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SLO County workers set to strike in December. Here’s how it will affect you

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

As San Luis Obispo County workers prepare to hit the picket lines, union leaders and county administrators have agreed to terms of the impending strike of the 1,700-member San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association.

They’ve agreed that the strike will start no sooner than Dec. 11 and will end Dec. 14, according to a news release from the county administrative office.

In addition, the two groups, which were in negotiations for months, agreed that 160 workers are prohibited from striking because they are essential to the health and safety of the public, according to the news release. Those employees include an emergency medical technician at Lopez Lake Recreation Area, a hazardous materials response team, a nurse in the Public Health Department who responds to cases of suspected sexual abuse cases and correctional nurses at San Luis Obispo County Jail.

County residents will likely see picket lines at multiple locations across the county, union manager Pat McNamara said, adding that many if not most county departments could see slower-than-usual service.

But Wade Horton, the county’s chief administrator, said essential public services will not be affected and no offices are expected to close.

Clerical employees, utility workers and social workers are among those who plan to strike over benefits and wages that they say are not keeping up with the growing cost of living on the Central Coast.

Those employees are currently working without a contract, as a majority of union members rejected the best and final two-year contract proposed by the county that included a 0.5 percent increase in fiscal year 2019 and a 2 percent raise in 2020.

This is the first time that the county union has ever rejected the county’s last offer, McNamara said in a phone interview with The Tribune.

Meanwhile, neutral third-party fact-finders determined the cost of living is expected to increase 3 percent in San Luis Obispo County.

According to McNamara, county employees aren’t only upset about the economics. It’s an emotional issue as well.

He said he’s heard from workers that feel unappreciated and disrespected by the county in recent years, particularly on-call employees such as social workers whose reimbursement has recently decreased.

The county used to compensate employees for a minimum of two hours for of on-call work, McNamara said. Now they’re paid for a minimum of 30 minutes.

McNamara said the frustration is not directed at any one person within the county. But, he said, the ultimate decision-maker on wages is the Board of Supervisors.

Even with a strong economy, under the board’s oversight, the county faced a $3.6 million budget gap in the 2018-19 fiscal year, with expenses outpacing revenues. County officials closed that gap with funds from a handful of places, including by pulling from reserves and enacting a hiring chill to slow down the rate at which the county fills vacant positions.

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