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Santa Clara County reaches deal with union, averts strike

Santa Clara County and the union representing nearly 12,000 county employees brokered a tentative agreement Thursday, averting a strike that would have begun on Friday.

The county and Service Employees International Union Local 521 confirmed the deal for a new contract just after 6:00pm, two hours past the 4 p.m. deadline set by the union to reach a settlement before they would strike Friday.

The tentative deal, which still needs to be ratified by union members and approved by the Board of Supervisors, is a four-year contract with 3 percent raises each year of the contract.

“We are extremely proud to have stood resilient and united throughout these negotiations,” said chapter president Janet Diaz in a statement. “As a result, we have an agreement that will truly help us meet the needs of our families and the community we serve.  This agreement allows us to begin to rebuild the long-standing partnership between management and our workforce to ensure Santa Clara County can be the best place to live, work and raise our families.”

A number of workers will get additional raises based on their position, and all employees will see increases of at least $1 per hour, according to county CEO Jeff Smith.

All employees will also receive a signing bonus equivalent to a 3 percent raise, which would cover the period between the expiration of the last contract in June 2019 and when the new contract will go into effect this year, Smith said.

“I’m really happy we have a deal and there won’t be a strike,” said Smith Thursday. “And I’m happy members have an offer that is equitable and reasonable that will be seen by them as a positive demonstration of the county’s commitment to their workers and services.”

“I’m sad that it took so long for us to get here, but that’s water under the bridge,” he added. “It’s a difficult time for the world and economically, so that’s just the way it happens.”

SEIU, which represents more than half of the county’s 22,000 employees, announced Sunday evening that its members would strike if a deal was not reached by Thursday evening.

The county and SEIU met for a marathon bargaining session that began at 1 p.m. Wednesday and stretched until 3 a.m. the next morning. At the same time, strike captains for SEIU met Wednesday evening to prepare for the potential strike.

Members have been pushing the county for bigger raises for months, citing high turnover and vacancies for jobs like social workers, and struggles with housing and health care because of the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

Workers have packed Board of Supervisors’ meetings routinely since their contract expired in June, followed by a rolling strike in October over ten days to indicate their frustration with the county’s proposals.

Although the union has declined to discuss their demands in detail, members were pushing for a shorter contract and larger salary increases than the county had been willing to offer. The county’s last, best and final offer in October was a five-year contract with 3 percent raises each year, plus additional wage increases for certain positions

The county was initially concerned a strike would affect the primary election March 3 — 1750 permanent and extra-help employees at the Registrar of Voters are represented by SEIU — and requested a court injunction Wednesday to block Registrar employees from participating.

But late Thursday afternoon, the union agreed those employees wouldn’t participate in a potential strike.

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