The juxtaposition in the room was telling. While San Luis Obispo County supervisors, one by one, heaped praise and accolades on several retiring department heads and deputies on Dec. 11, dozens of county workers gathered behind them holding signs.
"County employees on strike!" ... "Would you work for up to 18 percent less than fair wages?!" ... "I'm mandated to be on call but my pay was cut by 75 percent," read just a few in the sea of cardboard.
It was day one of the SLO County Employees' Association's (SLOCEA) unprecedented four-day labor strike, and workers at the Board of Supervisors chamber had the chance to express their grievances directly to the people who set their wages. Scheduled retirement resolutions and normal county business were overshadowed by the SLOCEA strikers, who took turns blasting the supervisors for failing to keep their salaries in line with the area's cost of living.
SLOCEA, which represents 1,737 employees, more than half the government workforce, asked for a 3 percent raise in 2018-19. County leaders gave them a 0.5 percent raise. Independent fact finders in the dispute sided with the SLOCEA, and concluded that SLO employees are compensated between 10 and 18 percent less than comparable agencies.
"It's not right," said Amber Trigueros, a county behavioral health therapist. "These are people who have families, who want to do the same thing you're here doing today: your job. But we have basic needs that need to be covered. ... When people can't afford housing, and the prices of everything are going up exponentially, ... help us. We're here asking for help."
Dozens of employees from disparate departments stated their complaints. Many fought tears.
"We are being completely underpaid and you have let all of us down, including the elders and dependent adults in our community," said Allison, a Social Services employee working with vulnerable adult populations.
Ashley, a health education specialist, said employees in equivalent positions in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties start at salaries higher than what workers in SLO County top out at.
"We care deeply about the people in our community," she said. "We aren't asking to be paid more than a fair wage."
When the meeting adjourned for lunch, strikers took to the streets outside the government center to picket for much of the afternoon. The strike is expected to continue through Dec. 14, although county officials indicated that some of the offices and services that were closed on Dec. 11 had opened on Dec. 12.
As of press time, county services impacted included the libraries (except the Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, and Cambria branches, which are open), Public Health (the San Luis STD clinic is closed), and various Behavioral Health services. Δ
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