SEIU to strike if no progress is made in upcoming negotiations with Santa Cruz County – Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ – Santa Cruz County workers with union cards stepped up during the public comment period for Tuesday’s supervisory board meeting to give its leadership a final warning. If the bargaining sessions do not go as planned in the coming days, their members have allowed representatives to organize a strike.

“We know they can afford to pay employees fairly,” SEIU Local 521 president Veronica Velasquez told Sentinel after announcing that 93.5% of its members had authorized a strike this week. last in case Velasquez and his peers deemed it necessary.

Velasquez, a county social worker, pointed out the $ 53 million in American Rescue Act the funding the county started receiving earlier this year and will benefit until September 2023. The American Rescue Act states that the funds can be used to pay a bonus to essential workers who were required to perform their duties during the pandemic. In Santa Cruz County, however, union members have learned to work more for less pay in order to protect the community, they said.

“While others wiped their mail and groceries before bringing them home, we were face to face with vulnerable citizens in our community – people who did not always have access to disinfectants, and some of them. ‘between them, with running water. Rae Ann Jimenez, an employee of Substance Use Disorders Services, told the board. “We were called upon to work in a once-in-a-century pandemic and we got the job done with a 7.5% reduction in our income. The county has continued to provide services because we have continued to provide services.

The reduction, created by the agency-wide leaves, has irritated a larger issue of lower pay for member roles than in other neighboring counties as tax revenues and inflation have risen, have increased. they alleged. Former county planner Shila Bagley sent a letter in which she explained that she had returned to her old job in the town of Sunnyvale to pay off a large debt she had accumulated in Santa Cruz because she did not could not afford the cost of living; she’s back a two-hour journey from her home in the San Lorenzo Valley.

His is just a story of conflict, his colleagues argued in public comments. Velasquez sees the negative impacts of an understaffed department every day, as 10% of her division left last year and she and her colleagues were reassigned to children who had already done the emotional labor for them. build relationships with their former social worker.

“A lack of investment in the workforce results in the failure of children placed in foster care. Their abandonment problems are resurfacing, ”she said.

Insult to injury

Additionally, the county had a higher final general fund than expected for the 2020-21 budget cycle, Velasquez told the board and the Sentinel. When we compare the proposed budget approved by supervisors in June 2021 and end of year budget enacted in September 2021, the available fund balance of $ 14.3 million was higher than the county’s initial estimate. This, according to County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios, was in large part because of the first allocation of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act; it even factored in a delay in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The general fund, according to Tuesday’s agenda, will soon be used to advance county attorney Jason Heath – who has been instrumental in negotiations between the government employer and worker representation in many departments – at the next stage of the salary grid. Due to the unanimous passage of the consent schedule, Heath will now earn an additional $ 6,600 per year.

“The Oversight Board completed an annual performance review of County Lawyer Jason Heath in a closed-door session Nov. 16… (this) deserves to take the next step,” wrote the chairman of the counsel Bruce McPherson in his report included in the agenda.

Before opening the public comments, McPherson briefed attendees on the update on Heath’s pay rise in particular.

“The board of directors chooses to reach out and push down instead of lifting the largest group of essential workers in our county, (pulling them) from their dream of a middle class life in this community.” said Watsonville Health Center Primary Care Jason Johnston.

Try thursday

Velasquez said the two sides return to the negotiating table on Thursday. Depending on how this session unfolds, hundreds of workers may leave their posts to demonstrate their importance for an indefinite period.

“We’ve come to the table every time, ready to work and close a deal, but we haven’t seen the same intention on the part of the county,” she said. “In the penultimate session we were prepared to spend a sleepless night getting settled in, but the county around 9pm said, ‘No, we’re too far apart. Let’s call it one day and take it another (day). ‘ “

County spokesman Jason Hoppin repeated the same comment when asked about the SEIU negotiations.

“We will continue to negotiate with them and hope to reach an amicable agreement in the near future,” he said last month.

No date has been set as to when the strike will take place. However, if it does start, it won’t end until the county complies with SEIU demands, Velasquez said.

“We will strike until we get a fair contract,” she said.

Editor’s Note: A previous statement to the Sentinel indicated that 82% of SEIU members voted in favor of the strike. It was later established that 82% of members filled out a ballot in the strike authorization vote.

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