On Monday July 7, Tulare County employee negotiators and Shelline Bennett, the lawyer representing the county, returned to the negotiating table. All the employees’ hard work, outreach and testimonies paid off as the county offered a one-year contract with a 3% raise. The county employees then made an undisclosed counteroffer that Bennett was supposed to present to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (BOS) at a special meeting that week.
Joanne Salazar, leading negotiator for Service Employees International Union, (SEIU) is still waiting for Bennett to inform her of the BOS’ response to their counteroffer. Though a large group of employees active in SEIU know the nature of the counteroffer, union members want the negotiations to remain confidential.
During the Tulare County Employees meeting on July 9, Kermit Wullschleger, an employee negotiator, said the mood and attendance of the SEIU has skyrocketed and the room was filled with energy. The employees were encouraged that the BOS finally started moving forward, and encouraged their negotiating team to be strong. The workers feel that the BOS is finally listening to them and taking some accountability for their past actions.
The county employees also agreed to continue their effort to pursue a state audit of Tulare County’s budget. On June 25, a small group of employees on the negotiating team took a van to Sacramento to meet with local lawmakers and members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit. They met with the chief of staff for the chair of the audit committee, who outlined the process they needed to take to get on the committee’s agenda. The current goal of the negotiating team is to form an official group of community members and union employees to put together a professional portfolio to present to a state senator or assembly member. That legislator would then present their case to the audit committee to be put on their agenda.
The next round of negotiations will be July 21. The original deadline to sign a contract was June 30, but that was extended to July 7. Currently, the employees are working without a contract. According to Salazar, neither party asked to extend the deadline past July 7, but neither party wants to see a strike either. As of this time, neither side has declared that they have given their last and final offer. But if an agreement is not reached, the BOS can declare an impasse and impose their own conditions on the employees. The Fresno City Council recently took a similar action with Fresno firefighters when negotiations came to a standstill and the city declared an impasse.
The negotiations in Tulare County are moving forward and an impasse is very unlikely.