MEDFORD, Ore. — Armed with pizza slices and megaphones, Jackson County public employees rallied outside of their offices on Wednesday — demanding fair wages and healthcare as contract negotiations between the union and County managers grind to a halt.
The Jackson County Employee Association, a part of SEIU Local 503, has championed a deal known as "PEBB" — the statewide Public Employee Benefits Board. Employees claim that it would both offer better health coverage and save the County money to the tune of $920,000 per year.
NewsWatch12's Cassidy Delamarter was at the rally on Wednesday. She spoke with Kember Dollarhide, a current Jackson County employee.
Dollarhide said, "It's so important for people to be able to go to the doctor and actually be able to afford to go to the doctor and not have to worry about paying rent versus going to the doctor or buying a prescription versus buying food and unfortunately it's come straight down to that."
By the union's own accounting, the County management's plan offers each employee a slightly higher wage per month, on average, than PEBB would. However, it also would mandate higher health insurance premiums, higher deductibles, and higher possible out-of-pocket healthcare costs than the PEBB plan.
According to a statement from SEIU 503, Jackson County employees are some of the lowest paid government workers in the state, "many making close to minimum wage" — with healthcare costs outdoing the cost of living increases they've been offered.
Angela Cruthrids was at the rally on Wednesday. Cruthrids said PEBB could change her life and her five childrens' lives as well.
"I can't take my kids to the doctor," she said. "And I'm already paying off their last [doctor visits] and to accumulate more it's just it's a desperate cycle."
Both Dollarhide and Cruthrids told NewsWatch12 they want the county to suppport them, the same way they support the county.
"We want them to see that we love being county employees and I'm proud to be a county employee and do what I do for the people we serve and coming with that comes a fair contract," Dollarhide said.
The next bargaining session is scheduled for December 2. NewsWatch12 will continue to follow this developing story and speak with the county to findout what its priorities are for the contract.