Santa Clara County workers to strike over staffing concerns

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After six days of voting by Santa Clara County’s largest union, SEIU Local 521, members voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call for an Unfair Labor Practice Strike. 

The potential strike could affect more than 12,500 county jobs. 

Union members work for the hospitals, clinics, social services, dispatch communication centers, the assessor’s office, and the recorder’s office in the county. 

The workers ask Santa Clara County to invest in “funding the frontline.” 

According to the union, the vote passed with 95% of the members casting “yes” votes. 

During the next sessions of negotiations, the SEIU 521 Santa Clara County bargaining team and union leaders will evaluate when and if a strike is necessary. 

“This overwhelming majority ‘yes’ vote represents the voices of workers all across the county. Workers that played a crucial part throughout the pandemic and continue to lead us through our recovery,” said Andre Thomas, the union’s vice president. “From healthcare staff and social services to public safety staff in 9-1-1 dispatch to parks, child care fare and street services, our incredible library workers, clinics, janitors, roads, registrar of voters and so many more. We are sending a message directly to Santa Clara County management that frontline workers are united and ready to take action if county administration does not come to the bargaining in good faith.”

The vote follows after protests by workers who say the county is facing a staffing crisis. The concerns about short staffing were raised when the current contract was bargained three years ago. 

Union leaders wrote, “Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. Unfilled vacancies in SEIU positions have increased by over 41% since October 2019, going from 1,587 to 2,248 today according to the latest figures provided by the county.” 

The current contract between the union and the county is set to expire on June 25. 

911 dispatchers and nurses were among union members who rallied outside Valley Medical Center this week.

Laura Villarreal, a senior 911 dispatcher, said, “The county’s recommended budget currently calls for the deletion of seven vacancies within County Communication. For years, dispatchers like myself have had to operate our work schedules on mandatory overtime requirements. Mandatory overtime is literally in place because we do not have enough staff. This must change.”

Linda Quach, a radiologist tech at Valley Medical Center, said, “Our county employees, and especially my colleagues at Valley Medical Center, are strike ready.”

On Thursday, the County Board of Supervisors approved an $11.3 billion budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year that aims address a structural deficit. The deficit is expected to grow over the next several years amid a faltering economy, according to board supervisors.

The FY 2023-24 budget closes a $120 million funding gap by eliminating 600 vacant positions, utilizing reserves, and delaying projects, according to supervisors.

The board said its budget advances five strategic priorities:

  • Expanding access to behavioral health services
  • Increasing access to housing
  • Strengthening community safety and reforming the criminal justice system
  • Enhancing support for children and families
  • Promoting sustainability

Board President Susan Ellenberg said, “Santa Clara County is investing heavily in mental health and substance use treatment facilities.”

County Executive Jeffrey Smith said, “The FY 2023-24 budget continues the county’s important work to support our most vulnerable residents, while taking the first steps to resolve a structural deficit caused by the economic slowdown, inflation, and high interest rates.”


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.