Santa Clara County, SEIU resume talks

Oct. 14, 2019, 11:35 p.m.

With picketing put on hold amid PG&E power shutoffs, a standoff between unionized government service workers and Santa Clara County has eased up, with the two parties returning to negotiations, according to the Mercury News.

PG&E’s shutoffs upended life across Northern California this past week, causing school closures and billions in economic damage and even a death. Here in Santa Clara County, the outages brought the suspension of picket lines and caused strikers to indefinitely postpone their walkouts. 

As the strikers resume work, Services Employee International Union (SEIU) Local 521 negotiators are expected to return to the bargaining table Tuesday in their second meeting with County representatives since the beginning of the strike. Some of the most contentious issues on the table include housing support, childcare and the county’s relocation of a Family Resource Center in East San Jose. 

SEIU called the strike — the first the county has seen in four decades — on Oct. 2 after months of deadlocked negotiations on union contracts for the 12,000 social-service providers it represents. Santa Clara County has since filed an official grievance against the union on the grounds that the strike has blocked access to public health services. 

SEIU leaders announced last Tuesday that the strike would pause in light of PG&E’s planned blackouts in the area. Union spokesman Victor Gamiz emphasized that the strike was not over and that protestors were prepared to return to the picket lines at any moment. 

The cessation was called to ensure that public services would be running at full capacity to help alleviate the challenges that the blackouts posed to county residents. 

“Our decision to postpone all strike activities was taken out of our concern for public safety and our desire to fully support the needs of the residents who our members serve every single day,” Janet Diaz, SEIU Local 521 chapter president, said in an interview with CBS Thursday.

So far the strike has impacted public services across the county, including roads, parks and 911 dispatches, and resulted in the closure of public health centers in Sunnyvale and Milpitas. 

The County estimates 1,500 of its 22,000 employees are striking, but has given little indication of acceding to the strikers’ demands, claiming that they would damage the county’s overall fiscal health. The most recent labor relations agreement offers workers a wage increase of 3% a year, and would total $625 million over the next five years. 

County Executive Jeffrey Smith told the Mercury News that he was unsure as to whether the end of the strike was in sight, but expressed optimism that the negotiating parties would find consensus. 

“This emergency is a reminder of the vital role the county serves in our community,” Smith told SF Gate. “This suspension of strike activity today was in keeping with this mission of public service.”

Contact Grace Carroll at gac23‘at’

Grace Carroll is the Vol. 261 magazine editor. She was previously a news desk editor. Contact her at gcarroll 'at'

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