County workers rally amidst negotiations

Contract is set to expire Sept. 30

CHARGING FORWARD County workers hold a rally outside the San Benito County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, September 26 to demand better wages as their union, SEIU, continues negotiations in the county.

County employees rallied outside the San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to demand accountability as contract negotiations continue.

The workers, represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521 are looking for wage increases, county health care contributions to offset increasing costs and continued holiday office closures established over the last few years.

“For the last eight years, county workers have seen only a 3 percent cost of living adjustment while withstanding 16 percent in wage cuts and 270 percent increase in health care costs,” SEIU Communications Specialist Katie Smalls said in a press release. “The county is constantly losing workers to neighboring counties where the pay, benefits and working conditions are preferable.”

The current county contract with SEIU Local 521 is set to expire September 30. Negotiations with the county began July 11.

The union represents 270 county workers, not including an additional 50 vacancies the county has struggled to fill.

Workers are proposing a 4.5 percent raise for the first year of the contract and a 3.5 percent raise in the second year.

“We are optimistic that the county board of supervisors will choose to invest in its frontline employees,” Small said.

County officials said the county doesn’t comment on ongoing negotiations with represented employee groups.

County employee Christina Chavez told supervisors Tuesday that she was one of two people in the entire county that audits the business property taxes.

“My wages could have been 60 percent higher if I chose to work in San Jose for the same position, but I chose to work for San Benito County because Hollister is home to me,” Chavez said. “San Benito County is where my friends and family are and I want to provide my services to the community I know and grew up in.”

SEIU Organizer Mark Weirick asked supervisors to keep a few things in mind during the negotiations.

“Please keep in mind the county’s current proposal keeps our employees below the projected inflation rates for 2017 and 2018,” Weirick said. “It leaves our employees behind.”

Inflation is projected at 3.4 percent a year for the next two years.

According to Weirick, the county’s current proposal fails to address rising health care costs.

“We appreciate your fiscal conservatism and responsibility with ensuring the county is able to maintain this commitment to its employees through their retirement, but what we’re asking you to take into account is what we’re proposing is absolutely within your means.”

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