Those who picketed on Monday carried signs with varied messages, including “More Work, Less Pay, NO WAY,” “We Believe in Contract Fairness,” and “Kickin' ass for the Workin Class.” Other signs read “OESC for the next generation,” OESC Strike for Equality” and “The 80s called, they want their salary back!”
Fighting for a liveable wage and affordable healthcare benefits, Siskiyou County workers from various departments took to the streets Monday morning at the beginning of a planned five-day strike.
“We are some of the lowest paid county workers in the entire state of California,” said Jenna Gabriel-Faris, a social worker for Adult and Childrens Services. “That's what I'm fighting for, a livable wage! Though we’re a rural community, the cost of living is still high. Many of my co-workers are still receiving welfare benefits. And they’re full time employees,” said Faris, who is also the secretary for the Organized Employees of Siskiyou County, which represents more than 300 county employees.
Picketing began Monday morning at the County Administrative Office on Fairlane Road and plan to continue Tuesday morning at the Siskiyou County Courthouse. The employees work in a variety of departments and are “from the rank-and-file employees up to middle managers,” said labor negotiator Steve Allen on Monday.
“People are tired of giving, giving, giving, and then we get nothing,” said Teresa Scott, president of OESC, adding that the union’s proposed raises and benefits packages would come at a time when workers have gone years dealing with turnover and higher workloads. They also had their pay cut in 2011, she said.
Scott, an eligibility worker III for Siskiyou County’s Health and Human Services Agency, said a caseload of 500 clients used to be shocking for her department. Now, her caseload is over 900 clients, she said.
And since the minimum wage in California has gone up, Scott said any raise in salary from the county should factor that in.
County Administrator Terry Barber said the county’s proposal is “a fair offer,” and she’s “disappointed” the union hasn’t accepted it.
While county offices are open during the strike, Barber said, “we’re asking the public to be patient as we expect reduced services in some offices.” The county and union came to an agreement to have about 40 union members continue to provide essential services while other strike.
Barber said the county’s offer included an immediate raise of 2% upon contract ratification and another 2.75% in year two of the contract.
“In contrast, OESC has demanded at 3% raise retroactive to July 1, 2019, and another 3% raise in year two of the contract.”
Barber goes on to say that the county proposed providing a flat dollar amount toward health benefits instead of the current system of providing 85% of the cost of PERS Choice.
“The flat dollar amount selected by the county is more than 100% of the cost of PERS Select and therefore the vast majority of employees represented by OESC would see no increase in health benefit costs during the two-year contract,” Barber said.
“Given its financial situation,” Barber said the county declined to accept a factfinding panel’s recommendation which included a two-year contract with a 2.5% raise on July 1st of each year; $30 per month in deferred compensation contributions; and health insurance contributions at 80% of PERS Choice.
“The county is disappointed that OESC leadership has instead announced a strike. The county notes that a five-day strike will cost an employee approximately 2% of the employee’s annual salary. It is the county’s belief that instead of resorting to a strike OESC and the county should continue mediation efforts.”
“The county proposal continues to demand an over $500 a month cut in what the county pays for family medical insurance and refuses the OESC request for $30 a month deferred compensation contribution despite the Board of Supervisors and Department Heads receiving $300 a month deferred compensation,” said Allen.
Those who picketed on Monday carried signs with varied messages, including “More Work, Less Pay, NO WAY,” “We Believe in Contract Fairness,” and “Kickin’ ass for the Workin Class.” Other signs read “OESC for the next generation,” OESC Strike for Equality” and “The 80s called, they want their salary back!”
“Our jobs are tough and because of that, it’s difficult to keep good employees,” said Gabriel-Faris. “Our turn over is super high.”
The following is a list of employees that were deemed “essential” through negotiations between the union and the county, and therefore are not striking:
Animal Shelter Coordinator
Chief Animal Control Officer
Behavioral Health Crisis Worker
Behavioral Health Specialist
Clinical Services Supervisor
Behavioral Health Nurse
Health Support Assistant
LVN or Public Health Nurse I/II
Public Safety Dispatcher
Supervising Public Safety Dispatcher
County Jail Cook
County Jail Maintenance On Call
ACS Program Manager
CPS Social Worker
CPS Social Worker Supervisor
IHSS Social Worker On Call
Adult Services Social Worker Supervisor
Eligibility Worker II/III
Human Services Supervisor
ETAS Program Manager
Information Systems Specialist IV On Call
ETAS Administrative Services Manager
Deputy Public Guardian
The agreement as to which employees are “essential” avoided unnecessary litigation and ensures the public isn’t endangered during the strike, OESC said in a statement.