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County workers' contract agreement expected to bring 'labor peace'

SEIU Local 521, which held public protests during negotiations, applauds new collective bargaining agreement that provides the first wage increase in four years
SEUI workers protested during their lunch time outside a recent Board of Supervisors' meeting. The two sides later reached agreement on a new contract. File photo.

County Supervisors adopted a resolution Oct. 20 approving the collective bargaining agreement between the County of San Benito and SEIU Local 521, resulting in a 2 percent wage increase for represented employees.

“We have reached a collective bargaining agreement,” said Ray Espinosa, the county's chief administrative officer. “There are a few highlights to this agreement: a $25 signing agreement; a two percent wage increase in 2016; cash-out available to employees for vacation accruals.”

Georgia Cochran, interim human resources director, said the agreement is for two years, which she said would give some “labor peace.” She said there will be a significant savings by moving retirees who are “Medicare aged” to the 70 percent contribution status.

“For the first time in several years there is a salary increase of 2 percent next October,” she said. “That’s a positive step for our employees for their welfare, as well as for recruiting and retention. The thing that has been significant is healthcare.  This provides the ability for the board to make a choice of healthcare providers in the future, beginning in 2017. As a result of the CalPers increases what we’ve done is provide the ability for employees to cash out on a one-time basis up to 25 hours vacation in January and July 2016, to help them pay for the health insurance premium increases.”

Cochran said a smaller, but non-the-less important item is the boot reimbursement has been “tied down” to those who actually need it.

“This moves from a taxable payment to a reimbursement,” she said. “So employees are not taxed for what they spend on the boots.”

If there is a grievance on compensation, it automatically now moves to Step 3, Cochran said.

“What that does is give you consistency across the county, so don’t have a compensation grievance being handled in a department one way and a different way in another department,” she said. “It would come to a human resources office for resolution in conjunction with the CAO’s office.”

Michael Silverman, vice president of the San Benito Chapter of SEIU 521, thanked the supervisors for moving the agreement forward and recognized the hard work that went into it.

“It’s a lot of work and responsibility to represent approximately 220 workers,” he said. “We had a lot of heated discussions, but in the end it worked and we got a great agreement. I want to thank the community. During our rallies we had members from Hazel Hawkins, the nurses, who showed up in our support. We also had members from the City of Hollister and their works. That was a huge development for us and the county. It showed we were united and we’re all willing to move forward together.”

He said the agreement puts money back in the workers’ pockets.

“It helps stop the bleeding for most of the workers when it comes to healthcare increases,” he said.  “And it gives me something I haven’t had in four years, a wage increase. It helps with moral and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Silverman reminded the board that 81 percent of the members approved the agreement.

“For me, that’s a mandate,” he said. 

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John Chadwell (John Chadwell)

John Chadwell is an investigative reporter for BenitoLink. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to:


Submitted by (david marquez) on

Using vacation money to pay for increases in Health Premium Increases just doesn't sit well as a good financial sence for the Employee End.

Mr. Marquez is correct in that this is only a band aid, the wound will start bleeding again shortly.

SEIU is an influential player in Democratic politics, contributing greatly to the party and supporting its candidates and programs. I'm sure they thought all of this through when they supported the (Un-) Affordable Healthcare Act that was going to reduce the cost of healthcare.  The adage that "you can't get something for nothing" escapes too many people.

Meanwhile. the Northern California health insurance premiums for CalPERS plans went up 21 percent this year. CalPERS is a quasi-public agency with enormous buying power, but it still can't keep up with the grab-all-you-can-get level of "Cal-flation" (my term) led by the cost of housing.

While the county employees say that a 2 percent raise is too small (that's pretty small) and the Hazel Hawkins employees say that a 1 percent raise is too small  (that's even smaller), Social Security recipients are getting a zero percent raise this year (that's the ultimate small before going negative).

No one has a good answer to the cost of healthcare because 1) most people want to live forever and 2) almost everyone will use all the healthcare options that they have available and/or shift the cost to someone else.

Personally, while I can skip number 1, number 2 certainly applies to me as it does the the vast majority of people.

And the solutions is....?  No one, including me, has any idea.

Marty Richman



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