County social workers extend strike to fourth day

Contract talks on hold until Monday; county offers 10% raise over 3 years

Social workers at Contra Costa County's Department of Employment and Human Services have extended their strike over contract issues to a fourth day, according to union officials.

Originally planned as a three-day walkout ending Wednesday, the members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 enthusiastically added another day to the strike, said Tracy Kenney, Local 1021 vice president for services.

"They're fired up and tired," Kenney said of her rank-and-file colleagues. "The people who work in this county are tired."

The union says the strike is in response to unfair labor practices, low salaries and staffing levels, safety issues and the lack of resources given to the county's public assistance programs.

The two sides met on Thursday but talks with the county aren't going well, said union spokeswoman Nguyen Weeks.

County officials have consistently declined to comment on the union's claims while negotiations continue, but county spokeswoman Betsy Burkhart said the county has offered a 10% raise over three years, which would add an estimated $9 million increase to the county's overall costs.

The two sides are scheduled to meet on Monday, Weeks said.

The union, which represents about 1,100 county workers, also says low pay and excessive health care costs lead to excessively high turnover rates.

"Burn-out is significant. People are leaving in droves," said Kenney, an emergency response investigator who responds to reports of child abuse and neglect. "We can't retain or recruit qualified staff people."

The union also says the county has access to $21 million for programs that help sexually exploited children, abused children and seniors, low-income county residents who need food assistance and the county's homeless population.

"They have access to (the money), but it can't be used because they don't have the staff," Weeks said.

The department's workers have been operating without a contract since June, when it expired.

-- Bay City News Service

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