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Strike day 2: SLO County, employees remain at odds over pay raise

Posted at 5:08 PM, Dec 12, 2018

Wednesday was the second day of a labor strike involving the largest employee union in San Luis Obispo County.

More than 1,000 county workers took the day off work to demand an increase in pay.

“I was going to strike one day and I decided to strike more than one day so I absolutely have no money for the holidays,” said Debbie Grafft, Economic Crime Officer with the County District Attorney’s Office. “I have 80 bucks in my checking account right until this next payday on the 20th and that’s going to barely cover my bills.”

The county granted the San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association (SLOCEA) a half-percent pay increase, plus benefits, that went into effect in July.

Picketers say that’s not enough.

“A half a percent for me is 17 cents an hour,” Grafft said. “That won’t even pay for a bag of dog food for my dog for the month.”

SLOCEA wanted three percent, but the county says it can’t afford that much of a pay increase at this time.

“Right now, we know we’re facing a $5-10 million budget gap moving into the next fiscal year and that’s one of the things we’re working on now is recommendations to the board on how to close that current budget gap,” said Wade Horton, County Administrative Officer.

According to Horton, the half-percent raise costs the county an extra $2.9 million a year.

If you break that down by taxpayer, based on a population of roughly 280,000 people in San Luis Obispo County, Horton says, “It would cost about $10.20 per resident.”

A three-percent raise would cost about $7.8 million, or $28 per resident, Horton says.

SLOCEA’s general manager says that during fact-finding proceedings, the county never indicated that it couldn’t pay the three-percent increase the union requested.

“In an economy that’s booming and the county can’t give us even a cost-of-living adjustment, what are they going to do when the economy is bad?” questioned Wendy Fertschneider, County Public Health Nutritionist.

The county says it offered SLOCEA a two-year deal that included a two-percent increase the second year, but that was denied.

The strike is expected to end by Friday.

The county says it hopes to meet with SLOCEA again in January.