About 94 percent of the union members voted to strike. In response, the company they work for has said it will fly in replacement workers and possibly lock-out staff for at least a couple weeks. It's also cancelled any employees' scheduled vacation time.
Between the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility in Oakland, there are 143 health care workers -- they include nurses, physicians assistants and dental assistants who provide medical care for inmates. They work for Prison Health Services, a Tennessee based company who contracts medical services with Alameda County at a taxpayer cost of about $25 million a year.
About six-months of labor negotiations remain stalled, and the current contract expired in December. These workers, who are members of the Service Employees International Union - United Healthcare Workers West, say they're concerned about staffing levels, workplace safety at the jails and a proposed 30 percent increase in employee health care premiums.
The union says the company agreed to a 10 percent increase in wage and health care benefits, but is now backtracking and instead proposing cuts.
Prison Health Services is a private company -- in 2009, its earnings were $610 million dollars.
For Alameda County, the concern is to ensure it continues to provide medical care, as needed, for the 3,400 inmates currently at Santa Rita Jail, and the 900 at the Oakland facility. A sheriff's spokesperson said the county is not worried, because if union members strike, PHS is still contractually responsible to provide medical services, regardless of its labor-contract dilemmas.