SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- Hundreds of Santa Clara county workers protested outside the county building Wednesday as supervisors continued finalizing a more than $8 billion budget for next year.
"I can't afford to live here," said Vanessa Gordon, who is a social worker for the county.
She is among the 11,000 county employees represented by SEIU, which held the protest for better wages and more money for community services. The union is currently negotiating a new contract with the county.
Gordon, who is a single mom, said the county helped her as she earned her degree and then became a county worker herself. But Gordon, who meets struggling families all the time in her line of work, is struggling herself.
She believes she will be squeezed out of the Bay Area in about two years because of rising rents.
"My rent just raised $500," she said. "I have to figure out a way that I can make ends meet."
The county employees have received a 3 percent salary increase every year for the last few years, but they said they also sacrificed pay raises and took furlough days during the recession. The salary bumps they've received since then, they said, are just not enough to survive in the Bay Area.
Still, the employees said their protest was just more than asking for a cost of living raise. They want the county to pass a "just and humane budget that invests in the services our community depends on," according to the union's press release.
The budget includes dozens of items, including a juvenile and adult mental health center. But the county executive said in his report that they need to be cautious about spending and expanding county services because they expect an economic downturn in two years.
"The case load is pretty high, I mean workers are struggling with the case loads they have," said Gordon.
Carla Torres DeLuna, who is a social worker supervisor, said the families they come across are who the county needs to invest in the most. She said many of them are working mandatory overtime just to serve the community in need.
"This is a very expensive area, so they come to us with no place to live, little bit of food," DeLuna said. "It's very difficult for these families to live here."
Just hours before their protest, another rally hit the steps of San Jose city hall where residents protested against Google's Mega Campus. The rally was organized following a new report that said Google's plan would mean a $235 million rent hike every year by 2030.
"I just want to be able to live here and go to work here, that's it," Gordon said.
The union will be back at the bargaining table on Thursday. Their contract ends on Sunday.
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