The Inland Mendocino Democratic Club hosted a Labor Day picnic in Todd Grove Park in Ukiah on Monday, with union and political representatives from City Council to Congress. Two of the unions at the picnic are in protracted negotiations with the county, and one, SEIU 1021, recently authorized a strike by an overwhelming majority. The other, SEIU 2015, which represents caregivers with IHSS (In Home Support Services), is in another long-drawn-out process to win the right to negotiate with the state rather than the county.
Cesar Alvarado is the local organizer for SEIU 2015. In May, he went to Sacramento to advocate for that bill. Caregivers make $16.50 an hour, just one dollar more than minimum wage, “due to our last contract,” Alvarado noted. “But that last contract expired last year, so we’ve been without a contract since January.”
The union represents about half a million caregivers in all 58 counties of the state, each of which has its own unique set of challenges. Caregivers are paid by the local, state and federal governments, with the counties contributing the smallest share. One of the solutions, according to Alvarado, is AB 1672, “which will create a mechanism where we actually negotiate directly with the state of California for wages and benefits for caregivers.” The bill has made it to some committees and the Assembly, and he is expecting it to come before the Senate and the Governor next year. He calculates it could take another year to implement, if it’s signed into law. “We do have a lot of supporters,” he declared.
One of the items on the program for the event, which Assemblymember Jim Wood called the most well-organized picnic he’s ever attended, was an update on the strike vote by SEIU 1021. “Honestly, we were expecting to go on strike this week,” said field representative Patrick Hickey. “But fortunately, it seems like the county administration did see the light in our negotiations last week…in regards to the co-pay for health premiums…We’re hopeful that they are now moving in the right direction and are going to do everything that they can to try to support county employees.”
Julie Beardsley, a county employee and the president of SEIU 1021, added that, “We don’t want to be adversarial with the county. This is our community. These are our friends and family. We want to settle this in a way that’s fair for our employees, and we understand the county has structural issues and economic issues.”
Third District Supervisor John Haschak said he’ll introduce some ideas to find more money for county employees at the September 12 Board of Supervisors meeting, which will be held on the coast. “County employees are hard-working public servants, and the unions are our collective voice,” he told a friendly crowd. “At our next board meeting, I am offering both revenue-enhancing proposals and cost-cutting efficiencies. These ideas are not mine alone. But rather, they’re from working with employees and unions.”
Ukiah City Council member Susan Sher made the connection between union membership and political participation, saying, “States with the highest union membership have the fewest restrictive voting laws. On the other hand, states with the lowest union membership have passed the most voter-suppression laws…Even beyond all the direct advantages of union membership like better wages, benefits, and safety protections, union membership inspires involvement in the political process.”
Assemblymember Wood drew boos and laughter when he elaborated on the theme, encouraging people to not only vote but run for public office, including school boards. “Mendocino County, compared to the rest of the state, has really good voter turnout,” he observed. “You’re still not as high as Marin County. Or Sonoma County.” As the crowd groaned, he asked, “You see where I’m going here?” eliciting some rueful laughter.
Ukiah City Council member Juan Orozco would like to see more political representation, too. A major focus for him has been getting information out in Spanish. When he asked the crowd how many Latinos there were in the park, he got enthusiastic cheers and whistles. “And now for a question that won’t get much of a response,” he predicted. “How many Latino politicians here?” In the silence, he asked a follow-up question: “That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? I think we need to work on that.”
The results that unions get vary widely. John McEntagart is an electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551. He said journeyman electricians earn more than $56 an hour, plus full healthcare for their families. As a union worker in the days before Obamacare, he was even able to get coverage for a family member with a pre-existing condition. But Janice Timm, the president of the local chapter of the California Teachers Association, which represents part-time faculty at Mendocino College, said some of their members don’t even have healthcare.
And Consuelo Rocha, with the caregivers union, is tired of feeling overlooked. “We are gonna show them that we’re here,” she promised. “We exist, and we’re strong. And together, we’re going to make sure they give us the raise that we deserve.”