Hear from Joe Pease, a Sonoma County worker, in this piece in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Joe has seen colleagues forced to leave public service and the county because they can't afford to take care of their families. He explains the hard choice county workers will have to make because the county is not bargaining in good faith.
Close to Home: Why county workers may go on strike
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, November 15, 2015
All across America, the economy is rebounding. The unemployment rate is down to 5 percent, and in Sonoma County it is down to 3.8 percent. The stock market is near its record high, and corporations are sitting on billions in profits. Soaring real estate prices and a solid tax base have created a $400 million surplus in the county’s government funds.
The decline and recovery have now come full circle — at least for some. But if you’re a working person in America, or a Sonoma County employee, you aren’t a part of this recovery.
Despite surging revenues, Sonoma County managers proposed a zero percent wage increase for county workers this year and will make health care more expensive for most of us. And their proposal comes after we accepted pay cuts during the recession to help protect services at a crucial time.
My co-workers and I love our jobs, and we are proud to serve the public — but there comes a time when we also have to make sure we can take care of our families. That means standing up for a fair package of pay and benefits that allow us to send our kids to college, have the chance of someday buying a home, or at least being able to afford rent here in Sonoma County and the hope to retire in dignity. But as our paychecks get smaller and smaller, those goals move farther out of reach.
We feel we have been pushed into a corner and have no choice but to go on strike. This was an incredibly difficult decision to make. After years of budget cuts, I am the only traffic signal technician in the county, and I know people rely on me. But it is clear to me and to my colleagues that the county never intended to negotiate with us in good faith. County bureaucrats came to the bargaining table with the same deal they’re insisting on now and have refused to incorporate any of our proposals. That’s not negotiating, and it violates the state’s Public Employee Relations Board rules. So after trying our best and going through mediation, we have only one option left.
We are very concerned about what this will mean for the people we serve. County workers care for neglected children, make sure our drinking water is clean, repair our roads, take care of veterans and more. We do not like the idea of not being able to do our work.
It is not that the county doesn’t have the money. The supervisors this year alone allocated $9.8 million for advertising and treated themselves to nicer offices.
We now have to stand up for ourselves — and we are hoping that the Sonoma County residents we’ve served for so many years will stand with us.
Joe Pease is Sonoma County’s only traffic signal technician and a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1021.