Nearly 600 frustrated Sonoma County Chapter members attended SEIU Local 1021 STRIKE SCHOOL last night in preparation for their contract expiring on October 31 and ironically, they feel negotiations with the County thus far has yielded them more “tricks than treats.”
The workers say they are struggling to make ends meet as more of their paychecks go toward higher out-of-pocket costs for healthcare and housing in the region. At the same time, Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA) to wages have steadily lagged behind over the past eight years. Neighboring Solano County employees recently held a two-day ULP strike.
“I’m so thankful to see this many people at Strike School,” said Jarene Bell, a 65 year-old employee of Sonoma County for 10 years in accounts receivable. “When the economy crashed, we all took mandatory time off without pay, and some people even retired early to save other jobs and help the County out of the red,” she explained with a trembling voice and tears in her eyes. Now that the County has recovered financially, we’re all wondering…where is the humanity and decency to give back to the workforce?” Jarene lives alone and like a growing number of others her age, needs to work longer before she can afford to retire.
Sonoma County has not seen an employee strike in decades, but with a record turnout at Strike School this week, and multiple takeaways from the last contract; the workforce is taking this very seriously.
“I bring home less money now than I did eight years ago!” said Ross Weber, a member of the employee bargaining team who has been with the County for nearly 18 years in the Roads department. “I also pay over $1,900 a month for my family to have healthcare and rents have gone up 40%. I just hope to make a difference so my dad can retire with dignity, I can afford healthcare for my family, and we can afford to live in the community we work in and serve.”
His father Ted Weber, also a Sonoma County employee since 1979, tells how things have changed over the years. “I bought a house when I was younger, but my son Ross now pays more in rent than a lot of people pay for a mortgage. When I first started, we had great benefits and healthcare for our families paid for by the County,” he recalls. “The pay was never great, but you could afford to live here. Now after nearly 36 years of service, and two knee replacements, I’m just trying to make it to retirement, and hoping I’ll be able to afford it. I don’t understand how Sonoma County could they treat people this way?”
The employee Bargaining Team believes that, as the area’s largest employer, Sonoma County has the responsibility to bargain in good faith with its workforce for a fair contract, but with their current contract due to expire, and little progress negotiating with the County, they are asking all Chapter Members to vote next week to authorize a strike, in the unfortunate event it comes to that.