On Friday, July 26 SEIU 521 Tulare County members held a press conference and rally in front of the Tulare County CAO’s office building. Workers from social services, roads and maintenance, health and others presented banners signed by hundreds of County workers. Messages addressed to Jason Britt highlighted the stark comparison between the county’s proposed 2% salary increase and the more than 10% increase that the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved for the CAO.
“There is a critical health and safety crisis impacting our residents across our county and it’s directly tied to our inability to recruit and retain qualified staff to support the needs of our residents,” said Tabatha Gomez, Social Worker in Child Welfare Services. “This year alone, our County CAO, Jason Britt, is scheduled to receive more than $20,000 in raises. Meanwhile, many of our Tulare County co-workers are having to depend on public assistance themselves, cannot afford the out-of-reach healthcare costs, and are continuing to fall further behind our neighboring counties while the cost of living continues to rise.”
During the last five months, Tulare County employees have repeatedly expressed their concerns directly to the board of supervisors, in petitions on behalf of concerned Tulare County employees across the county, and at a community town hall. The co-workers have highlighted issues that affect all county residents: Stagnant wages have led to turnover and short staffing that leave residents without the services they need. Employees point to inadequate staffing in Child Welfare Services where there has been an increase in allegations of child abuse and neglect by 20.5% since 2009, and to the county’s failure to adequately staff health services in a county that has been officially designated as a health care professional shortage area. The board of supervisors has yet to address these and other systemic concerns.
“For too long Tulare County has served as a training ground for employees who leave to join neighboring counties that offer better salaries and benefits,” said Laura Hernandez, a Child Support Specialist. Every year, we are spending thousands of dollars on retraining new staff only to continuously see them leave. Those impacted most by the high turnover rates are the residents we serve. We are putting at risk the lives of those that depend on our care to survive – and they are most often the lives of children and elders. This is unacceptable.”