May 3, 12:02 pm: We have updated the article to include an additional statistic about staff separations.
Yesterday, May 2, Shasta County Board Supervisor Mary Rickert said that hearing from the County’s lowest-paid staff had changed her mind on the need for a more substantial wage increase.
But despite the more than two hours of comment from members of Shasta County’s United Public Employees Local 792 General Unit Staff, the rest of the Board remained largely unmoved, voting to impose a wage increase of only 2.5% on the County’s lowest-paid workers.
It’s an amount that General Unit staff members say will not compensate for last year’s inflation increase of around 8.5%. They’ve also been impacted by a steep increase in their insurance premiums that has left many with less net take-home pay this year than last year.
Makayla Ferrington, who works for the County’s Children’s Services Department, told the Board she makes $23 dollars an hour, but nets only $2200 dollars a month after taxes and health insurance costs.
Her daily work with parents affected by poverty, she explained, has only increased her worry about how she will continue to support her two-year-old child on the low wages she receives.
The County’s General Unit staff have asked for a 15% wage increase, which would cost the County’s General Fund around $2.6 million annually. It’s a large amount, but less than the Board are expected to pay on optional changes to the elections system, including hand counting votes, which the County estimates will cost at least $4 million through the end of 2025.
But the stories of Ferrington and others did not change Board Supervisor Patrick Jones’ mind on wages. While he’s concerned about the well-being of staff, he said, he must focus on ensuring the fiscal well-being of the County.
He along with Supervisors Kevin Crye, Chris Kelstrom and Tim Garman voted to impose a 2.5% percent wage increase at an annual increased cost to the County of around $435,000.
Imposing wages is one of the County’s legal options after a series of good-faith bargaining attempts and the intervention of a state labor mediator failed to produce an agreement with the bargaining unit, which represents around 1,000 of Shasta County’s approximately 2200 staff members.
Shasta County General Unit staff serve critical service functions across almost 200 different job designations. They include legal secretaries, eligibility workers, peer support specialists, and community mental health staff, among many others.
Many of their jobs are 70% State-funded because they supply State-mandated services, which is why a Board’s staff report for yesterday’s meeting shows the total cost of a 2.5% wage increase for around 1,000 staff at more than $1.8 million but a cost to the County’s General Fund of only $435,000.
Dozens of UPEC GEN staff spoke to the Board during the May 2 meeting, calling on the County to institute a living wage that would allow staff members to pay their rent and feed their families without having to rely on government assistance themselves.
Jade Creager told the Board she’s an Eligibility Worker for the County’s Economic Mobility Branch, which helps to provide access to essential services like food, housing and medical care for the community’s most vulnerable.
She says she’s worked for the County for a little over a year and received two pay raises, but still nets less than she did when she started because of an increase in medical insurance costs.
“I’m back in my home with my parents in less than 600 square feet and I have to take care of them as well,” Creager tearfully told the Board.
“We’re worried about taking care of our families,” she continued. “And it’s not just parents taking care of their kids, it’s also us taking care of our parents when they’re getting older and they don’t have anyone else to rely on.”
Multiple staff members also used public comment to blow the whistle on staff vacancy levels that they say are contributing to a lack of compliance with State guidelines for distributing aid to those at risk, including people facing food and housing insecurity. The County did not immediately reply to a request for comment on those claims.
Recent documents received by Shasta Scout via public records request indicate that County-wide, position vacancies are currently close to 19%. That’s up from 13% in mid-2021.
Related documents also received by records request show that in the last year, more than 270 County staff members left their jobs, including 100 from the County’s Social Services department.
Almost 70% of those staff members have left departments positioned under the County’s Health and Humans Services Agency. The County has not yet responded to a request for comment on what kinds of positions are included in that department.
Jennifer Pardue, an eligibility worker in the County’s CalWORKS division, told the Board that she’s the only fully trained employee in her unit, leaving her responsible for making annual aid determinations for over 2,000 cash-aid cases, all on her own.
“Legit I can push the button, I decrease, I deny or I grant benefits to families to pay their rent. I also do CalFRESH food stamps to give those families food and MediCal. If it’s a CalWORKS case and it’s ongoing, it comes to my unit.”
“We do not have enough people,” Pardue continued, “to serve the community. For these families to pay their rent . . . we can’t even give interviews for these kinds of redeterminations if they’re late. . . “
Stories like Pardue’s illustrate the pivotal importance of Shasta County’s General Unit staff to preventing homelessness and food insecurity and protecting public health and safety.
Many staff members emphasized this point during their public comments to the Board, reminding Supervisor Jones and others that if the recession he fears comes to pass, their work will become even more imperative for County residents.
County staff member and former Redding City Council candidate Ian Hill explained it this way:
“The General Unit carries out the work for many state- and federally-mandated programs and are largely funded as such. So even during an economic downturn they weather the storm far better than most.”
“And County residents dip heavily into those programs when things get tough,” Hill continued. “Even more reason to safeguard them now by ensuring they’re staffed.”
The Board’s vote yesterday imposed what is known as a unilateral wage increase, said Allen, the bargaining unit’s elected Business Manager. But it’s important to remember, he told Shasta Scout, that an imposed wage increase is not the same as a contract.
“They have the legal right to do it. But it doesn’t get them a contract. It doesn’t settle the strike. It doesn’t change the fact that we have an ongoing labor dispute.”
Under California’s Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) rules, the ongoing lack of a contract gives workers the right to re-open bargaining with the County again in the coming fiscal year, said Allen, regardless of what happens over the next two weeks.
Union members continue to take unpaid leave to strike, forming a picket line around the County’s administrative building.
The strike is scheduled to end May 12.
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