Nearly a thousand San Luis Obispo County employees could be hitting the picket lines Tuesday after they were unable to reach a compromise in collective bargaining negotiations with the county earlier this year.
The county’s first-ever strike is shocking for some San Luis Obispo County residents and exciting for others.
“I was sorta surprised because I thought the county had a great retirement plan for its employees,” said Elizabeth DeHaan.
“I think it’s very American. It’s a very good thing to do,” said Anna Marie Hall.
This protest comes after months of collective bargaining negotiations that the San Luis Obispo County Employees Association (SLOCEA) says went wrong. They asked the county for a three percent cost of living increase but only received .5 percent.
“(The employees) love their community, they love their job, but it’s getting to a point where far too many of them can’t afford to live here anymore, so we’re trying to emphasize these points to their county,” explained of SLOCEA General Manager Pat McNamara.
SLOCEA says county employees are also dissatisfied with their health care benefits and pension plans, but some county leaders say they gave these negotiations a fair shot.
“It’s just a fiscally responsible approach. We’re trying to make sure that we’re not creating these ongoing costs that we won’t be able to handle in the future,” said San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold.
Starting Tuesday, non-essential county staff, like the airport’s business office, may be closed. Behavioral health staff may take the biggest hit.
Youth services will be by appointment only and substance use disorder clinics will have limited hours.
The county employees that are on strike won’t be getting paid leave.
“You know that further emphasizes the motivation the employees are putting on display here in this job action,” McNamara said.
Supervisor Arnold says she hopes county employees know they are valued and that they can come to an agreement soon.
“It’s not that we don’t value their service, absolutely we do. There’s just so many fiscal responsibilities that have to be considered when we start to incur more ongoing costs,” Arnold said.
The SLO County Sworn Deputy Sheriff’s Association wrote a letter in support of the strike saying:
“We sincerely support SLOCEA efforts to secure fair and equitable pay and benefits for its members. SDSA sincerely supports and appreciates the various capacities of service SLOCEA members provide to the community.”
The Deputy Sheriff’s Association also released a statement in support, saying:
“We, the members of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA), stand beside our fellow county employees of SLOCEA in support of their labor strike. We know the difficulties they are facing in their current contract negotiations as we are facing many of the same struggles in our own current negotiations with the county. We hope this courageous action on their part will bring to light the many issues we county employees face when dealing with our current County Board of Supervisors and their negotiating team.”
The county says it will keep its website updated with new information about the strike and its potential impacts.