Teamsters 856 is taking on the abuse and misuse of temporary agency workers at Contra Costa County, forcing the County to end its years-long practice of using temporary agency employees to fill what should be permanent positions. An agreement reached this month ensures that licensed vocational nurses and certified medical assistant positions in clinics and detention facilities currently filled with temporary agency employees will be posted as permanent bids beginning immediately and through early spring.
Teamster Steward Maria Banalas said that Contra Costa employees previous representation had allowed the County’s temp agency practices to continue unchecked. “It was a hopeless, no-win situation,” the medical assistant said. “With the Teamsters, though, our prayers have been answered.” Contra Costa County employees in the Health Services, Licensed Vocational Nurses & Aides, and General Services and Maintenance units left their previous representation and joined Teamsters 856 in early 2016.
For nearly a decade, the County’s health department has relied upon temporary agencies to patch holes in schedules in its clinics, according to Teamsters 856 Representative Richie Andazola.
“The agency employees are working side-by-side with Teamsters 856 members, with the same title, doing the same work, but are not enjoying the same benefits and protections as our members,” he said.
Andazola said that the use of temporary agency workers ballooned over the last several years as County clinics took in patients from shuttered private facilities and the Affordable Health Care Act became effective, giving more members of the public access to health care.
“They couldn’t keep up with the census, but instead of hiring permanent employees, the County just kept increasing contracts with temporary agencies,” said Teamsters 856 Representative Corey Hallman, who has also been working on the issue. “Many of these agencies are outside county limits, relocating taxpayer dollars as far south as Stanislaus County.”
Last month, Hallman and Andazola seized an opportunity to get a handle on the abuse when the County gave notice of its intent to amend and increase a contract with a temp agency based in Hanford, California, for licensed vocational nurses and certified medical assistants.
Hallman, Andazola and the rank and file committee refused to “rubber stamp” the request to the displeasure of labor relations. “They told us, ‘most unions just approve these ’,” Andazola said. “We had to inform them that we’re not ‘most unions’.”
Andazola said that over the last ten years the contract with this specific temp agency had gone from $650,000 to nearly $5 million. “Enough was enough, it was time to fix this issue,” he said. Not only does the current County practice waste tax dollars – temp agencies charge more for their employees than the County pays for the same position – it’s a violation of state law to use temp agency employees for more than 90 days, Andazola explained.
Members report that some of the temporary employees have been working in the same position for as long as eight years.
While talks over the temporary agency contract continued, Labor Relations placed an item on the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors’ meeting agenda requesting the extension, twice. Teamsters 856 Political Director Trish Blinstrub reached out to the Local’s allies on the Board and was successful in getting the item pulled, twice.
After the item was removed from the Board agenda for the second time, County Labor Relations contacted Andazola and Hallman, accepting Local 856’s most recent offer to resolve the matter. The agreement included a cessation of the use of agency workers from the Hanford-based company by March 31 of 2017, converting 44 positions into permanent bid positions, and first right of refusal of overtime and daily assignments for permanent workers. (Managers had been offering temporary employees overtime and plum job assignments before permanent employees.) Also part of the agreement, is the County’s intention to give the temporary agency employees an opportunity to gain permanent employment.
“It’s finally coming to a halt,” said Teamsters 856 Steward Lisa Day. “I feel like the County has stolen from these workers – they want the security of being permanent employees and the benefits of a contract, including retirement,” the licensed vocational nurse said. “This kind of treatment is unfair – it divides the workplace, creates animosity, and makes people feel like they don’t belong.”
Also as a direct result of Local 856’s ongoing grievance protesting the abuse and misuse of temporary agency employees, the County has also agreed to open 15 permanent bids for occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists, and 18 more positions in the lab and environmental services at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center.
“We have a long fight ahead of us to put a stop to the County’s abuse of temporary workers, but we’ve got a good start. We go back to the table over three more agency contracts on December 20. This most recent agreement will serve as a precedent and set the tone moving forward,” said Andazola.
In addition to demanding to meet and confer over temporary agency contract renewals and proposed amendments, Teamsters 856 is also attacking the issue through a class-action grievance and an attachment in the members’ contract that requires the County to negotiate on the use of temporary agency workers in the Health Services Department.