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Two-day San Mateo County workers strike impacts services

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A two-day strike by some San Mateo County workers has resulted in a few closed health clinics and many services remain minimally available, according to county officials.

The strike by human services employees kicked off Tuesday morning after negotiations broke down over working conditions and retiree health care, according to a spokesman for the striking workers’ union.

“There are a lot of remaining issues on the table,” said John Tucker, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 829.

The employees, numbering between 850 to 915 people, have been in talks with the county since June 2018 but were unable to reach an agreement, according to Tucker.

The county has reported that the David Lewis Community Reentry Center, the Shasta Clinic pharmacy and the East Palo Alto Clinic are closed due to the strike. There are also no mobile clinic services at the Fair Oaks Community Center on Tuesday and none at the Redwood City Caltrain station Tuesday and Wednesday.

The mobile clinic will continue to provide services to homeless shelters, however, and all offices of the Human Services Agency will remain open but providing “minimal services,” county officials said. The agency provides food and shelter assistance, foster child services and employment services, among other things.

“There are some impacts,” county spokeswoman Michelle Durand said. “But we’re pulling together and hoping to weather this out and get back to the negotiating table and get to an agreement.”

The strikers are largely comprised of behavioral health and recovery services workers, including licensed therapists who work with people recovering from addiction, Tucker said.

Also, many are benefit analysts who help people apply for Medicare, CalFresh and Medi-Cal.

The workers, 95 percent of whom are on the picket lines Tuesday, are concerned with issues that impact working conditions, including supervisor-to-staff ratios, understaffing and staff retention, Tucker said. The union has suggested allowing workers to telecommute and “some other smarter ways to do things, but we’ve not been able to get a commitment from the county,” Tucker said.

Another sticking point involves retiree health care. The union wants to change the current system, which ties the amount of sick days a worker has on the books to that person’s ability to fund their health care in retirement.

“When you retire, you basically cash out your sick leave on the books and that’s how your retiree health care is funded,” Tucker said.

If a worker is off work to deal with an extended illness, care for an ill family member or for maternity leave, for example, that person won’t have the money for retiree health care, according to Tucker. The union also represents 10 other bargaining units in San Mateo County, all of which were also in negotiations with the county and all of which reached contract agreements.

As part of those agreements, the county will assemble a “labor-management committee” to review sick leave and retiree health care policies, according to county officials.

The county is also offering a 12 percent pay increase over three years that includes smaller “longevity” increases for employees who have been with the county for a number of years and increases for people in jobs that are difficult to fill, Durand said.

“The contract is generous and equitable,” Durand said. “In addition to wanting to fairly compensate our employees, we have to be fiscally responsible overall, not only for these employees and future employees but all of our taxpayers and residents.”

The other bargaining units include hospital and medical center staff, public safety dispatchers and parks workers, among others. For updates on the strike’s impacts, people can visit
https://news.smcgov.org.

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