Despite the expiration of a contract with the County of Santa Barbara earlier this week, SEIU Local 620 – which represents more than 1,200 county employees – does not have plans to strike and is instead holding out for an amicable resolution. At issue, according to the union, is the county’s insistence on a multi-year contract. The union, despite originally wanting a one-year contract, has relented and agreed to a three-year contract. But the two sides still disagree when it comes to how much of an increase in salary and benefits will be a part of the agreement. “The union has indicated we’re willing to do that if the county can allocate the resources,” said SEIU Local 620 executive director Walt Hamilton.
Tuesday, public employees dressed in purple showed up in force to speak at the County Board of Supervisors meeting, and later rally outside three county buildings, including the Santa Barbara County Administration building. The union represents a very large and diverse group of county employees working in nearly every department in the county, Hamilton said. “Everything the county does, our workers are involved,” he said.
In the fall of 2004, union members voted to forgo a cost of living increase, and have since lost ground because of inflation, union spokespeople said. Should the term of the new contract be for three more years, the county needs to bump up the money, something that isn’t happening just yet. If the employees didn’t demand a cost of living increase this time around, they would lose even more purchasing power, Hamilton said. “There’s just not enough money for the union to agree to that.”
When asked to comment, County Communications Director William Boyer released this statement: “The County is actively negotiating with the unions at the bargaining table, which is where we want to keep the discussions until we have an agreement that all parties can agree to. Once we have such an agreement, the County will be able to talk about it.”
Because the county hasn’t offered its last, best and final offer yet, and because the two parties are still negotiating, Hamilton said there are no plans to strike. Many of the employees who showed up to the board meeting Tuesday expressed frustration. They “feel like a low priority,” said Nancy Robel, an evidence officer in the sheriff’s department and one of the bargaining team members. “You create an employment that just doesn’t add up,” she told the board of supervisors. “We fall extremely short when compared [with similar cities] in salary and benefits.”
Mick Robinson, an appraiser for the county and Local 620 vice-chair, said before he received a recent raise, his salary was 22 percent behind compared to the average of the seven counties Santa Barbara is supposed to match with. “I’m still seven percent behind when that was said and done,” he said, adding that employees also still contribute more to their retirement than other counties.
The union has been representing county employees in one way or another since 1947. Employees unionized then as the Santa Barbara County Employees Association, and in 1988, the association voted to affiliate itself with the growing SEIU. The county employees then became Local 620.