Resource Center.

The reasons for LeRúe’s departure are unclear. A Santa Clara County spokesperson declined to comment on “personnel matters.”

Kayla Cushing, the SSA spokeswoman, said plans to move the Family Resource Center downtown are on hold indefinitely while staff prepares to go before the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 5 to present alternatives to keep the center on the city’s East Side, where a majority of vulnerable families live, though Cushing said it was unclear whether it would be possible to keep the center in its current location on North King Road. The spokeswoman also confirmed the department started separating younger children from older ones at the RAIC, but did not know how long it had been doing so.

On Saturday, the 10th day of walkouts, workers shut down all seven Santa Clara County libraries for the day. Two days earlier, during the largest work-stoppage since the strike began, the county saw thousands of workers at O’Connor Hospital and Valley Medical Center join the picket lines. At a hospital workers’ rally Thursday morning, SEIU Local 521 Chief Elected Officer Riko Mendez told workers they should be proud of forcing the county to make changes at the RAIC and at least consider keeping the San Jose Family Resource Center where it is.

“Our workers have been flagging these problems for over a decade and the county didn’t do anything to fix it,” Mendez said. “Well, just last week they decided maybe it’s a good idea to separate the little kids from the big kids. It took us to strike to get something done. That’s ridiculous.”

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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