County and SEIU 521 Reach Agreement

Aug. 30, 2013

Khanh Weinberg
SEIU Local 521

Gwendolyn Mitchell
County of Santa Clara

County and SEIU 521 Reach Agreement

Modest Wage Increases and Sharing Health Premium Costs and Retiree Health Benefit Costs

COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, CALIF.—Today, the County of Santa Clara and Service Employees International Union Local 521 announced that they reached a Tentative Agreement this week, which was approved by 85 percent of the union membership Thursday.

At a time when some Bay Area communities have been challenged by workers’ strikes, Santa Clara County and its largest union workforce came to reasonable agreement because both parties ultimately believed in one fundamental principle: Quality public services must come first.

“We are pleased that we were able to reach agreement,” said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith. “We value the contributions of County employees. This contract includes a modest wage increase and now employees will be sharing in the cost of health premiums and contributing towards the growing cost of retiree health benefits.”

“We believe we’ve reached a fair agreement that protects vital front-line public services and we look forward to continuing to work with the county on the challenge of recruiting and retaining a cutting-edge workforce,” said Karen Smit, a Respiratory Care Practitioner who served on the union negotiations team. “Our members’ vote to approve this contract is our affirmation that we will continue to put Community First.”

Now that Santa Clara County and workers have reached an agreement, both parties can refocus efforts toward other challenges, including implementing the Affordable Care Act by strengthening Valley Medical Center, continuing to build and maintain a cutting-edge workforce, and making Silicon Valley the best place for families to live and work.

Highlights of the two-year agreement:

  • Workers will increase their contributions toward retiree health care costs $10 per pay period or $260 annually to strengthen the plan’s sustainability, bringing in about $2.1 million annually.
  • New workers will have to work for a minimum of 15 years to qualify for retiree health benefit. A worker hired yesterday would have had to work for 10 years to be eligible for the benefit.
  • To prepare for health care reform, the county will collaborate with SEIU 521 to form Unit Based Teams across the county’s Health & Hospital System, ensuring frontline workers have direct input on the quality improvements affecting patient care.
  • Employees will share the cost of health premiums.
  • To address recruitment and retention issues, two lower steps of the salary schedule will be removed. This will directly help the county become competitive in developing a cutting edge workforce.
  • Members will receive a 2% annualized wage increase in the first year (which is implemented at 4% for a six month period effective December 23, 2013 and is decreased to 2% effective June 22, 2014) and a 3% wage increase in the second year.

“We came into negotiations focused on preserving and enhancing quality public services,” said wRen Bradley, Chapter President of SEIU Local 521 Santa Clara County. “We knew the only way we could keep Santa Clara County strong was to ensure county services did not suffer. We will continue to do everything we can to develop a cutting edge work force especially as we implement the Affordable Care Act.”

The Agreement will go the Board of Supervisors for approval on September 10, 2013.

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One Response to “County and SEIU 521 Reach Agreement”

  1. Dan Fiorenza says:

    I am grateful and recognize all the long hours and unpaid time that the
    CAT members spent on our behalf. However, that being said, I need to express
    how I really feel, and I’m sure I’m not alone but many members are keeping
    quiet and that is their prerogative to do so. I have a hard time accepting that after the countless hours and intense effort invested in the
    contract negotiations members were asked to ratify a contract that will give me
    enough (after tax) money to fill up my gas tank and have enough left over for a
    pizza, once a month. I’m not any
    closer to being able to buy a home, I still have to worry about running out of money between paychecks because rent
    takes 50% of my net income, I’m not any
    closer to being able to buy a new car to replace the 17 year old one I have now.
    Starting a savings account is still a pipe dream, taking a vacation a long shot
    fantasy. In other words this contract will change nothing for me and many
    others. To those of us who reside in Santa Clara County, easily one of the most
    expensive places to live on the planet, a 5% raise is comical. I urge you to look into the raises negotiated by the City
    of Hayward employees, the raises negotiated by the Alameda County Transit
    agency, all these contract negotiations took place concurrent to those of 521,
    so this information is fresh. Members for these public organizations will be
    getting raises in the high 9% range if not in the 10 % range, with contracts
    longer than one year and their raises commence upon ratification, not six months later. Keep in mind these are not
    large organizations in comparison to the entire county of Santa Clara work
    force. These organizations don’t have the economic might of the entire County
    of Santa Clara. Remember, we’re talking about AC Transit and the City of
    Hayward, not exactly economic power houses. It is my belief that our ratified
    contract will have a negative ripple effect for future contract negotiations at
    local , state and perhaps even nationwide levels. A bad precedent was set when
    this contract was ratified. From this point fourth when other public employee
    unions go to negotiations, negotiators for cities, counties, etc. will not be hesitant
    to offer substandard contracts. The thought process here will be: “If a 9000+
    work force accepted the meager terms they were offered why should we offer
    anything more?” A scenario that if repeated enough times will lead down a slippery slope where upon reaching
    the bottom will result in the dissolution of the socio-economic level known as:
    The American Middle Class. I can’t help but have nagging thoughts such as “how
    is it that the county casually dismisses its most valuable asset, it’s
    employees? To the point where a high ranking county official taunted Union
    management to “call a strike if it felt so inclined”, evidently not worried that
    a strike would make the county come to a grinding halt? I’d like to see the county
    negotiators and the county executive survive for one year on the compensation
    they stubbornly argue is adequate for us (that would never happen….). Take a
    moment to ponder did the 521 CAT members give in too soon? Did exhaustion give
    in to complacency? Could a strike, though economically painful for a moment, have
    been the tool needed to show the county we meant business and we were ready to
    stand our ground for a contract providing
    521 members to have an adequate, middle-class lifestyle? Food for thought my
    brothers and sisters, indeed, food for thought …..

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