Contra Costa County social workers and employment counselors took to the picket lines on Friday, protesting alleged intimidation from county leaders and unfair labor practices.
The strikers are all members of Local International Union Local No. 1021, which represents more than 1,000 workers in protective services and other departments. Among other demands, members are asking for a 17 percent salary bump over three years and better health coverage.
Clad in purple T-shirts, members lined up outside medical and county service centers in Richmond, Martinez and Pleasant Hill from as early as 7 a.m. for the strike, which is slated to run until Tuesday. County offices will remain open in the interim.
At the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, about 50 disgruntled workers chanted “We’re fired up! We can’t take it no more” and “The people, united, will never be defeated.” The group took to the shade outside the center in between marches across Alhambra Avenue.
Union and county leaders have been arguing over the pay increase for more than four months. Workers claim that their low wages result in high turnover rates, constant staffing shortages, massive backlogs and poorer community services.
“We’re concerned about public safety,” said Tracy Kenney, who led picketers in Martinez. “We’re concerned about the elderly and children. This county cannot get and retain quality workers because of our wages. They won’t pay and people won’t come. People are leaving in droves.”
Workers who have spoken out about the issues have been threatened with losing their jobs, the union alleges.
The last offer from the county included a 10 percent raise over three years, and a halt on increases in health care premiums until mid-2017. Although Local 1021 rebuffed the offer, five others that represent county workers accepted.
In a statement, county leaders said they are hopeful an agreement is imminent.
Peggy Henderson wrestled with being out on the line while clients are suffering, a concern that didn't escape while she picketed on Friday.
“All of us are worried about being out here today,” she said. “We have clients that we are worried are unsafe. We’ve done our best to try and set things up, but this is really important. We need more workers, and we need safety for our workers who are on the frontline trying to help all the time.”
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCUni.com or at (669) 263-2895.