As their chamber filled with approximately 60 union caregivers chanting, “Sí se puede,” (yes you can), the July 25 meeting of the San Benito County Board of Supervisors was quickly called to recess and supervisors Dom Zanger, Mindy Sotelo and Angela Curro retreated to a side room to wait things out, leaving Supervisor Bea Gonzalez to face the crowd alone. They remained in the room even as protesters called on them to come out. Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki was in attendance virtually.
The demonstration lasted about 30 minutes and Gonzalez remained in her seat throughout.
“I did not feel like I was in danger at any time,” she said. “They were protesting peacefully, and I did not see a reason to leave.”
The protesters, part of a group of approximately 150 In-Home Supportive Services workers who are members of Service Employees International Union 2015, were at the building to hold a press conference. They entered the chambers to present the supervisors with a petition signed by over 900 providers and consumers.
It was part of an appeal to the supervisors to consider their request for $500,000, which union representatives said would be enough to provide access to health care for around 500 local caregivers.
“Today, we are here to shut down the Board of Supervisors,” said Derek Smith, executive vice president of SEIU 2015. “We have been bargaining for months, and they have not given us a valid reason for why they don’t want to provide health care for union members. It is not fair. They themselves have health care, and their families have health care. But they refuse it for us.”
Smith said the workers have been without health care for years, and the public authority negotiators they have been working with cannot agree to give them health care without the Board approving it.
“We have neighboring counties like Monterey that provide health care to their workers,” he said. “These supervisors can set it up. It can be done, and they have the resources to do it.”
SEIU 2015 staff member Ua Lugo said the $500,000 sought by the union would cover all 500 San Benito County members for three years.
“We’ll put the money into the Dublin Trust,” she said. “Then they’ll research the lowest prices and give us the best coverage. We were able to get great health care for our members in Fresno County, for example, where they get Kaiser health insurance that covers everything and our members just pay an $18 premium a month.”
Lugo said the supervisors have repeatedly told them they do not want to renew a contract with the union and cannot afford the amount needed to care for every worker.
“We do have a lot of health care workers who make enough money to cross the threshold to services like Medi-Cal,” she said. “So we are not asking them to cover everybody. We’re asking them to provide a pathway to health care for those who are in need of it.”
Gonzalez said some relevant figures for health care were provided to the supervisors in a closed session held later that afternoon but could not reveal specifics.
“I have been asking the county for over a year for numbers,” she said. “The county has been telling us we can’t afford it. It is easy to say you can’t afford it, but I want to see numbers to substantiate that.”
BenitoLink asked the County for an official statement and Ray Espinosa responded by saying, “Unfortunately, due to us being in negotiations we cannot provide any information. Therefore, the county cannot comment or provide any details.”
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