Contra Costa County Local 21 Members Rise Up in a 9 Union Coalition to Fight for Healthcare

Contra Costa County is last in the Bay Area when it comes to providing healthcare for workers. After years of divisive anti-union tactics, the County has created a healthcare system that features prohibitively high healthcare premium rates for employees, different deals for different unions, different contribution rates to different plans, and a failure to bargain competitive rates from providers. Contra Costa County ranks at or near the bottom for employer contributions by almost every measure,making quality healthcare unaffordable for some, and forcing others to choose between healthcare and other basic needs.  

We have shown that Contra Costa County workers pay significantly more in healthcare premiums than their counterparts around the Bay.  For example, workers in Contra Costa pay a whopping $806 per month for family coverage on the Kaiser plan. Up until now County Supervisors have been unwilling to fix this problem, and with their approval, premium rates will increase as much as 14.74 % in January 2019.  On the Kaiser family plan, premium rates will rise to $947 per month unless the County Supervisors work with us on a real solution. In 2017 “non-profit” Kaiser made over $3.8 billion dollars off patient premiums.  This is unacceptable and why we know that we need long term structural solutions like Medicare for All.  However, until we achieve this on a larger scale, we are allying with other unions to fight for healthcare justice for workers in Contra Costa County.

Services for the public are feeling the negative effect of the crisis as well.  Sue Guest, a Public Health Nurse Program Manager for Contra Costa County and Local 21 Vice President and Chapter President says, “As a healthcare worker, I know that access to public services can be a life and death issue. Coalition members are reporting that their departments are struggling with recruitment and retention problems. Services are suffering because of the high costs of healthcare in Contra Costa County. It’s time for a change in Contra Costa County, for workers and the public!”

Headed by Local 21, nine Contra Costa County unions have come together to form a Coalition of county workers to say enough is enough. The Coalition has hit the ground running. Coalition members have engaged in a TAKE ACTION campaign to call Board of Supervisors to let them know that the situation is a crisis for workers. Coalition members have also met directly with County Supervisors, submitted hundreds of personal stories about struggles with affordable healthcare, and collected more than 1600 petition signatures from union members. 

On September 18, hundreds of County workers took the morning off to rally outside the Board of Supervisors, and then packed the Board room to support Coalition speakers who addressed the Board. The crowd chanted “What do we want? Affordable healthcare! When do we want it? NOW!” as Board members looked on. Community leaders came out to support the Coalition, including speakers like Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, Richmond Vice Mayor Melvin Willis, and speakers from the Contra Costa Labor Council, ACCE, and the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa.The rally was energetic, fiery, and defiant. The message was clear: The County must agree to a real fix to the healthcare system.

Because of this outpouring of solidarity and strength, the Coalition has successfully forced some movement. The County has agreed to bargain with the Coalition over healthcare, despite the fact that most Coalition unions are not due to bargain until next year. Talks began last week and continue this week. The county has also signaled that it will provide a band aid for the 2019 rate increases, though it would only do so in exchange for a 3-year extension that would fail to address the current cost crisis, or increased premiums in year 2 or 3 of the deal.  Clearly, the fight is not over. But Coalition members are ready to rise to the challenge. 

Sign the petition in support of union members’ fight for a healthcare fix in Contra Costa County!