Possible Jackson County Strike Raises Questions About Future COVID-19 Response
Several hundred public employees of Jackson County could soon go on strike over longstanding disagreements over health coverage and pay. The union employees includes staff in the county’s Health and Human Services department, the agency working on the county’s coronavirus response.
Since April, 2019 the Jackson County Employees Association, a subgroup of SEIU Local 503, and Jackson County have been in contract negotiations. According to union statements, their primary concern is lower cost health care than current plans, which cost members $184 per month with a $15,000 out-of-pocket maximum. Union members are also negotiating over a cost-of-living increase since their contract ended in the summer of 2019.
Those talks hit an impasse at the beginning of March and the union voted to authorize a strike. A date for a strike has not been set, according to union members, but the stakes of a possible strike are higher now that two cases of COVID-19 from the new coronavirus were identified in Jackson County over the weekend.
“It would be disruptive but we’re hoping and planning to try to minimize it to the most extent that we can,” says Joel Benton, an attorney for Jackson County.
There are about 450 Jackson County employees covered by the collective bargaining agreement, according to Benton, including 25-30% of the county’s Health and Human Services department. That department is large, however, including everything from animal control to county crisis services to public health.
Benton was unable to quantify the number of public health employees working on the local COVID-19 response who are eligible to strike. A county public health spokesperson did not respond by airtime.
“Our number one concern is providing high quality public services for the people of Jackson County,” says Angela Cruthirds, a union bargaining delegate and office assistant for Jackson County Health and Human Services. “Our bargaining team is currently working to determine strike details that will ensure there is no impact on public health.”
In spite of the recent strike authorization, vote both sides are continuing to negotiate, according to union members. The Jackson County Employees Association would need to first give 10-day notice before going on strike.