UPDATE: Santa Clara County workers back on strike
Santa Clara County workers represented by SEIU Local 521 swarmed County Executive Jeff Smith's office on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019 to announce the union's plans to strike. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

Santa Clara County workers are back on strike today for the eighth day after rejecting a counter-offer from county administrators to end the strike, which has now stretched to two weeks.

Workers from the county jail, elections office, probation, crime lab and environmental health services are expected to join the picket line Wednesday.

“The county’s proposed ‘Last, Best and Final Offer’ is not by any means a tentative agreement on behalf of the workers of Santa Clara County represented by SEIU Local 521,” said Janet Diaz, president of the Santa Clara County chapter of the union, on Wednesday morning. “This offer does nothing to address the 1,500 plus vacancies across the county impacting 9-1-1 dispatchers, social workers, health care providers and the thousands of dedicated county employees who ensure residents are protected, healthy and safe.”

Hoping to lure striking workers back to the negotiating table, Santa Clara County made an offer Tuesday night to negotiators at SEIU Local 521 — the union that’s been leading a strike of the 12,000 county employees it represents for the last two weeks.

Union employees submitted their own proposal on Friday, which appeared to be a non-starter for county leaders. Last week, union leaders paused the strike because of the PG&E power shutdown.

County supervisors spent Saturday in closed-session reviewing the union’s proposal and hammering out their counter-offer. The two offers are still dramatically far apart, according sources close to the negotiations. One insider said the union is asking for a contract that could cost $800 million more than the county’s offer.

The county’s previous offer, delivered to the union at the end of September, asked workers to contribute 2% more to their health care costs. The latest offer eliminated that request, but maintains annual raises at 3% per year for five years, and provides additional pay raises for some union job classifications above the annual increase.

On Tuesday, the union’s Santa Clara County chapter president Janet Diaz called the county’s offer “an attempt to force its employees to accept the same proposal put forth months ago.”

“Our community deserved more today,” added Diaz, a patient business service clerk at Valley Medical Center. “(The county) should have been ready to try to engage in a conversation that would have reached an agreement.”

The two sides have been bitterly negotiating a new contract since April and workers voted overwhelmingly to strike in August.

Union officials say workers are striking to force Santa Clara County to invest more in services and improve conditions for workers, but county leaders say the strike is about money and they want the union to focus on negotiating pay and benefits.

“The county has proposed significant wage increases designed to keep their salaries highly competitive with those of other public servants in the region, while also protecting the stability of the county budget in the hopes of minimizing the impact of an economic downturn on our critical services and workforce,” said County Executive Officer Jeff Smith. “In addition to our SEIU-represented staff, we have 10,000 other critically important county employees. As we bargain with SEIU over wage increases for the employees it represents, we also need to ensure we can provide employees represented by other unions with the wage increases they deserve as well.”

The union proposal submitted Friday called for reinvesting wages from vacant county jobs back to the workers who are picking up the slack in understaffed departments. County officials said that would make matters worse for workers by making those shortages permanent.

“We can’t agree to contract terms that would, over time, require us to make dramatic cuts to services when the economy turns,” County Chief Operating Officer Miguel Márquez said Tuesday. “I am hopeful that SEIU and its members will accept our latest proposal so they can immediately receive the raises they deserve, and we can all get back to work without further disruptions.”

The union says thousands of county employees stopped work since Oct. 2 and joined the picket lines at several county facilities including the San Jose Family Resource Center. Union leaders decided to temporarily halt strike activities last week during planned PG&E blackouts while the county declared a state of emergency.

At a news conference Friday, the union’s negotiating team said workers were ready to head back out to the picket lines at a moment’s notice. On Tuesday, a union spokesman confirmed that strike activities could resume this week, now that power has been restored.

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

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