s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

The largest union of Sonoma County government employees ended its three-day strike Thursday, concluding a raucous and vibrant labor protest centered in Santa Rosa that union representatives hoped would advance their interests in contract talks under way with the county.

Officials with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 said they hoped to help convince the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Veronica Ferguson to enact pay increases and contribute more to their health coverage.

“We’re not trying to be greedy — the county is recovering financially, and we’re struggling,” said Omar Medina, a county eligibility worker who is also on the union’s bargaining team. “We gave up so much during times of austerity.”

The union represents 2,200 rank-and-file county employees and accounts for about half the county’s 4,100-member workforce.

County officials said 1,200 SEIU-affiliated employees did not show up to work on Thursday while union representatives estimated that a total of 2,000 members and their supporters wearing purple marched and carried picket signs throughout the county, the peak turnout for the three-day protest.

The union is pressing for an 8 percent pay increase over two years, in addition to greater county contributions to cover the cost of employee health care. County officials said they’ve offered employees a 4 percent increase in total compensation — including pay and benefits — over 21 months.

The county’s offer didn’t change on Wednesday, when union negotiators met amid the strike with the county’s bargaining team for the 22nd time in four months in an attempt to hammer out a deal. The county offered a new one-time payment of $475 per employee to entice union members to ratify a new contract, according to union representatives, who said they rejected the offer.

The two sides are set to resume negotiations Friday. Members of the union’s bargaining team said they have not ruled out another strike if there isn’t movement from the county. County officials said they are still evaluating their next steps.

“We are committed to the process and continue to put forth proposals related to the county and SEIU’s shared interests related to health care, employee salaries and other elements of total compensation at each bargaining session,” said county spokeswoman Rebecca Wachsberg.

The strike and related staffing shortages reduced public services at a number of county departments. The Human Services Department, which handles a broad range of social aid programs, experienced the greatest impact. About 512 of the department’s 736 SEIU-affiliated employees did not show up for work Thursday and the agency was forced to turn away more than half of people seeking enrollment in public assistance, such as food stamps and Medi-Cal, according to county officials. An estimated 1,110 people would have called to enroll in public benefits through a phone assistance center during the strike, officials said.

“It’s a big number — we had to close down all of our phone lines for all three days,” said Karen Fies, the department’s assistant director. “We are very concerned about those impacts. Our goal is to provide excellent customer service and we’ve not been able to provide all of our regular services.”

Fies said managers and other staff filled in on frontline positions and the department triaged emergency cases dealing with child and elder abuse.

County health officials said they also had to cut services and delay appointments in mental health and in-home nursing programs. Out of the department’s 198 SEIU-affiliated employees, 115 did not show up to work Thursday.

Animal service workers were also on strike, but health officials said care and rescue work was unaffected mostly because nonprofit and private veterinarians stepped in to help.

Work at other departments came to a standstill. At the Department of Transportation and Public Works, 87 employees didn’t show up for work during the strike and most were on road maintenance crews, said Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director.

“That’s people who would be filling potholes and trimming trees...it’s setting us back a few days,” Klassen said. “We just don’t have enough bodies to deliver our regular services.”

Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks, said parks maintenance projects were also delayed.

“They have very big jobs,” Hart said. “But I think because this strike is short-lived, we’ve been able to get by.”

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

Show Comment