Local 315 members recently held a town hall meeting to voice their opposition to Inyo County officials’ claims that they don’t have enough to fund strong public services and the workers who provide them.
About 60 members and residents from the community crowded the town hall to show how, without a fair contract, the county's public services are being put at risk.
At the town hall, members wanted to show County administration that their voices couldn't be silenced anymore.
”Belt tightening on the backs of services and service providers since 2008 has resulted in poor morale and declining public services. When is enough enough?” said Janelle Kent, a Substance Abuse Counselor and President of Local 315.
Members have declared an impasse after 12 months of bargaining has only resulted in an offer from the County of a 1% wage increase each year for 2016 and 2017. That offer is a slap in the face to our hard-working sisters and brothers, especially as Inyo County continues to have problems with recruiting and retaining experienced staff, and a number of positions remain unfilled for months, which has had a significant impact on the services provided to the public.
Local 315 is the largest union representing Inyo County employees, and their jobs include supporting seniors and veterans, plowing and maintaining roads, delivering health services, running libraries solid waste, and answering 911 calls.
Throughout the bargaining process, employees have voiced serious concerns about the County’s ability to recruit and retain experienced staff. Inyo County relies heavily on its tourist economy and the cost of living is higher than in other parts of the state. Without fair wages that keep up with the increase in cost of living, many qualified workers don’t stay long and are lured to other areas in California that are cheaper to live and less rural.
As a result, members say, employee morale has deteriorated significantly over the past few years, especially among front line employees who sometimes have to do the job of more than one person. Even in those departments with enough staffing, members say, positions are often left vacant for more than six months, creating hardships on remaining employees who have to do more with less.
Meanwhile, the County has been moving forward with construction on an expensive consolidated office building.
AFSCME researcher Gary Storrs attended the meeting to put to rest any argument that Inyo County couldn’t afford to pay the workers more.
“The (financial) trends are positive,” he said as part of a presentation to County officials. “The revenues are up, expenses are down. This is inconsistent with an argument the County can’t increase pay. The evidence indicates this county has a lot of fiscal flexibility.”
Although Inyo County Supervisors were invited to the town hall, none attended.
Christine Jones, an office manager for the Inyo County Behavioral Health Department and a Local 315 member, said she’s currently doing the job of three people because her department has been shorthanded for months and officials have failed to fill those positions.
“Nowadays, morale is really low,” Jones said. “We’re the service people at the bottom, so we do our jobs no matter what.”
“We care about this community. We take care of the people in this county, and we just want a decent wage,” she continued. “We’re not asking for the moon. We just want a decent wage.”
Local 315 member Christine Hanley reiterated that the workers are simply asking to be paid what they are worth.
“County employees, in general, protect public’s health and safety in so many ways—from water and food to infection disease and emergency planning,” Hanley said. “To get good workers, and to keep good workers, you need to pay good wages that let them stay in the community with their families.”
BryAnna Vaughn was one of the Inyo County community members who showed up to the meeting to learn more about the issue. She explained that she was an eighth-generation Owens Valley resident and many of our sisters and brothers have taken care of her family members over the years.
“What I see is that the County has money, but the County isn’t giving you any. The COLA is 2.7% for this area, and they’re offering 2%,” Vaughn said.
Her question to County officials was one our sisters and brothers at the bargaining table have been asking all along: “I’m wondering why you went down so low,” Vaughn said.
Local 315 members are planning the next steps in their campaign to protect strong public services and win a fair contract.