Some employees in the Shasta County Elections Office are among those who will strike over wages beginning Monday, May 1.
The loss of their labor may come at a difficult time for a County already struggling to build a brand new elections system from scratch in time for the June 2024 Presidential primary. But the strike will affect far more than elections.
Members of United Public Employees of California, Local 792’s Shasta County General Unit, comprise close to half of Shasta County’s staff, spread out across multiple critical staff service sectors. Many provide important front-line County services including mental health peer support, vocational training, legal processing, law enforcement record keeping and medical billing.
It’s unclear how many of the approximately 1,000 County staff represented by UPEC’s General Unit will choose not to work as the strike begins on Monday, May 1. Labor law protects not only their right to strike but also their right to opt out of striking, a decision some may make for financial reasons. Those who strike will have to take unpaid leave.
Their contract with the County expired at the end of the year. They’ve been in negotiations since September.
The County has offered the General Unit wage increases that will total 7% by the third year of their three-year contract, in increments of 2.5%, 2.5% and 2% each year.
Those numbers don’t work out well for staff, says volunteer Union Steward Jamie Butcher, a Staff Services Analyst for Health and Human Services, who’s been part of the Bargaining and Impasse committees for UPEC’s General Unit.
Speaking to Shasta Scout in person last week, Butcher said the combination of increased inflation (around 8.5%) and insurance premiums make the County’s offer completely untenable for low-wage workers.
Union members want a wage increase of 15% over three years, which, after State funding contributions of around 76% would cost the County a total of about $3 million from the General Fund, by Shasta Scout’s broad estimates.
After months of unsuccessful negotiations throughout the fall, earlier this year the General Unit declared impasse, triggering the involvement of an impartial California state labor mediator.
When the mediation process was also unsuccessful, Union members made a series of direct appeals to the Supervisors at recent Board meetings.
During one such meeting, on April 18, Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones responded to comments by members of UPEC Local 792 with a public statement saying that the offer of 7% over three years, which, by Shasta Scout’s estimates, equals about $1.5 million in General Fund costs, is the best the County can do.
“It’s not that we don’t believe you’re worth more,” Jones continued, “but it is what we can afford, is the problem.
His statement was greeted by immediate laughter from the audience.
That’s because Jones is one of a Board majority of three who has committed to spending millions of County dollars on optional changes to the County’s election system since the year began.
The Board has already spent $1.5 million over budget on elections system changes that have been driven by vague concerns about the untrustworthiness of electronic voting systems.
It’s not yet clear what other programs or services Supervisors will decide to cut to fund the new elections costs, which are likely to total at least $4 million through the end of 2025.
Butcher said Jones’ statement on the need for fiscal conservancy when it comes to County wages immediately increased some Union members’ solidarity and commitment to striking.
“We had already planned a strike vote,” Butcher said, “but (Jones’ comments) solidified a lot of union members’ feelings to move towards a strike.”
During his April 25 statements, Jones also emphasized to the public that the same wage increases being offered to General Unit staff have already been accepted by other bargaining units.
That’s true, said UPEC Local 792’s Business Manager Steve Allen, who works with seventy union bargaining units across the State, but the same percentage increase when given to Shasta County’s lowest paid workers equals provides far less income.
“These are the lowest paid workers,” Allen told Shasta Scout shortly before a union meeting last Wednesday. “So it’s harder (for these workers) to accept the same percentage deal that other bargaining units do.”
A flyer attached to the bargaining unit’s press release about the strike shows how in the case of a County Office Assistant 1 position, a 2.5% wage increase when combined with insurance premium increases and reduced by mandatory taxes, actually equals a 7% reduction in take-home pay.
It’s that reality, said Allen, that’s led to the strike.
“The employees don’t like striking,” Allen explained, “but it’s the only legal way they can voice their frustration.”
Those numbers, which do not include the loss of purchasing power County workers will face over the three years, were fact-checked by Shasta Scout for accuracy.
Allen said it’s also important to remember that UPEC’s Shasta County General Unit staff provide services the County is mandated to provide, so their salaries are deeply subsidized by State funds.
“Any fiscal impact (of a wage increase) will be 70% borne by the state,” Allen said, “because these are mandatory services that are state funded, so if the cost goes up the state pays more.”
Shasta County issued a press release earlier this week saying the County has bargained in good faith and recognizes both the rights of County staff to strike as well and the rights of all County residents to continue to receive services over the next two weeks.
Members of UPEC Local 792’s Shasta County General Unit will form a picket line in front of the County Administrative building on Court Street. All County buildings will remain open, but the public are encouraged to be mindful of the strike’s impact on normal working operations and traffic.
Late Friday, the County released a Board agenda which indicates the Board may vote Tuesday, May 2, to unilaterally impose a wage increase of 2.5% over the next year at a cost of $435,000 from the General Fund.
If approved, Butcher said, the decision will not affect UPEC General Unit’s right to continue to strike through May 12 for their preferred wage terms.
Shasta Scout will continue to report on this developing story.
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