INTERNAL AFFAIRS COLUMN
SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2011
Union’s protesters saved from expulsion by budget cuts they were fighting
IA’s hunt for sad irony led to Santa Clara County budget hearings last week. Waving banners urged county leaders to “Chop from the Top” and standing room only throngs of purple-clad, bullhorn-wielding SEIU Local 521 workers protested looming blows to the social safety net that are likely to result in layoffs for hundreds of social workers, hospital staff and other service providers.
When a fire marshal entered the chamber, IA hears, the following conversation ensued:
Crowd member: Are you going to kick us out, keep us in order?
Fire marshal: Normally we would, but they just cut down our staff and I’m the only person here.
Eligibility worker Ruben Garcia, an SEIU chapter leader, stated he knows the county faces a $219.6 million budget shortfall that it is required by law to address. But he added: “I absolutely do not believe that our county, in the heart of Silicon Valley, has no option other than to tell our neediest families that they are on their own.”
SEIU members are rallying for their clients — among them kids in foster care, the homebound elderly and homeless families. But their own livelihood is also at stake as the heated budget talks continue.
The county executive is seeking $75 million from labor organizations, to be gained from contract concessions in current and upcoming negotiations. Those concessions are being counted on to balance the final fiscal year 2012 budget — along with the elimination of 534 county jobs.
And the countdown has begun. Supervisors vote on a final budget in a series of public meetings beginning June 13.