Santa Clara County’s Largest Union Rejects Tentative Deal

Santa Clara County‘s largest employee union, SEIU Local 521, voted Friday against a tentative agreement that averted a strike a week earlier.

“We are disappointed to learn that SEIU Local 521 has rejected the tentative agreement,” County Executive Jeff Smith said in a statement. “The county is prepared to meet with SEIU in negotiations if the union is prepared to do so.”

The union’s bargaining team met with county officials over the weekend to work out a new deal. It was the first time in more than two decades that a union voted against a proposed contract, according to the county.

“The tentative agreement was a package proposal from the county which required that all bargaining units pass their respective side agreements in order to ratify the entire (agreement),” the union wrote on its website. “One bargaining unit voted ‘no,’ resulting in the entire (deal) being rejected. The negotiating team is meeting this weekend to strategize a path forward that puts our community first. At the present time, we are working without a contract.”

SEIU Local 521 represents 9,000-plus of the county’s 17,000 employees, including 9-1-1 dispatchers, social workers, jail staffers, District Attorney’s Office clerics, hospital lab techs and public health nurses.

The contract proposed a 4.5 percent raise in the first year and 3 percent raises for the remaining three of the term.

It appears the unit opposed to the deal was the one that represents social workers, who have been appealing to county leaders to restore positions cut over the past several years. While the county restored two-dozen of those jobs in the current-year budget, several of the department’s employees said that isn’t enough to make up for the loss.

There’s also concern that some information was misrepresented to the social services bargaining unit and that affected the outcome of their vote, according to the union.

“Our master negotiating team is committed to ensuring that all members are informed with correct information during ratification votes,” the union wrote in a notice to members. “The negotiating team has found extensive evidence of misrepresentation given primarily to the Social Services Unit membership by sources that have an obligation to correctly inform membership about the tentatively agreed upon package proposal.”

Members took to Facebook to voice their disapproval of the decision to vote against the deal.

“Apparently YES means NO!” wrote one person.

Union members debated on the SEIU Local 521 Facebook page about the merits of the contract. Some social service workers said they got the raw end of the deal, while others complained that because of their “no” vote, “9,800 workers are without a contract for a few hundred.”

“No one is discrediting the hard work and efforts of our negotiators,” wrote a commenter named Eric Lopez. “I’m glad everyone but [social services] got a good deal. So what I’m understanding is (eligibility workers) eat it, continue to work under unmanageable conditions, oh well because everyone else is getting a fair deal? That’s great you’re offered overtime while we drown in our cases with no (overtime) no relief. We’ve been kicking and screaming for help and people say this isn’t the forum to fight for what’s fair to us as workers and to the clients we serve? Do we not also matter to the rest of our members? Have you spoken to a worker and listened to what exactly our concerns are?”

The union called for a re-vote of the social services agreement on July 22, with time and place to be announced.

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Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.


  1. > “The county is prepared to meet with SEIU in negotiations if the union is prepared to do so.”

    The decisions that the SEIU leadership makes in these negotiations directly affect public policy and the public interest in Santa Clara County.

    Santa Clara County voters must have a say in who leads the SEIU and must have the right to vote in SEIU elections.

    The Federal Voting Rights Act needs to be amended to allow for the public to vote in elections of officials of public employee unions that negotiate with the government.

  2. Unfortunately, the entire master contract is affected by our NO vote. We did not vote down the master contact and if it were our choice we would not have our vote affect the entire membership. What we are asking for is not more money, not less work so we can sit and twirl our thumbs. We are asking for a reasonable caseload to provide the basic services our clients need when they need them. We serve the most vulnerable members of our community, families, children, the elderly and disabled population and when we are requesting a look at our caseload it’s because our clients, the people in your community are being directly affected. It’s bad and if you speak with our clients they can confirm the issues that we are trying to resolve. We care about our community enough to fight for them and fight for what’s only right. Please take a minute to read what a day as an EW looks like right now:

