The public defender and district attorney are usually on opposing sides in the courtroom, but staff members from both departments have marched in lockstep in recent rallies, seeking more people from Contra Costa County to lighten their workloads. Recruitment and retention are requested.
Nine labor unions representing more than 6,000 workers, including prosecutors, public defenders, engineers, IT workers and public service workers, have joined forces to argue for better compensation in their next three-year contracts – a move that Which can keep employees from leaving for greener pastures.
With the unions almost a week left on the current deal, organizers say they are far from considering a strike, but are ready to move in that direction if both sides don’t make progress soon.
Last year there were 1,964 vacancies among the approximately 10,000 full-time positions available by unions in the county, a rate of about 20%, compared to 12% in Santa Clara County, with an overall increase of about 4% in unfilled positions available by unions from the 2017-18 fiscal year. According to the data provided.
The biggest impact was on the Department of Health Services, which saw a 14% increase in vacancies from a year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic thinned public health workers from prolonged physical and emotional stress.
The union coalition represents many of these workers – including medical assistants, mental health specialists and lab technicians – who treated patients and others from the spread of COVID at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martínez and several other health clinics in the county. were battling.
“Jobs got so tough during the pandemic,” said Sean Stalbaum, principal organizer of the nine-union coalition Staff Up Contra Costa. “At a certain point, the staff started looking around and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore; it’s too much.’ ,
Workers say the main problem is that the county has not reinvested revenue into better health care benefits and cost of living adjustments for workers, making young professionals more lucrative public sector jobs in Alameda and Santa Clara counties or local Being inspired to leave. the cities there.
Supervisor Karen Michoff said in an interview that health care has been an important “sticking point” in the talks.
“We fought this battle three years ago and there was an agreement on these issues,” Michoff said. “Admittedly, we all (workers) want to achieve more, but we also need to be financially prudent.”
A county worker with more than 20 years under his belt said Contra Costa has effectively become a “training ground” for employees who eventually look for better opportunities elsewhere, boosting the morale of those veterans. kills who then play multiple roles to make up the difference.
“I’ve seen people get hired and left simply because of benefits and pay issues,” said Gabriel Lemus, a principal planner at the county’s Department of Conservation and an IFPTE Local 21 representative.
“They come straight to me and say they want to stay, but it’s much harder when they can make better profits and maybe have less workload on other employers,” Lemus said.
Labor groups have held large rallies outside the county board of supervisors chamber in Martinez, the most animated moment when supervisors are meeting in closed session to discuss the unions’ next contract.
The county and its labor groups continue to bargain regularly after the contract expires, and union workers will be paid what they were doing until the deal is done. Retrospective wage agreements are rare, so unions are under pressure to reach a deal as quickly as possible.
If negotiations come to a complete halt, both parties can declare a standoff and request a settlement with a California labor relations arbitrator, several before union members vote to authorize the strike. First of the steps.
Labor leaders are cautiously optimistic they can reach a deal well before it becomes an option, although a union representative said they did not expect to reach an agreement before mid-July.
“We are still quite far away,” said Teamsters 856 organizer Corey Hollman, noting that the two sides hadn’t made much progress during Friday’s bargaining session.