Fresno County Workers Strike For Their Rights

In one of the most conservative cities in California, thousands of workers went on strike last week to preserve their democratic rights as union members.

The Fresno County workers, members of SEIU Local 521, walked off the job for three days after the county Board of Supervisors imposed a contract while the members were still voting on the board’s last, best and final offer. The workers range from janitors to supervisors. The California Nurses Association, who also had been imposed on by the county, also joined the strike.

The strike started in the early morning darkness of the Juvenile Justice Campus, where workers didn’t report for their shifts starting at 6 a.m. Monday. Instead, they set up tents at two entrances and kept warm by chanting. As the day grew brighter, the two camps came together at the main entrance of the building.

Although county administration tried to claim that public services weren’t disrupted, it was clear that the public felt the effect. Reports from inside the Juvenile Justice Center said the probation officers called in to staff the facility promised the kids pizza and ice cream if they were good. Meanwhile, workers watched as parents trying to visit their kids were turned away. At the Public Health Department, residents trying to get their children vaccinated were turned away. Child Protective Services caseworkers’ cell phones buzzed all through the strike with phone calls about cases. And the county’s satellite office in the outlying town of Kerman was completely closed after all the workers refused to come to work.

While workers believed the strike was important, they all regretted that they were forced to stop working. As Kim Desmond, a social work supervisor, put it:

We would all rather be inside working and protecting children, but we feel very strongly about what the Board of Supervisors has done.

Kerman was the site of one of the strike’s defining moments. A resident told the workers that County Supervisor Phil Larson, the most anti-worker of the three anti-worker supervisors, has coffee with his friends every day at the McDonald’s near the office. Bargaining Team member Kevin Westbrook came to the McDonald’s to talk to Larson, and the dozen or so workers from Kerman went in and silently listened. While Westbrook was respectful, Larson let loose with lies, claiming workers had gotten 30 percent raises (not true), that SEIU had bussed in protesters (laughably untrue) and that the strike wasn’t affecting services (as he sat 100 yards from the county’s shuttered storefront). Then, in news coverage later, Larson lied more, claiming that 20 workers had surrounded him and all started talking at him. Too bad the video shows that all the jabbering came from Larson’s friends.

On Tuesday, rather than picketing worksites, the workers descended on the building where the Board of Supervisors was meeting. While a few dozen workers were at the meeting, more than a thousand rallied outside.

For all three days, workers kept up their energy, demanding one simple thing from the Board of Supervisors: That they come back to the table.


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