MERCED COUNTY, CA – Merced County has been a city on the rise for quite sometime, unfortunately lagging behind nearly every other county in California since the Great Recession. Some believe it’s the homeless problem while others have said it’s because Merced County is full of lazy people. Well I beg to differ as I have for years as a local investigative journalist. The problem seems to be a lack of clear and success oriented leadership.
With the latest pandemic hitting Merced County residents, county leadership has been slow to prepare including providing a safe working environment whenever possible to county workers including social workers and healthcare staff. People who are critical to the care and well being of the county.
Neighboring counties have taken the liberty of ensuring their county and public health workers are as safe as possible including working from home and providing PPEs to those who must have contact with the public. Yet Merced County supervisors are alleged to have once again failed the people by acting slow and not putting their people’s safety first. And some say that’s down right dangerous.
The bankrupt Merced Sunstar wrote a brief story about the health workers protest, but failed to speak with the local leaders to give the people of Merced County a better and full understanding of everyone’s position regarding this matter.
“if you’re freaked out and you don’t want to be here and you’re in one of the you an stay at home, but here’s the key, you have to burn your accruals. And some folks don’t want to do that. They want to be told to go home and get paid.”Supervisor Scott Silveira
During a recent Merced County Supervisor’s meeting, County Supervisor Scott Silveira, lashed out at county workers who are seeing a rise in county COVID-19 and are not being protected with proper safety equipment. When addressing the idea of working from home Supervisor Silveira said that if county workers are too scared to come to work then they should stay home, but they wont be paid (see attached video).
The tongue lashing came after emails sent to the Board by anonymous county workers concerned for their safety were read aloud to Board members. But the supervisors fail to understand that county workers are not asking to be paid while sitting at home doing nothing, as implied by Supervisor Silveira’s statement, they want to work. They just ask, actually begging in the video, for the county supervisors to keep them safe and allowing them to work safer from the confines of their own homes if they can. Supervisor Silveira then goes on to thank his executive staff for their work yet fails to thank the county workers who have to go out face-to-face with the public placing themselves in more harm than his executive staff.
Link to video of emails read allowed to Board members and Supervisor Scott Silveira’s response https://youtu.be/vbrv2tZb0kQ
Text From The Video Includes Emails From Concerned County Workers:
“An anonymous individual. I am anonymously writing on behalf of Merced County Social workers in Merced County.
The social workers in Merced County are still working at one hundred percent staff. Despite the fact that almost all the other counties in California are working at fifty percent staff in the office or less, Merced County continues to place their workers and their families at risk by not allowing social workers to work from home or to allow alternate schedules so there are less employees in the office. Neighboring counties are allowing employees to work completely from home San Joaquin, Contra Costa, Alameda and so many more.
We were offered an opportunity to move seats to have six feet or more between us but there is not enough space to come close to accommodate that for every worker. Workers have begun to go out on stress leave due to the county not acting and protecting us placing more work on the workers that remain. Fitting for masks has been inefficient, disorganized and unsafe. Communication has almost been nil as to what we are supposed to expect. We are promised phone calls with staff updates that don’t happen in a timely manner.
Why has the county not approved social workers to work from home when eighty percent of us have the ability to work from home as we have tablets, cell phones, and VPNs to protect confidentiality? Many of us that are not responding for investigations are completing work at our desks that could one hundred percent be completed at home.
Please protect your workers that protect the most vulnerable in the community. Allow us to work from home immediately with full pay. Please before it is too late and one of us gets sick, especially before one of us or our family members die.
Another email regarding social services;
I am writing on behalf of the social workers in Merced County that are still working everyday at the main agency and all outstations. Staff is not able to social distance regardless of what building they are stationed in. No alternate work schedules have been offered and most get clumped into pods in close proximity to one another. Staff has been told that there is no approved work from home option. Staff has expressed concerns to management with little to no communication on management end and staff end upon requesting to take a leave of action due to the stress of contamination and the possibility of taking it home to vulnerable family members.
Masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes are limited. Neighboring counties have allowed their staff to work from home and have arranged for alternate work schedules in order to lesson the number of staff at work at any given time.
Would the Board of Supervisors please act in protection of our foster youth and our workers to allow them to work from home with full pay and lessen the likelihood of an employee becoming another positive case and passing it on to more co-workers and their family. The longer staff works under these conditions the higher the probability that the department becomes a hot bed of cases. In the event that an employee dies you will have wish you would have done something sooner.”
Response to County Workers concerns by Board of Supervisor Scott Silveira;
“What are our intentions on why are county workers still at work? And I get it. We’re all scared. I uh hey listen, you know. I have family members that that fit that that criteria of the folks that need to worry about coronavirus okay? COVID-19. But you know… you signed up for this. You chose to come to work for the county. Iiiiin a time of crisis this is when… when we’re supposed to step up. We have to perform the essential services of government. And so you know… um when this is all over I get it. Yououuuu people are making a paycheck to be here and then I hear then why are they not getting paid hazard pay. This is your job. This is what you signed up for. And there are mechanisms in place that if you don’t feel comfortable coming to work there there’s plenty of rules out there that protect you that you don’t have to come, right?
So so again you need to have an honest conversation with and maybe when this is over you you realize that county work is not for you. And I’m not I’m not encouraging anybody to leave, uh but but if if if you cant even if you cant see it in your heart that that you can handle this kind of work then.. maybe you ought to rethink you your your line of work.
I’m sorry I I don’t buy into this you that just because your in another county you’re working from home. There’s certain functions that have to be done and we’re the government and you’re a public servant. And and as elected officials we all signed up you know we we swore to defend our constitution in the state of California and and in the United States and to protect our citizens and that is our number one job is to provide for the public health, welfare and safety of our citizens.
And so um you know the if if you cant be here if you’re freaked out and you don’t want to be here and you’re in one of the you an stay at home, but here’s the key, you have to burn your accruals. And some folks don’t want to do that. They want to be told to go home and get paid. And we’ve done we’ve put mechanisms in place that allow you to go into into the negative. You can take eighty hours of of uh sick leave into the negative in your accruals. The the Federal government has added some more in there. You tie that with your unemployment.
Be thankful you have the opportunity to do that because here’s the person I’m worried about. I’m worried about mom and dad who both work in industry jobs who both lost their jobs and would would gladly come to work if there was a work to go to but they can’t. They got the real struggle, you know. And I get it there’s there’s all kinds of extenuating circumstances, but they sit there and and and we and we get I get I get emails emails and then how dare us and the blood is on our hands and I call BS on that I really do. Alright you neither need iff if If its that bad, hey man, rethink your line of work. I’m sorry that’s harsh but that’s the way that I look at it and that’s the way I look at it. And uh hopefully I don’t offend anybody, and um you know if I do I’m sorry but you know that’s just the way it is.
So ah again staff an and and one more is is the executive office staff and they’re not the only ones coming in to work everyday but but they’re everyday that I’m here. You guys are awesome.”
Supervisor Silveira was contacted via email for this story and he replied with this statement;
“I am sorry my words seemed harsh. The intent was to clarify the important role these employees fill. Our County staff is important; all of them. Their work has been deemed essential. Their availability to serve Merced County residents is crucial, especially now. Merced County employees are Disaster Employees. COVID -19 is a global disaster. Many more of our residents now need social services. Our residents depend on our staff. It is a difficult time. We need to work through this together.”Supervisor Scott Silveira via email 04/16/2020