Election boosts privatization drives
By Joseph Perkins
Voters in San Jose and San Diego sent a loud, clear message to public employees unions this week that they can no longer expect gold-plated benefit packages and immunity from private competition.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Phil Wowak hopes the message resonates with his county’s public-employee unions, which oppose his proposal to contract out medical services for jail inmates overseen by his department.
Wowak has no animus, he says, toward the unionized public employees who currently provide medical treatment to the county’s inmate population. It’s just that his Sheriff’s Department is operating under budget constraints that require him to find savings.
By turning over inmate treatment to a private sector provider, Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group, the Sheriff’s Department can save an estimated $600,000, according to the annual budget Wowak has proposed.
The increasing duration of inmate stays at the four correctional facilities has a lot to do with the sheriff’s decision to turn to the private sector, said Lt. Shea Johnson, medical division commander for the county jail system.
“With more long-term housing comes some more acute problems,” she told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “The longer they stay, the more services they need.”
Jodi Capitola-Duran, chapter president of Service Employee International Union Local 521, argues that Wowak is to blame for the problems with the county-run medical services because it was insufficiently staffed with unionized public employees.
“We have been advocating for keeping medical services in house,” she said, in a statement.
“It’s a shame that the sheriff allowed this service to fail by not filling vital positions when needed to provide care. This is disappointing not only for families losing jobs in this community, but for our community that is losing vital public health services.”
That’s the kind of rhetoric that was heard from the public-employee unions in San Jose, opposing cost-saving pension reform, and San Diego, opposing pension reform and a ban on union-only project labor agreements (which drive up the cost of public works construction).
Unions too costly
But, like the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, budget-strapped county and city agencies throughout the state are increasingly willing to part ways with the public-employee unions.
The city of Santa Clara, for instance, turned over operations of its library system this past July to Library System and Services Inc., a private library management company.
City residents couldn’t be more pleased with non-unionized LSSI, which has lengthened hours, including opening on Sundays. It also has added more than 75 new computers, a new home-schooling book collection and more children’s programs.
San Joaquin County also is looking to the private sector to help its Micke Grove Zoo restore the national accreditation it lost six years ago. It has contracted with a private non-profit, the Micke Grove Zoological Society, whose non-unionized workers will take over day-to-day operations for the long-neglected zoo.
The future is now for privatization not only in Santa Cruz County, the city of Santa Clara andSan Joaquin County, but throughout California. And Tuesday’s election results in San Jose and San Diego will only add to the momentum.
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