    I want to give everyone insight to a day working as an Eligibility Worker. I start my day opening my email and sorting emails for urgent requests. As I sort through my e-mails I also have e-mails about updates, workarounds, program issues, updates and changes that I should be well informed of since it directly affects my job functions. Unfortunately, I am unable to keep up with all of the updates as I do not have the time to read through so many – I’d rather be processing tasks for my clients. Then I open up the program that lists my tasks (200+ as of now). I have to filter out the most urgent and redeterminations/annual reports to renew Medi-Cal (if not completed clients, pregnant woman, children, elderly, and disabled client’s benefits are discontinued). Yesterday our newborn referrals, disc. cases, immediate needs, intercounty transfers, appeals, were “priority,” today processing redeterminations are! When asked which to do first we are told to “prioritize accordingly” please tell me how to prioritize tasks that are all priority? Now we are being watched closely by the # of closed tasks to ensure we’re meeting the #’s management expects of us. Mind you I don’t have the time to close my tasks when they want me to because I am busy processing rather than closing. I have to have several programs/applications open on two screens to process one redetermination. Now as I’m processing a redetermination I get an urgent email about a client that called that needs their task processed now. I stop in the middle of that redetermination and proceed with the urgent request. Okay, I go back to the redetermination and when I complete it the systems get stuck. So now here I am troubleshooting this case, reading up on updates/workarounds/tips (the emails I I didn’t have the time to read) to fix this 1 case. Now this has taken up the first 1.5 hr of my morning before I have to get on my 2hr and 15min phone shift. During my phone shift I hear it all! This is the clients 3rd – 4th call, they’ve been holding 2hrs, they want to speak to a supervisor, they call us incompetent, clients begging and pleading to fix their case, their child is very sick or is in the middle of therapy or a cancer patient cannot pick up their medication. A woman called upset screaming because the hospital threatened to take her newborn off breathing machines. I catch myself constantly apologizing and am tired of explaining that what use to take a week for a worker to process can now take up to months because we are so backlogged. They don’t want to hear that their Medi-Cal is not active because we are understaffed and the systems aren’t working properly. Okay so I finish up my phone shift take lunch and am left with 4 hrs to process 3 more redeterminations when my 1st one isn’t even complete. I continue to process what I can and when I go back to the problem case (most are problem cases) I have to relearn the case (family, income, why the case is not passing) because I have reviewed several cases since I worked one the case that morning and cannot remember the details of the first one I was working on. If after my troubleshooting my clients case is still not passing I then create a ticket for our IT dept. Our IT dept is overwhelmed with our tickets so before we even get a response the client is calling for status. We get notified and then go back to attempt to troubleshoot and pass the case ourselves since IT hasn’t gotten to it. So now we have our “Officer of the Day” days where one worker sees all walk in clients for the unit and for unassigned cases. I can expect to see anywhere from 6 -14 clients in a day. Most are frustrated because they’ve been calling and are tired of waiting on hold, because they are tired of waiting over 2 hours in our lobby, because this is their 3rd time back. I’ve had a woman beg me to reinstate her benefits because she had several health issues and she’s “scared to die” her words exactly. I had a woman in tears because her child was very ill and she could not get him seen. I’ve heard a Mother tell me she had to use her grocery money to pay for medication that her child desperately needed. Seeing these clients’ takes up most of the day so processing all the tasks that generate from these walk in clients rolls over to the next day and even the day after that. I also have to process any urgent calls assigned to our unit that day and have to process those tasks immediately. All this and our management is pushing our supervisors to constantly ask us why we did not complete the 20 redeterminations/tasks for the week. Mind you the clients we see in the lobby are not counted in our #’s of tasks processed/completed unless we the workers create one. I can create a task (which I try to do since management only sees #’s) but it takes time to create a task in our system, time I could be focusing on processing my tasks. Week after week supervisors are having to question EW’s as to why they didn’t meet their #’s. It’s clear that we all have the same reasons and they are the same! It’s not possible and our systems do not work properly! So on top of the backlog of 200+ tasks, the work generated from walk in clients, I am still getting assigned work daily. When do you expect me to put a dent in the hundreds of other tasks I have? I have seen some of our best workers now make mistakes. I catch myself making mistakes because of the pressure to process all these tasks for our clients, our families. What do mistakes mean? Another phone call, another walk in client. It’s literally impossible to process all this work at this point. We are constantly putting our fires instead of avoiding them. I am so exhausted by the end of my day that I need a serious mental break from everyone and everything when I leave here. I have to tell my children to give me a minute when they are so excited to tell me about their day. Then I wake up and do it all over again. You know what though? I still love what I do! I love my clients! I just want to be able to provide the service our community deserves from us. Not reducing our caseload, not changing the language in the contract isn’t an immediate solution to this huge mess, but it’s a start in the right direction. When you reduce the stress level of the workers you reduce the # of workers that get sick and go out on leave, you reduce the loss of workers (that we have invested 6 months of training in) to other departments., you reduce the amount of workers having to fix a case that 2 , 3, 4 different workers have touched, you reduce the # of mistakes. Reducing the caseload and language in the contract gives us #’s, data to present to request more staff and funding. It reduces the amount of times the same client has to call/walk in. Please, I ask that those of you angry with us to take a minute to ask us why we are in this position and don’t be quick to call us names, to call us greedy when we want what’s fair to our workers that are being pushed to early retirement because they can’t handle any more of the pressure, or to the workers taking demotions because they just can’t do it anymore, or to the workers like me that have families we need to be mentally health for and most importantly to the clients we serve every day. These are people, families, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, these are human beings that our job, that our caseload directly affects… please keep that in mind. If you take the time to inform yourselves about our BU and issues I think you will gain a much better level of understanding which will not necessarily change your position, but take away the anger that this terrible situation has created. Come to our unity breaks, talk to our workers talk to our clients and maybe you will be more inclined to support us and help us work towards a resolution and not continue with the hostility this situation has created. Our hearts are in the right place I promise you and we can and will get through this. Let our negotiators go back to the table and support us in this so we can all get what we deserve.

