A union employee holds a sign at Tuesday's county board of supervisors meeting.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Government

County workers could strike this week after 93.5% vote to approve walkout

Leaders of the union representing Santa Cruz County workers told the board of supervisors Tuesday that they’re ready to strike against the county government after an overwhelming majority of members voted in favor. Negotiations are set to resume Thursday, and a strike could come soon thereafter.

UPDATE: Leaders of the union representing Santa Cruz County workers announced Tuesday that its members have voted to authorize a strike — perhaps as soon as Thursday — if the county continues to negotiate in what they see as bad faith.

Veronica Velazquez, chapter president of Service Employees International Union Local 521, said that 93.5% of voting members voted in favor of authorizing a strike.

“We have been bargaining in good faith and the county has not,” she told Lookout after speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the county board of supervisors. “They continue to offer insulting cost of living adjustments and they have left us no choice but to take action.”

County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said he believes an agreement can still be reached.

“We remain optimistic that we can avert a strike; as stated by SEIU leaders who spoke before the board, we are not far from an agreement,” he said. “We are committed to delivering high-quality, fiscally responsible services to the public and look forward to working productively with our employees to achieve that goal.”

Negotiations are set to resume Thursday. If no agreement is reached, and pending a final decision by leaders and members, county workers plan to strike shortly thereafter.

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EARLIER: Ramping up the pressure on Santa Cruz County government leaders, Service Employees International Union Local 521 said it plans to announce the results of a strike-authorization vote Tuesday morning that it acknowledges “could cripple Santa Cruz public services.”

Members have said they are frustrated with the county for being unresponsive to the difficulties they have faced over the past two years. In addition to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, workers have been furloughed, and pay has remained stagnant despite a rising cost of living, they say.

County representatives could not immediately be reached for comment. However, spokesperson Jason Hoppin has previously said that he believed the two sides were close to an agreement, and that pay and conditions are similar or better to areas of similar population.

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SEIU 521 spokesperson Ian Newman said late Monday that 82% of the union’s members responded to a survey asking if they would agree to be part of a work stoppage, and the results of that vote will be given during the public comment portion of the board of supervisors meeting.

In a message to members, union leaders said the vote was “fueled by county management’s illegal tactics and bad faith bargaining throughout the course of negotiations.”

And, they said, the implications of a strike “could cripple Santa Cruz public services from functioning and deprive residents and businesses of the services they need.”

Issues have been brewing between the two sides for months. In October, union leaders presented more than 1,000 signatures from members who said they were willing to strike. In addition to the calls for pay increases, members also claim there are racial disparities in pay, and they need better health care benefits, among other issues.

Referencing the wage disparities, Hoppin told Lookout in October that pay “schedules are gender- and colorblind and largely set by seniority. People doing equal work get equal pay in Santa Cruz County.”

Saying their concerns about working conditions and pay have not been taken seriously, unionized workers presented a...