SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Thousands of Santa Clara County employees are ready to walk off the job Tuesday morning, in what would be their first strike in 40 years. Negotiations are still going on.
At the SEIU Local 521 offices in San Jose, negotiations ran past midnight Sunday and continued all day Monday. A state agency deemed 475 employees as essential and can't strike early Tuesday morning.
The strike would mean about half of the entire county work force would be off the job. Hardest hit would be Valley Medical Center where a variety of nurses and radiation technicians would walk out. County libraries would be impacted. But Supervisor Dave Cortese says important public safety functions would be in jeopardy.
"Some of these workers are also workers in the jails where obviously we have serious public safety issues and communications dispatch. When people call 911, they need a response," Cortese said.
The Public Employees Relations Board, a state agency, has agreed that 475 jobs out of 9,000 are essential. Those workers, including 911 dispatchers, would be told to stay on the job. They aren't easily replaced. The county is already working on contingency plans to fill thousands of other jobs not deemed essential with outside workers or by asking others to work overtime.
But the big question is how many non-striking workers will honor the picket lines.
The bargaining unit's two-year contract expired a week ago. Negotiations are underway for a contract running four or five years. That length has both sides seeking the best terms possible, given the uncertainty of the economy.
"They want to be careful that they're not getting shortchanged over a four-year period. We want to be careful that we've actually got the money to pay them when we get to year three and four. Otherwise, we have a different problem on our hands," Cortese said.
Essential workers will need to be served papers that they must report for work, but that may be a challenging process if those employees play hard to find.
Last week, members of SEIU Local 521 voted overwhelmingly to go on strike tomorrow after the current contract expired on June 21.