Santa Clara County filed an unfair practice charge Friday afternoon with the California Public Employment Relations Board against striking union workers, calling their strike "unlawful" because negotiations are not yet "at complete loggerheads" where no agreement can be reached.
The county filed the complaint Friday after workers with Service Employees International Union Local 521 began walking off the job Wednesday morning.
The county said Friday that strikes throughout the region have affected medical patients at health centers in Gilroy and San Jose, including patients in the county's women, infants and children programs. The county also said SEIU Local 521 failed to provide "adequate notice" to the county of its intentions before initiating a strike.
The California Public Employment Relations Board will hear the complaint.
"We do not believe that the county's charge has merit," Chris Libera, a member of SEIU Local 521 and a strike leader, said in a statement Friday. "The fact that they would file a baseless charge against their own employees is another indication of their inability to deal with their employees' legal strike action against the county's unfair labor practices."
The strikes have drawn hundreds of local county workers from their jobs and onto picket lines since Wednesday.
The strike entered its fifth day at about 8 a.m. Monday, when workers from seven sites within the county's Social Services Agency walked off the job at 1867 Senter Road in San Jose, SEIU Local 521 officials said.
"We are proud to join the thousands of county workers who were on the line last week in protest of the county's unfair labor practices that hurt our ability to reach an agreement," Griselda Galindo, an eligibility worker, said in a statement.
"Our residents should know that there is a widespread staffing crisis across our county departments impacting our ability to provide adequate service — our workloads are unattainable and we cannot hire and retain staff. We have dedicated our lives to service and know firsthand the needs of our residents, we will continue to bring to light the obstacles in our workplaces keeping us from doing our jobs," she said.
According to union officials, workers have been without a contract for months and "have seen no real commitment by the county to bargain in the best interest of children, seniors, families and those who provide critical services."
SEIU members, who make up about half of the county's 22,000 employees, have accused the county of unfair labor practices, such as restructuring of the Department of Family and Children's Services without bargaining with employees.
They also claim workers are leaving Santa Clara for higher-paying jobs in counties with a lower cost of living.