San Luis Obispo County employees speak to the board as strike starts
A historic strike of San Luis Obispo County workers that shut down some public services is scheduled to finish by the end of the week — but workers are willing to go on strike again in the future, according to a union leader.
Workers with the San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association (SLOCEA) are striking for the first time in the history of the decades-old union, withholding labor and forgoing pay to send a message to county leadership.
That has meant closures for most county library branches, the Clerk-Recorder’s Atascadero office and the Public Health Department’s sexually transmitted disease clinic in San Luis Obispo, among other offices. The Behavioral Health Department ceased day treatment services, and the Planning and Building Department did not process land use permits.
On Wednesday, about 350 workers held a picket line in downtown San Luis Obispo on Monterey Street for a second day.
By week’s end, around 1,000 people will have taken at least one day without pay for the cause, according to SLOCEA manager Pat McNamara.
“This is a protest by the employees about the way they’ve been treated at the bargaining table to convey their dissatisfaction with county (leadership),” McNamara said Wednesday.
An independent fact-finding report recommended a three-percent across-the-board salary increase for the current fiscal year, which would help employees keep up with the increased cost of living.
The county offered a 0.5 percent raise and an increase in health benefits, called a cafeteria benefit, that officials say would have accounted for a 1.9 percent increase in the current fiscal year. It also offered a 2 percent raise in the next fiscal year and larger raises for categories of workers who make over 10 percent less than market rate.
A majority of the 1,700 workers in SLOCEA voted to reject the proposed contract. The county imposed a .5 percent raise this year, as well as a $500 medical one-time flexible spending account contribution.
Workers who flooded the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday called the county’s offer an insult and said they feel devalued by county leaders. Many voiced a desire for what they see as a basic living wage.
While salaries look reasonable to outsiders, some said, they don’t take into account the high cost of the county’s medical plan or contributions to the county pension fund, which is expected to increase next year.
They’ll likely be back to negotiating within months.
“We have talented employees who provide important services to our community. We’re disappointed that SLOCEA members voted to strike rather than accept the two-year proposal the county offered earlier this year, and we look forward to getting back to the negotiation table with them early next year,” county administrative officer Wade Horton said in a news release.
“Our offer remains open to meet early and negotiate over (fiscal year) 2019-2020 wages. Our goal is to provide excellent public services in a way that is fiscally sustainable,” Horton said in the release.
Employees “prefer to reach a fair and equitable deal with the county,” McNamara said Wednesday.
But if that can’t be reached, county workers may be willing to go on strike again, he said.
“The feedback we’re getting is now that this is under their belt — it’s something they can do, that they can sustain — they feel it would be easier to do it next time, should there be a next time,” McNamara said.