Contract Negotiations Ongoing for Tulare County’s Bargaining Unit 2

SEIU union employee casting her vote on the employee contract negotiated in July.
SEIU union employee casting her vote on the employee contract negotiated in July.

Not all Tulare County rank-and-file employees got a signed contract at the end of negotiations July 21. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Bargaining Unit 2, comprised of more than 200 county maintenance, construction and custodial staff, is still working without a contract.

SEIU bargaining units 1, 3, 6 and 7 just finished five months of negotiations that concluded with a one-year contract at a 3% raise.

Employee negotiators Lena Case, Greg Gomez and Tina Thiltgien sat down with county representatives and their lawyer, Shelline Bennett, August 18. Instead of asking for a raise, the employees asked for a onetime bonus of $1,200. In a reoccurring theme, the county countered with a 0% raise and no bonus.

The county’s reason? The drought.

Wells are going dry and farmers are fallowing fields but that is mostly going to affect Tulare County’s budget next year. Last year, Tulare County was on a financial upswing as evidenced by the county’s total gross agricultural production of $7.8 billion, an increase of 26%, making us number one in the nation in agriculture. In fact, revenues were up in almost all financial departments. The employees are cognizant of the fact that the county feels uncertain about the economy’s future and that the county doesn’t want to sign long contracts with raises. That is one of the reasons why the union employee negotiators asked for a onetime bonus.

Bargaining Unit 2’s next strategizing meeting will be today, where they will decide how they plan on moving forward.

Their meeting will follow Virginia Gurrola’s 4:30pm campaign headquarters’ ribbon-cutting.

The next contract negotiations with the county will be Monday, August 25, when the employees will make another proposal based on what they decide tonight.

Last year, the county offered Bargaining Unit 2 a 3% raise but refused to give a raise to any of the other rank-and-file employees. Why did the county not offer all employees the same thing?

“That’s a very good question.” said Joanne Salazar, an SEIU organizer. Bargaining Unit 2 was not represented by a union last year, just like management, who also received a raise. In May of this year, Bargaining Unit 2 joined SEIU Local 521 and is now represented with all the other bargaining units.

In next year’s negotiations, for matters of efficiency, SEIU wants all units combined when negotiating for a new contract. Even though it will save the taxpayer money, the county has expressed an interest in keeping them at separate negotiating tables.

During the recession and its aftermath, the board of supervisors successfully pulled Tulare County through a very difficult economic time. When many counties were operating in the red, the board of supervisors kept this county in the black.

But when the board of supervisors gave raises to management, and themselves, the county employees felt like the BOS pulled Tulare County through the recession on the backs of the rank-and-file worker.

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