Santa Clara County workers hit the picket lines Wednesday morning, staging their first strike in 40 years.
The strike began at 6 a.m. at the Department of Family and Children’s Services in San Jose and included nurses, janitors, social workers, mental health workers, law enforcement and probation workers, eligibility workers and librarians, among others.
The strike comes in response to what workers feel are unfair labor practices after the county made changes in the Department of Family and Children’s Services. The union that represents the workers, the Service Employees International Union Local 521, said that the changes were made without consulting the workers. The strike impacts many departments within the county and has no end date in sight.
"We are striking because there is a crisis in Santa Clara County when it comes to public services," said Veronica Morena De Leon, a social worker supervisor. "Shutting down the San Jose Family Resource Center is just one example of how the county has shown it does not care about the needs of our community and its employees. Instead of breaking the labor law, the county should be bargaining in good faith with our workers to address the real issues facing residents."
The walkout means that there may be longer lines in many county offices as well as potential delays in obtaining permits or getting other county services. But County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith said late Wednesday morning the strike is limited and thus has limited impact on county services.
"Right now, the strike seems to be under control from our perspective," he said. "We're not aware of any significant client services that are being impeded. It's actually very small numbers of strikers. At the last count, we see less than 150."
According to a statement from the county, the proposals from the union are not possible with the projected revenue and a slowing economy. The county said it has offered "significant increases" to workers' salaries and benefits. The county's latest proposal, according to the statement, would be at least $625 million over five years.
"There has been a difference of opinion between the county and SEIU about the projection of revenue in the future," said Smith. "The county is not only worried about a fair wage and an equitable contract, but also making sure the contract and associated salaries are sustainable in the future. The union has focused on recent revenue trends that were stronger, but future revenues are not expected to be nearly as strong."
As it stands, workers have been without a contract since June. The county and the union have been in negotiations since that time.
"The Board of Supervisors and CEO, Jeff Smith, have caused this strike by breaking the law," said Riko Mendez, an elected chief officer for the union. "Unfair labor practices hurt public service workers and the vulnerable communities they serve. Our members know that striking is a sacrifice – but as employees who have dedicated their lives to public service, they are ready to strike to protect children, seniors and low-income families."