SLO County employees plan to strike — 1,700 workers demand increased wages

The San Luis Obispo County Government Center on Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo.
The San Luis Obispo County Government Center on Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Around 1,700 employees of the San Luis Obispo County government plan to strike as soon as December, unhappy about a wage increase they say fails to meet the inflated costs of living on the Central Coast.

The San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association, known as SLOCEA, told county officials Nov. 16 that they will strike unless the county Board of Supervisors agrees to meet its demands that include a 2.5 percent wage increase in the current fiscal year, according to the county’s Chief Administrative Officer Wade Horton.

“At this point, I’ve spoken with hundreds of employees. I hear them, I understand their frustration, but we have to provide services in a manner that’s fiscally sustainable. It’s a juggling act of fiscal stewardship, employee compensation and providing services to the public,” Horton told The Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

How would a strike affect public services?

Members of the union are employed in nearly every department in the county government, meaning services to the public would likely be affected in the Library, Probation, Sheriff-Coroner, Veteran Services, Social Services, Behavioral Health, Child Support Services, Animal Services, Public Works and more.

County officials said in a press release issued Tuesday evening that “essential public safety and health services will continue,” as certain employees are barred from striking if it would cause a substantial or imminent risk to public health and safety.

This would be the first time that county employees have gone on strike, according to representatives of the union and the county.

What is the current contract?

After months of negotiations, representatives of SLOCEA reached a two-year agreement with the county that included a .5 percent increase in fiscal year 2019 and a 2 percent increase in 2020. Members of the union rejected the deal; the county then imposed the first year of the contract.

“Members make it very clear that as a group, they are unimpressed that the county imposed a .5 percent wage increase on them when two different and independent factfinding reports recommended 3 percent (cost of living adjustments),” SLOCEA General Manager Pat McNamara said in a statement on the union’s website.

He added that “members are even less impressed with the .5 percent wage increase when they consider that the rate of inflation for our region was at 3.5 percent, medical premiums will go up an average of 4 percent on January 1, 2019, and pension contributions will increase another 1.13 percent in July 2019.”

What do the workers want?

McNamara was not available Tuesday evening to confirm their demands. Horton said the employee group has three points:

  • An additional wage increase of 2.5 percent for certain groups of employees effective July 1, 2018.
  • Increased cafeteria contribution (health benefits) to $850.
  • Return of the full two-hour minimum benefit to employees working on-call, regardless of whether the employee is required to physically respond to the work site.

How has the county responded?

Horton said the county is willing to renegotiate the fiscal year 2020 contract, but that the “wages and benefits have already been resolved for fiscal year 2019.”

“We have to provide services in a fiscally sustainable way. What I don’t want to do is, I don’t want to provide an increase in wages that we can’t afford systemically. And then in the future when we can’t afford wages, we have to do layoffs,” Horton said.

He also pointed to increased and unexpected expenses that the Board of Supervisors agreed to take on this year, including the cost of taking over fire services in Cayucos and increased jail medical services.

In response to the announcement that the union would strike, the county advised SLOCEA that its strike notice violated labor law and gave 24 hours notice of an intent to file charges of unfair practice and a request for injunctive relief, according to a timeline of events provided by county officials.

SLOCEA has since provided the county additional information, but it is unclear at this point if the county still intends to file charges against the union.

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