Santa Clara County Union Prepares to Continue Strikes

T5A SANTA CLARA STRIKE PAOLA VO - 00004818
NBC Bay Area

Santa Clara County workers announced Friday afternoon that they are willing to continue strikes to protest alleged unfair labor practices by the county.

Carlton Allen, a Service Employees International Union Local 521 worker at the Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center in San Jose, said the county continues to "break promises to members" of the union and fails to address the union's demands for higher wages, new contracts and better working conditions in understaffed and underserved county buildings.

"Management refuses to negotiate over our working conditions. They aren't just hurting workers, they're hurting the hospital and they're breaking the law," Allen said during a news conference Friday afternoon in front of the county's O'Connor Hospital in San Jose.

He was joined by dozens of other SEIU Local 521 workers and a few from the county's workers with Register Nurses Professional Association who have been joining SEIU Local 521 on picket lines throughout the county since it began strikes earlier this month.

"We need to strike to stop the unfair labor practices and go back to doing our job as health care workers in this community," Allen said.

RNPA nurses also are fighting with the county for new contracts and higher wages, following the expiration of their own contracts on Sunday.

"We're going to continue to support them," Melissa Truesdel, secretary for RNPA, said Friday. "The county needs to do what's right."

The County Executive, Jeffrey Smith, has repeatedly said the county cannot meet the demands of SEIU Local 521.

After the county offered its "last, best and final" offer earlier this month, the union decided to again initiate strikes, causing workers to walk off the job and closures of several county departments and offices this month.

Jesse Kizine, an SEIU Local 521 worker at O'Connor Hospital who joined the news conference to speak after a 12-hour overnight shift Friday, said he is "proud to say that I'm still at O'Connor" after 15 years.

"I'm sad that so many of my longtime coworkers have left, friendly faces that I've known for years have suddenly gone because of the communication breakdowns, disrespect and the utter chaos that has been going on," Kizine said. "It is too much to handle at times."

He said in March this year, he learned from the county that he had been misclassified in his position at O'Connor in the hospital's labor and delivery department.

This news came with short checks and a notice that he would not be able to receive back pay on his misclassified hours, he said.

"For months I was short-changed on my pay, my dignity and my ability to serve patients," Kizine said. "Today we have workers at the hospital here that are misclassified, doing the wrong work and being ignored. I was made to think that this would be a priority by the county, but it clearly wasn't."

The county could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

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