Solano County workers win a two year contract after two strikes

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ON WEDNESDAY evening, Solano County, California workers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021 overwhelmingly ratified a two-year contract with the County.

The ratification vote comes after two strikes and four months of negotiations. The two-year contract term includes three per cent wage increases per year, a supplemental employer contribution for family healthcare, and the County’s payment of its full pension obligation starting in 2017.

The contract also includes provisions that encourage additional training and continuing education for workers, in addition to equity adjustments. Akbar Bibb, a Solano County social worker and SEIU 1021 Solano County Chapter President said: ‘We believe it’s fair and begins to address workers’ concerns.

‘We look forward to the Board of Supervisors’ ratification of the contract and for workers to begin to regain all that they have sacrificed since they started this campaign.’

The contract between nearly 1,800 Solano County workers represented by SEIU 1021 and the County expired on September 28. On October 14 and 15, workers went on an unfair labour practice strike, followed by another unfair labour practice strike on November 17 and 18.

The successor contract will go into effect after the Solano Board of Supervisors’ ratification of the agreement. The Board vote will take place during the Board’s December 8th meeting.

SEIU 1021 Solano County members include social workers, mental health specialists, public health nurses, librarians, Child Support Services specialists, public safety dispatchers, benefits eligibility specialists, and veterans’ services workers.

Since the expiration of the contract between Solano County and SEIU 1021 on September 28, the County had escalated a campaign of misinformation and worker intimidation.

The County had illegally deducted fees from workers’ paychecks to cover the County’s financial obligations to retirement funds, despite California pension law. SEIU 1021 filed charges against the County with the Public Employees Relation Board (PERB) to restore the amount to workers, in addition to earlier charges of worker intimidation and bad faith bargaining.

The County threatened workers who waived medical coverage that they would not receive reimbursement for their waiver, should they take their legally protected right to go on strike.

To prevent Solano County workers from protesting at the County’s illegal behaviour, County Executives restricted workers’ earned sick leave, resulting in workers missing medical appointments for themselves and their family members.

Before the new deal was signed, Akbar Bibb said: ‘County executives are punishing workers for speaking out about unfair treatment. County Executives have gone as far as to deny workers earned time off to attend parent-teacher conferences and sick leave to attend medical appointments. It’s unconscionable.’

Furthermore, County negotiators have also inadequately addressed safety concerns of overnight, on-call social workers who move at-risk youth out of dangerous situations at all hours of the night.

Also speaking before the agreement, Nadeen Roach, Solano County eligibility benefits specialist and member of SEIU 1021’s bargaining team, said: ‘The County is sending out social workers without any sleep to remove children from dangerous situations, putting both the workers and children at unnecessary risk. The County needs to put a stop to this dangerous practice.’

Most recently, the County claimed that negotiations were at an impasse, even as SEIU 1021 urged County negotiators to continue contract talks. SEIU 1021 is calling on the County to re-engage in contract talks immediately, bargain in good faith, and end the dispute.

In September, Solano County workers organised a two-day unfair labour practice strike, the first in the County’s history in 25 years. Meanwhile, the Calaveras Unified School District in California and the teachers’ association have reached an agreement, officials said.

Calaveras Unified Educators Association voted 118 to 4 to accept the new contract conditions. President Lorraine Angel said: ‘We settled our contracts and we have a bunch of really happy teachers because they get to go back into their classrooms Wednesday morning.

‘They want to see those kids that they’ve missed and the kids that have missed them.’

The teachers and school district have been negotiating for 20 months. The teachers went on strike last week, closing nine schools in the district for four days.

The strike was due to unresolved differences concerning class size, school safety and pay. Lorraine Angel said the agreement reached between the teachers and the school district is the result of a ‘hard compromise’.

‘The new contract has lowered class sizes for us, so we can do that one-on-one work with our students. We’ve got safety language in our contract, so that we can keep our schools and our children safe. We’ve also been able to, through some creative bargaining, come up with a wage increase that is somewhere between four and six per cent for our members.’

The new contract includes this year and last year. Angel continued: ‘We’ll be back at the bargaining table in spring.’ The contract also adds four days to the school year. Elsewhere, this week in St. Louis, trade unions in the AFL-CIO called for a ‘New Deal on Trade’, which must include labour rules that protect working families, in the United States and in other countries that America trades with.

In a statement the AFL-CIO said: ‘The US government recently let deadlines on cases of egregious workers’ rights abuses in Colombia and Peru pass with little fanfare. These cases underscore why workers desperately need effective protections in trade agreements, with swift and certain enforcement.

‘Currently, governments have complete discretion over how to respond to labour rights complaints. Our current trade agreements have no deadlines, no criteria for pursuing sanctions, or even any requirement to act at all. When workers join across borders to document abuses, cases are closed without fixing the problem, or drag on for years.

‘Workers often face serious risks to their lives and livelihoods when they come forward. The United States is sending the message that the results are not worth that risk. Unfortunately, the language recently tabled by the US government for NAFTA re-negotiations does nothing to improve these long-standing shortcomings.

‘The AFL-CIO will continue to highlight that working people need a New Deal on trade that includes binding labour commitments with swift and certain enforcement. The time for promises is over. The time for action to protect worker freedoms is now.’