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Fighting for Better Working Conditions in San Mateo County

Photo Credit: AFSCME Council 57
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By Martin Ricard, AFSCME Council 57 ·

As a clinical social worker with San Mateo County’s Children and Family Services Department, Laura Stovall is sometimes required to go into a family’s home when a child’s life is put in danger—oftentimes, her own life is put in danger as well.

But when Stovall asks San Mateo County management for time off or the ability to work some days from home or fair overtime pay so that she can regroup, spend quality time with her family and get ready to help other families in need, she is often made to feel like her job isn’t important.

“There’s times when I’ve had to call in law enforcement to back me up because I’m in someone’s home and they’re either suicidal or aggressive toward someone else, and I could be there for hours doing crisis prevention with the family,” said Stovall, a member of AFSCME Local 829. “You’re asking people to do the same thing that’s already put them in danger and do it the next day and the next day. We want to continue to support the community. We want to be able to do our jobs. We just want better circumstances in order to get it done.”

Our Local 829 sisters and brothers with San Mateo County’s Human Services Agency unit started their two-day strike on Tuesday, calling on county management to offer them a fair contract. Out of the 850 members that comprise that unit, about 600 joined the picket line and showed a strong presence at the county’s main government center.

Other members who work for San Mateo County won a new contract last month after getting a pay raise that keeps pace with the region’s rising cost of living and an agreement that enhances their current retiree health package. But those from San Mateo County’s Human Services Agency unit decided to keep fighting because, more than fair pay, they are demanding better working conditions.

“It has a lot to do with caseload issues and the way our management has been working with us,” said Felipe Donaire, a social worker for San Mateo County. “We feel like we deserve to be heard, and we don’t feel like our management is listening to our concerns.”

Some of the main issues members are fighting for include:

Local 829 member Daniella Tobey said she hopes talks with county management resume soon. Workers are burnt out, morale is low and they want to get back to doing their jobs effectively because, for many, their jobs are a calling.

“We want to put the word ‘human’ back into the Human Services Agency because it’s missing, and workers are shouting at the top of their lungs that we need change and we need to be treated like humans,” Tobey said. “Oftentimes, we end up losing time with our own children and families, and I find that rather ironic.”

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