    • Erica, unfortunately SEIU is now so aligned with management that they work alongside management to assure workers receive minimal pay hikes and further reduction of benefits and then disappear for the next three years until “contract time” comes up again. Why county workers continue to support SEIU with monthly due payments is beyond me. Have you ever heard of any incidences of SEIU making intolerable working conditions tolerable and working with you the dues paying member to assure that conditions improve. The fact is SEIU really doesn’t give a crap. They continue to bilk county employees and provide no service. Read their response blaming your bargaining unit for their contractual inadequacy and it becomes very clear which side of the road SEIU stands. Hopefully others will recognize how aligned SEIU is with management and will move forward disassociating from the SEIU band of pirates. There are many other Union options available, it just takes courage to move forward. Good luck on your endeavour and hopefully this will enlighten others on the SEIU disservice to county employees.

    • Erica, believe it or not I actually read your comments. Even though you may love what you do, it sounds to me like you need to find employment elsewhere before your health begins to suffer. That being said, there are many ways you can help those you have compassion for besides working being employed by the county. As to your situation, many other county units are just as understaffed and overworked as yours. A friend of mine who works with the county complains about much the same issues as you have and when I was a county dispatcher years ago, we too were consistently understaffed, overworked, under paid, and stressed out. The sad truth is your situation is only to get worse in the months and years to come as more and more residents turn to subsidized healthcare in this state.

  3. I told you that without the four hour work day, two hour lunches, county cars, county cell phones for the family, credit cards for Vegas and gas credit cards and bogus overtime they will never settle. Don’t worry if they all stay home efficiency will not change but by 1%.

  4. Mr. Nate,

    First of all; What are you talking about??? Vegas credit cards? Bogus overtime?! I won’t insult you by pretending that you actually meant anything you said, were trying to be taken seriously, or were trying to pass yourself off as credible.I believe that the only people you may have to worry about going on strike are the mental health workers at the Valley Medical Center Emergency Psych Unit and the pharmacists who pass out your medication to make the voices in your head stop. Please, make at least some effort to know what you are talking about before you proceed to say it; There might be someone reading your blog posts who might actually be considering taking you seriously and it would be unfair to waste their time like that.