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Victor Caravez, an SEIU Local 521 member a shop steward, wears a pin at a rally outside the county's Schilling Place building on June 28, 2019.

Since June 30, some 3,100 Monterey County employees who are members of SEIU Local 521 have been working without a contract. Their negotiating team and the county's negotiating team had reached an impasse, and no agreement was in effect before their three-year contract expired. 

That contract included a no-strike clause, but without the contract in effect, it left a strike on the table. As negotiations continued, the SEIU members voted last weekend to authorize a strike, which would have been their first in 16 years. 

With the potential of a strike on the table, the county and the union finally reached an agreement on Wednesday, Aug. 28; it is still subject to ratification by the union which requires more than 50 percent. Voting begins next week for SEIU members. If approved by SEIU, it will then head to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for approval.

Health insurance has been a major sticking point in negotiations. Currently, the county covers 100 percent of health care premiums, and had been asking employees to start contributing 4 percent, then 7 percent the following year and moving up to 10 percent in 2022.

Both the union and the county are reluctant to publicly release details given that the contract has not received final approval, but both confirm that under the deal, the county will continue paying for health care. 

According to the county budget, health insurance expenditures are projected to go from $61.7 million this year to $68.8 million in 2021-22.

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The SEIU also reports the contract includes wage increases of 2 percent in the first year and 3 percent in year three.

"We want to keep our health care and get a decent cost-of-living raise," said Laurel Crisan, who works as a secretary at the Social Services clinic in Seaside and is a member of the SEIU's negotiating team, at a June 28 protest in Salinas. "It's not a lot to ask for."

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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