BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A big win for thousands of union Kern County workers. Starting Tuesday all union employees will receive a wage increase and additional permanent benefits.
"People want to be able to live. You have multigenerational homes now. People just want to be able to come to work, make a livable wage, and be able to just feed themselves, house themselves, and clothe themselves," explained Tiffany Sagbohan, Kern County Chapter Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 521. "It's just the basic necessities, and right now we have people struggling with that."
What is the SEIU?
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a labor union representing almost 1.9 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States and Canada. SEIU is focused on organizing workers in three sectors: healthcare (over half of members work in the healthcare field), including hospital, home care and nursing home workers; public services (government employees, including law enforcement); and property services (including janitors, security guards and food service workers).
It has been a long, sometimes frustrating road for Sagbohan, and although she is happy to be at this point now, she points out this is just the beginning.
"I'm not even going to say that this contract is the finishing point, because it's not. We want to be able to make sure that people have what is considered sustainable wages at the bottom," said Sagbohan.
She explained when it came to voting, many felt like they still deserved more as this does not make up for the wages of the past fourteen years. Some employees, like Sonja Bennett, who spent 25 years with the county, have even retired still waiting for a wage increase.
"I have been very active in SEIU for 15 years. Like I said I have been on two previous bargaining teams and I have seen the same things play out time and time again. There are times that I... it's just difficult to see the Board of Supervisors ignoring what's going on in their community."
Although this contract does not benefit her, Bennett is proud of what this group has been able to accomplish and agrees with Sagbohan that this is just the beginning.
From the Board of Supervisors, this approval means they prevent a strike that has already been approved by the union and was expected to impact many county departments. During Tuesday’s Board meeting, Supervisor Leticia Perez expressed relief to be done with the negotiations.
"We are not hearing all the time about the angst that exists between us and the workforce. While it is important to hear it and we need to hear it, it is so much better to hear that we have some agreement. Never perfect but absolutely the right direction and the right move towards our relationship with our workforce."
The union workers also said they are happy they were able to secure a recess period during the holidays which means they will now be able to spend time with their loved ones this coming holiday.