San Jose spotlight: Santa Clara County union suspends strike, agrees to voluntary mediation

by Adam F. Hutton
November 4, 2019

Union negotiators representing 12,000 striking Santa Clara County service workers have agreed to suspend their unfair labor practices protest and return to the bargaining table on Tuesday with an independent mediator helping the two sides identify possible compromises.

County negotiators and the bargaining team for Service Employees International Union Local 521 agreed on a mediator on Halloween and set Nov. 5 as their first bargaining session since the union went on strike on Oct. 2.

Tomorrow’s session will be the first time the two sides sit down at the bargaining table under voluntary mediation. The accord to bring in a neutral third-party was reached as union members voted on a “Last, Best and Final Offer” (LBFO) the county sent to union leaders Oct. 15, which came just days after the union submitted its own offer to the county.

As part of the agreement, the union will suspend voting on the LBFO, and put strike activities on hold during the mediated negotiations. But union leaders say both may resume if a settlement can’t be reached.

“Our bargaining team believes that the Board of Supervisors and county would not have made this move if they didn’t want to reach a fair settlement,” said SEIU Local 521 Santa Clara County Chapter President Janet Diaz. “We are committed to working towards reaching a successful resolution during this mediation. If we can’t reach a fair settlement, we can and will exercise all our legal rights including our right to strike and to complete our vote on the county’s ‘LBFO,’ and publicizing the vote results.”

By agreeing to mediation, the county indicated it was ready to offer union members more than what was in the “final” offer on Oct. 15 — which union leaders dismissed as being the same proposal workers rejected months earlier. SEIU members have been working without a contract since July.

At the end of August, workers voted overwhelmingly to go on strike. The union spent the month of September organizing various protests — including an act of civil disobedience that saw more than a dozen members arrested for blocking traffic at an intersection near the San José Family Resource Center, which the county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) had planned to move from its current location in East San Jose to the Social Services Agency headquarters downtown.

Since then, the county Board of Supervisors indefinitely halted the move pending a discussion on keeping the resource center on the east side at its regular meeting on Nov. 5, and DFCS Director Francesca LeRúe left the department. The union claimed credit for both those developments in a Monday news release announcing the deal to resume negotiations.

“Getting back to the table is a step in the right direction,” said South Bay Labor Council Executive Officer Ben Field, whose organization represents nearly 100 unions in Silicon Valley, including SEIU Local 521. “The mediator is there to help both sides see the opportunities for compromise.”

Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.