More than 9,000 Santa Clara County union workers voted on Wednesday to authorize a strike next week over what they say are unfair labor practices – the first time in more than four decades.
SEIU 521 spokeswoman Khanh Weinberg said that 97 percent of the union members comprising of 911 dispatchers, janitors, librarians and nurses, voted to authorize the strike on Tuesday. Workers voted to hold an "open-ended" strike with no end date.
“It was a very difficult choice for our members to do because they’re the ones, they’re the front line workers," said Luisa Blue, chief elected officer of SEIU Local 521. "They’re the ones that continue to provide vital services to our community here in Santa Clara County, and they do so under very difficult situations.”
For its part, the county downplayed the threat of a strike actually happening.
“We’ve been negotiating for a few months, we’re very close to a deal," said County Executive Jeff Smith. "I think there are a few challenges and issues. We’re going to be negotiating all weekend.”
As for having no dispatchers show up on the job next week, Smith boldly claimed someone would be answering the phone. There's “no chance 911 won’t respond,” he said.
The SEIU is complaining about “unfair labor practices, economic inequality, public safety, and labor shortages.”
According to Weinberg, the union is upset about a 35 percent staff shortage within the 911 communications department, and social services and public health nurse shortages
In addition, the union is also saying that the county retaliates against active union members "who have led concerted efforts to call attention to crises in the county." The union has filed four Unfair Practice Charges with the Public Employment Relations Board against the county for choosing to "interfere in union business; unilaterally eliminate alternate work hours as a form of retaliation; single out SEIU leaders with unfavorable reports; and unilaterally change sick leave policies to scare workers out of striking," the union stated.
The current contract expired June 21 and was extended for two days.
The SEIU, Service Employees International Union, is an organization of 2.1 million members around the country. In Santa Clara County, the local chapter represents social workers, road workers, eligibility workers and other county workers. The union held a 10 a.m. news conference attended by dozens of workers carrying signs that read "Community First" and "County in Crisis! We didn't start the fire, but we're trying to fight it."
NBC Bay Area's Shawn Murphy, Alan Waples and Kris Sanchez contribute to this report.