Photos from the Vault

SLO County employees are about to strike. In 1982, train engineers hit the picket lines

Southern Pacific Railroad engineers Don Lessi, left, and Bob Swain walk the picket line on the morning of Sept. 20, 1982, during a strike at the train depot in San Luis Obispo.
Southern Pacific Railroad engineers Don Lessi, left, and Bob Swain walk the picket line on the morning of Sept. 20, 1982, during a strike at the train depot in San Luis Obispo. Telegram-Tribune

Hundreds of San Obispo County employees are set to strike in December.

It is rare to see negotiations between the county and the 1,700-member San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association reach that point.

The county is trying to balance its financial health with workers’ concerns about the rising cost of living, including health care and housing, in one of the least affordable regions in the state.

Tribune archives from the mid-1970s to 2000 show a series of organized labor strikes in the county — both actual and proposed — involving the railroad, trucking, bus lines, hospitals, vegetable growers, construction, oil refineries, supermarkets, state employees, schools and Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

Railroad workers have a long history with unions.

The California State Railroad Museum has exhibits documenting rail workers killed in high-risk tasks when railroad companies failed to invest in safer technology.

Brakemen, who had to set brakes by hand, could be knocked off the tops of cars entering snow sheds in the Sierra Nevada. Yard workers were crushed between cars during hook-up because cars used outdated link-and-pin technology.

Trust between the railroad and workers was weak more than a century after the first rail lines were built in California.

On Sept. 20, 1982, the then-Telegram-Tribune ran an unbylined article about a strike to maintain the right to strike.

30 SLO engineers join national rail strike

About 30 San Luis Obispo railroad engineers were on strike this morning over the issue of whether their new contract with Southern Pacific Transportation Co. would give them the right to strike.

Low-priority mail and some produce shipments could be delayed by the two-day-old engineers’ strike that sent thousands of West Coast train travelers scurrying to bus terminals and airports, officials said.

The strike sidetracked Amtrak’s Coast Starlight in the San Luis Obispo train yard when Local 664 of the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers walked off their jobs shortly after midnight Sunday morning.

The passengers were offered bus transportation to complete the part of their trip cut short by the strike.

A dozen or more of the engineers were walking the picket line at the San Luis Obispo train depot shortly after 8 a.m. today. The Amtrak ticket office was locked tight with a sign on the door explaining the closure was due to the strike.

Vince Pando, chairman of Local 664, said the major issue of the contract is that railroad companies are insisting on a no-strike clause in the new agreement with the union.

Pando said he believes members of his local and others around the country would reject any contract that relinquished their right to strike.

The engineers have been working without a contract since their last contract expired Jan. 1, 1981, said Pando, who has been employed by Southern Pacific since 1953.

The 26,000 members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers walked out across the country early Sunday.

Only one of 24 Amtrak trains scheduled in and out of the Los Angeles’ Union Station was able to continue and most passengers sought other methods of transportation.

Joseph Butler and Samuel Boston of New York finally took an airplane back to New York, cutting short the Los Angeles visit they had been planning for two years. They said when they arrived last week, it was raining and bus drivers in the city were on strike.

“We didn’t even get to go to Hollywood or Disneyland,” Butler said. When they got to Union Station for a train trip home, they found all the departures had been “annulled” by the strike.

“I don’t understand,” Boston said.

“What’s wrong with this city anyway? This is why we left New York.”

Many Amtrak passengers were transferred to buses to complete their journeys on several bus lines, which honored train tickets, said Susan Dole, Amtraks West Coast Spokeswoman in San Francisco. Switchboard operators said ticket holders could get refunds beginning today.

Santa Fe Railroad also halted the 14 Spirit of California daily commuter trains between Los Angeles and San Diego. Union Pacific spokesman John Forbes said its supervisors were able to handle about half the 100 to 200 trains that normally move through on routes handled from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by its 170 engineers.

“We’re looking at time-sensitive freight and perishables for priority shipment. And mail, but that’s mostly packages. First-class letters go airmail,” he said.

“There could be a delay for packages.”

Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads are the main lines for produce shipments out of the agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley.

Both said fresh and frozen food would be among their priority shipments, along with package mail, coal and industrial equipment.

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