As rank-and-file members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Chapter 521 marched to the beat of drums and chanted slogans outside the San Benito County Administration Building Sept. 12, inside county supervisors voted unanimously to oppose SEIU-backed legislation, AB 1250.
The large group of service employees demonstrated in support of the union’s stalled wage negotiations with the county. If passed, AB 1250 would establish specific standards for the use of personal services contracts by counties.
Michael Silverman, a county senior agriculture inspector, union steward and a member of the bargaining team, said the demonstration was to let people know the union wants a contract that respects the workers and the work they do for the community.
“Negotiations are not going well,” he said. “What the county is offering comes nowhere close to making us whole again. We’ve taken a lot of hits over the past seven years and it’s our turn to make that up, so we’re out here today so the county hears us loud and clear.”
Silverman said the county is offering incremental wage increases and what the union wants is not only a wage increase that brings the union up to what its counterparts in other counties receive. They also are demanding more money to pay for health care.
“Health care rates are climbing and the county has put a cap on what they offer us,” he said. “Right now, what we want and what the county is offering is about six percent in difference.”
Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, said because of ongoing negotiations the county could not respond.
Inside chambers, Espinosa said AB 1250 would have direct impacts on the county operations that would hamper its work with contractors, nonprofits and others who provide specialty services, such as physicians, technicians, and community-based organizations, among others. He said a letter of opposition would be appropriate. Louie Valdez, county analyst, further explained that the bill would cripple the county by making it almost impossible for nonprofits to work with it. Supervisor Robert Rivas commented that he is normally leery of contracting out services, but said it is essential that small rural counties have the flexibility to contract with non-government providers.
“This legislation being pushed heavily by SEIU and other labor groups can be extremely harmful to San Benito County,” Rivas said. “It could cripple a county such as ours that struggles to make ends meet. We need to do what we can to make sure this bill does not move forward.”
What Rivas and others feared would “cripple rural counties” is the portion of the bill that states a county is “…entitled to receive a copy of any records related to the contractor’s or any subcontractor’s performance of the contract, and that, in addition to records specifically requested by the county, every month the contractor shall furnish the county with: (i) the names of any subcontractors providing services under the contract; (ii) the names of the employees of the contractor and any subcontractors providing services pursuant to the contract and their hourly rates; and (iii) the names of any workers providing services pursuant to the contract as independent contractors and the compensation rates for those workers. The contract shall provide that all records provided to the county by the contractor shall be subject to the California Public Records Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1). In furtherance of this subdivision, contractors and any subcontractors shall maintain records related to performance of the contract that ordinarily would be maintained by the county in performing the same functions.”
Wayne Norton, a long-term care ombudsman with Advocacy, Inc., said the commission supported the letter of opposition because the bill would make it almost impossible for small nonprofits to comply with it.
“Just the costs of doing the audit to prove that a county government couldn’t do it less expensively, that burden falls on the nonprofits,” he said adding that some long-term contracts with the federal government require local matches in order to receive federal dollars. “If we can’t get matches we’ll lose the federal money, too.”
Norton said the county cannot provide some of the essential services partly because it does not have the certified staff. He said if the county could not contract out long-term health services, it would have to get into the ombudsman business to do so.
“This bill is poorly considered and this is coming from a guy who has supported labor my whole life and I never once crossed a picket line,” he said. “But this is just a really bad bill.”
Former Hollister Councilwoman Pauline Valdivia threw in her support of the letter of opposition and said rural areas are always the ones that suffer.
“There’s never enough money for the rural areas, so we struggle and do the best we can to survive, so we hope this bill does not pass,” she said. “It will limit the services we provide, especially to our elderly. Our agency is also expected to come up with a match from the local government and it’s less expensive for a nonprofit to provide services.”
Marty Richman commented that he took the time the night before to read the entire bill. He said he found it interesting that the bill stated that it is a non-funded mandate and that the state will not pay for any of the processes required by the bill.
“I find it very strange that we’re in here talking about this bill when the members of the SEIU are outside demonstrating, as they have a right to do, for a raise,” he said. “At the same time their representatives are in the state legislature trying to break the back of this county.”
He said the bill would prevent nonprofits from working with the county, which would be forced to use union labor or stop providing valued services.
“The whole purpose of this bill is to make it so expensive to have any private operation supporting the county, you could never do it,” Richman said. “And if you ever tried to do it, the bill demands the private operators have to supply you essentially all their funding mechanisms, every subcontractor’s funding mechanisms, how much money they spend and make. I felt like I had been taken back to the Soviet Union in the 1960s.”
He said “puppets” of SEIU submitted the bill.
“They don’t even read them (bills),” he said. “SEIU hands them the paper and the person doesn’t care what’s in it as long as they get the union vote. The legislator doesn’t care about people living in small counties.”
Without further discussion, the board voted to draft the letter of opposition and have Chairman Jaime De La Cruz sign it.
Note: Assembly Member Reggie Jonas-Sawyer from Los Angeles area introduced the bill, and it was co-authored by members Rob Bonta from Oakland-Alameda and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher representing Chula Vista, near San Diego.