As anticipated, workers from San Luis Obispo County’s largest union returned to their jobs Friday after three days of striking.
Workers represented by the San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association (SLOCEA) went on strike to protest a 2-year contract offer that included an overall 4% increase in salary and benefits. While SLOCEA reached that agreement at the bargaining table, the rank and file members rejected it.
“Now we have the difficult task of bridging the divide and brining everyone together for the people we serve. I’m confident that we will work as a team to find some common ground moving forward.,” said SLO County Administrative Officer Wade Horton.
When the employees rejected the contract offer, County administrators declared an impasse and imposed the terms of the contract’s first year, which includes higher contributions from employees for health care benefits.
San Luis Obispo County estimates a budget deficit that could reach $10 million.
Close to 1,000 San Luis Obispo County workers went on strike on Tuesday after months of failed negotiations with the county.
Dozens packed the Board of Supervisors meeting room, while others picketed outside the County Government Center asking for better wages.
“We are being completely underpaid and you have let all of us down,” one county employee said during a public comment period on Tuesday morning.
“Even after a five-year employee, me and my two children -we still qualify for Medi-Cal and Section 8,” another employee, Cassandra DeSpain spoke. “I should be able to afford those things with my pay.”
Reports show on average, county workers are earning about 18 percent less than people in similar jobs in counties like Monterey or Santa Barbara.
Workers said low wages are driving some people away.
“Good people are leaving the county. Good workers are leaving,” Robert Ortega, a drug and alcohol counselor said.
At the moment, the county is offering what it says it can afford
“We were offered 0.5 percent for one year, and 2 percent for the next year,” one Child Welfare Services worker, Valerie Janiel, explained.
Workers said the 0.5 percent pay increase is not enough –they need a 3 percent raise.
“This is just day one. We’re ready to fight and I hope the supervisors understand that we’re not asking for inflated wages, we’re asking for fair wages,” Janiel continued.
Supervisor Adam Hill said he sympathizes with those on the picket line.
“It certainly gets to me, it certainly resonates with me.”
The Third District Supervisor acknowledged the cost of living in SLO County can be a burden.
“I want to help move the board forward on trying to get, you know, better wages,” Adam Hill said.
Hill added it’s likely they won’t come to an agreement until the next round of negotiations, which are scheduled for early 2019.
County officials said health and public safety services would still be available throughout the week-long strike.
Employees are expected to return to work on Friday.