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SLO County workers strike, appeal for increased wages and benefits

Tyler Pratt/KCBX News
County employees filled the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors chambers Tuesday.

Wednesday marks the second day of the San Luis Obispo County employee strike. Members of SLOCEA, the county’s largest union, didn’t go to their jobs Tuesday—affecting social services, clerical positions and prompting library branch closures. Instead, many showed up to protest at the county board of supervisors meeting.

County employees also held picket signs outside the county government center Tuesday morning, like SLOCEA members Kari Slater.

“I have a second job because I can not afford [the cost of living on] my one job and not many employees can,” Slater said.

The SLOCEA strikers are protesting this fiscal year’s .5 percent wage increase offered by the county. During negotiations, the union asked for a three percent increase and county administration didn’t budge, but offered to provide a two percent raise in July of 2019.

But Slater said it’s just not enough to get by.

“Financially, insurance is up” Slater said. “The housing market is up, food is up, gas is up and our wage is down.”

SLOCEA members also said county health insurance and cafeteria plan costs are too expensive. And some union members are at odds with a recent reduction in what’s termed callback pay, which is a type of overtime.

Social workers like Jennifer Weissman said they often has to be on call after hours or early in the morning.

“My timecard card sometimes looks like 75, 80, 90 hours in a week,” Weissman said. “I have little time for my own family. Right now all of us are feeling undervalued.”

County administrative officer Wade Horton met with strikers on the street before the San Luis Obispo County board of supervisors meeting. He expressed concern about the rift the impasse over wages and benefits is causing in the county.

“I hear them," Horton said. “I want [the employees] to know they are valued and appreciated and we have some work to do as a culture of an organization to heal this divide moving forward." 

Supervisor Adam Hill echoed that concern later in the meeting. After the board presented several commendations for long-term retiring employees, Hill spoke directly the striking workers. 

“I understand and sympathize with the frustrations that you feel’,” Hill said. “I look forward to continuing to engage with you so that I can make better and more informed decisions for you in the future." 

Hill also addressed the many signs the strikers held inside the meeting that read, “We helped you through the Great Recession. Don’t forget!”

“[During the recession] we did not have layoffs,” Hill said. “We did not have mandatory time off. And that would not have happened were it not for the cooperation and sacrifice made by the employees that are here today. I just want to recognize that.”

But for hours, dozens of protesters—like county paralegal Ashley Clark—told the board they cared about their jobs, but felt the county had let them down.

“We don’t do what we do to get paid the big bucks, because I can assure you we don’t.” Ashley Clark. “We do what we do because we care about our community, but we should also be able to get paid fair wages to be able to live in the community we serve.”

“You now own the legacy of being the first board of supervisors to see the county of San Luis Obispo’s first every labor strike,” said Kelly Wilson, who works in the county district attorney’s office. "You have united people who have never met before this week. Of course we don’t have a choice but to depend on you when the next vote for our futures comes before you. I hope you don’t let us down.”

Supervisor Lynn Compton wasn’t in attendance to due to a death in the family, and the other supervisors said they would like to continue to hear from the county’s workers moving forward.

“Like my colleagues, I’m absolutely willing to make myself available for further dialogue and discussion," Supervisor Debbie Arnold said. “I want all y’all to know that everyone here on the dias will be working hard to find some resolution to this situation."

County officials, however, won’t be taking action until negotiations in the new year. SLOCEA workers say they are prepared to strike through Friday, despite the loss of income. 

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