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SEIU tells Alameda County to ‘staff up,’ as more than 2,000 vacancies weigh on workers

on February 14, 2023

Over 300 public service workers marched from the Lake Merritt Amphitheater to the Alameda County Administration Building Monday, demanding that county officials fill thousands of vacant positions. 

“Staff up Alameda County. Alameda County staff up!” chanted members of Service Employees International Union, which represents about 4,200 county workers. 

The picketers included nurses, clerical and library staff, health care and social service workers, eligibility technicians and employment counselors. With contract negotiations under way, they also demanded wage increases, a more flexible remote work policy, and a backtrack to their pre-2022 medical coverage for which the county paid 88%, as opposed to 85% today.

Chris Flink, SEIU Local 1021 spokesman said they were pushed to stand in the streets after sitting at the bargaining table since July to no avail. Their contract expired in December. 

“If the people I’m talking to aren’t going to listen, maybe I’ve got to talk to their bosses,” Flink said outside the Administration Building. 

No one was in the building to hear the workers’ demands because Alameda County observed Lincoln’s birthday on Monday. But that did not deter workers, who rallied for about two hours. 

SEIU rally
Alameda County workers represented by the SEIU rally outside the Administration Building. (Aneta Felix)

Nicole White, an eligibility technician who processes applications for food stamps, Medi-Cal and other services, said staffing shortages mean six people are doing the work of 10 in her department. That, she said, has increased application processing time from 30 days to over 60 days, and has left vulnerable children and families without timely care.  

“We do have a couple of people on medical leave because they tried to handle all of the work without the proper amount of workers and it took them out,” she said. Some people aren’t taking vacations because there are so many applications to process, she added. “If not, the customer suffers, even more so than us.”

SEIU rally

The county has left 2,611 positions vacant, according to the union. County Administrator Susan S. Muranishi did not return a call or email for comment. 

Tosha White, an employment counselor with Social Services, said five years ago, her department had five units with a total of 30 people. Today, she said, there are only two units and half the workers, which has increased job duties. 

White said the county’s expectation is unrealistic, and that more workers are needed to share the labor. “It’s not fair to our families who we serve because they would sometimes get people who are tired, burnt out, and most of us are suffering from compassion fatigue. I know I am,” she said. 

White said the rising cost of living without a comparable rise in wages made it unsustainable for her to live in Alameda County. She moved to Contra Costa County and now spends at least two hours on her daily commute. 

Flink said the union and the county resumed negotiations on Tuesday. 

(Top photo by Aneta Felix: SEIU member Deborah Barrios holds a ‘Staff Up Now’ placard.)

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