Labor tensions continue to rise between management and employees in Riverside County. The County of Riverside faces a possible strike by its second-largest union, as the Service Employees International Union Local 721 rejected the county’s final contract offer last month and their members authorized a strike as a possible work action.
There is no word on if or when SEIU will call for the work stoppage.
“To my knowledge, the county has never had a general strike,” Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier said by email to The Press Enterprise. “There have been minor work disruptions such as ‘blue flu’ or sick-outs for short periods.”
Olivier also said that each department will develop different contingency plans depending on their needs. The plans include determining what positions are vital to public safety and welfare, according to Oliver, and if necessary the county could go to court to compel employees to show up for work.
The county recently imposed benefit cuts on SEIU employees. The possibility of a strike is the latest indicator of escalating tensions between the county and the SEIU, which represents about 5,800 workers from nurses to 911 dispatchers.
Two other county unions have told members they believe that no matter what they say during upcoming contract talks, the county will likely follow suit and impose pay cuts on employees.
About a week ago, the County of Riverside announced that it was imposing terms on employees: Employees with more than five years of service were set to begin paying 3 percent of their salary toward their retirement Thursday. That would increase to 8 percent by 2013.
Under the previous terms, employees contributed 8 percent toward their pensions for the first five years. After that, the county covered the contribution.
The SEIU filed a complaint with the California Public Employee Relations Board over the impasse, and members have vocally criticized the county. Other expenditures by the County of Riverside are being actively questioned.
Employees held a large rally at the County Administrative Center in Riverside last month and protested Thursday at the Mission Inn.
About two dozen employees holding signs, all critical of Supervisor Bob Buster, were at the hotel’s entrances. One sign was held by a person with a mask on and said, “Bob Buster Riverside’s Grinch,”, according to The Press Enterprise.
The SEIU still hasn’t received formal details of the imposed terms and wants the county to return to the bargaining table. SEIU members took a one-time 10 percent reduction in pay and have had to pay more for health insurance in recent years. Members are still trying to recover from the lingering effects of the 10 percent salary reduction in 2009.