SEIU 521 Santa Clara County Chapter Bargaining Team & County Agree to Enter Voluntary Mediation – FAQs

Highlights of the voluntary mediation agreement:

  • Our Union and the County would go to voluntary mediation in an effort to reach a settlement with the assistance of named mediator Joel Schaffer – someone we know to be a high-quality mediator based on the experience of other SEIU Locals in California.
  • During mediation, the County will not be constrained by its “Last, Best, and Final Offer” (“LBFO”).
  • During mediation, our Union will not strike nor engage in any work stoppages.
  • During mediation, all discussions will be kept confidential.
  • During mediation, our Union will temporarily suspend voting on the “LBFO.”
  • During mediation, the County will suspend its temporary requirement that SEIU Local 521-represented employees provide doctor’s notes for use of sick time less than three days, and that all vacation must be requested and approved at least a week in advance.

Click here to see the agreement and the cover letter from the County.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some answers to questions that you may have about the agreement:

Q.  What is voluntary mediation?
A.  Voluntary mediation is a process where a neutral mediator that is agreed to by both sides (or chosen by another neutral party such as the State Mediation and Conciliation Service) assists the negotiations – typically by acting as a go-between while management and our Union’s team develop proposals and counter-proposals.  A good mediator can help both sides see what is in their best interest in a situation and thereby facilitate an agreement.  But the mediator cannot force anyone to do anything – the outcome really depends on the power each side has away from the bargaining table.

Q.  Have we given up our right to strike?
A.  No.  We have agreed not to strike during the mediation process.  The mediator will almost certainly be reminding management that if we aren’t able to reach an agreement, our Union will be free to strike and will likely do so.  This is how mediators help get settlements.

Q.  Why did we agree to suspend our vote on the “Last, Best, and Final Offer”?
A.  We only suspended the vote – we can complete the voting if the mediation is not successful – but we now know that the County would prefer the votes never get counted – and the only way that happens is if they come up with a deal that our bargaining committee can recommend to our membership for ratification. The deal would have to be a lot better than 3% pay increases per year with no retroactivity.

Q. How long will this take?
A.  We have made it clear we want to move as quickly as we can to get this resolved.  The agreement calls for 30 days of mediation, but the County has agreed with our Union to make negotiators available to the maximum extent possible in the hope that an agreement will be reached before Thanksgiving.  How long the process takes will depend on the availability of the mediator, the complexity of the discussions, and other factors.  Your bargaining committee entered into this agreement because we believe it offers the best possibility for reaching a fair agreement with the Board of Supervisors.

Q. How will members be kept informed as to the progress of the negotiations?
A.  The agreement provides that the discussions in the mediation will be kept confidential – which is typical.  So we won’t be getting regular updates during the process.  If a tentative agreement is reached members will get all the details on the tentative agreement before we vote on whether or not to accept it.  If mediation ends without an agreement, members will get a detailed report on exactly where things stand; what is being offered by the County, and what we are proposing instead.

Q.  The agreement says we can’t file unfair labor practices (ULPs) over the mediation process, doesn’t that leave us vulnerable legally?
A.  No.  The agreement only says that neither side would file ULPs over what is said or not said in the mediation process itself – this is typical as it frees up both sides to discuss issues more freely.  Our union can and will file charges over any ULPs that involve actions taken away from the mediation process such as anti-union activities, unilateral changes, etc.

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