Supervisors’ second-largest union argues it was asked to give up too much before terms were imposed; terms reached with biggest union


Published: 31 January 2012 09:15 AM

More than 1,000 Riverside County workers took to the streets Tuesday protesting benefit reductions and warning that additional strikes could be on the way if county officials don’t reopen contract negotiations.

The 24-hour work stoppage was expected to last until 6:59 a.m. today and marks the latest escalation between county management and the Service Employees International Union Local 721, the county’s second-largest employee group.

On Monday, the county and a state labor relations board went to court and successfully blocked 248 county nurses and other health care workers from taking part in the strike.

“We will take any job action necessary to get them to come back to the table,” said Wendy Thomas, the union’s chief negotiator and a Riverside County employee.

But while SEIU members picketed, the county reached a tentative new contract with its largest employee group, Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 777.

The laborers’ union represents about 7,000 employees. The four-year deal would start July 1 and provide $60 million in annual savings once fully implemented, according to a county statement.

Because the employees have yet to vote on the contract, the county did not release specifics, but it did say employees would pay 8 percent of their salaries toward their retirements.

“This is what happens when both sides sit down with realistic goals that honestly consider the county’s budget picture and the needs of our employees,” Board of Supervisors Chairman John Tavaglione said in a statement.

In the same statement, laborers’ union Business Manager Stephen Switzer said the agreement addresses the county’s budget woes in a meaningful way while valuing the employees and their work.

SEIU represents about 5,800 county workers ranging from clerks to social workers and nurses.

County officials said Tuesday they had no major problems conducting business, despite the strike. Managers filled in where needed, health clinics reduced appointments, and the county hospital canceled elective surgeries, officials said.

According to the county, 1,394 workers did not show up for work Tuesday. The most, 556, came from the Department of Public Social Services.


Wearing SEIU’s signature purple T-shirts and holding strike signs, the picketers started making their feelings known about 8 a.m. outside the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside, where a regular meeting of county supervisors was scheduled. The crowd steadily grew.

By the time the supervisors opened their meeting at 9 a.m., SEIU members filled every available seat in the board’s chambers and swarmed into the lobby and atrium of the county building.

They chanted “fair contract now” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Bob Buster’s got to go,” referring to the supervisor who has been the board’s most vocal advocate for requiring employees to pay more toward their retirements.

Inside the board’s chambers, employees waved their hands in the air to show their displeasure with the county over the contract talks. Tavaglione warned the crowd that clapping and cheering was not allowed, but at one point, when Buster spoke, the room erupted in coughing.

Inside and out, the crowd peaked at more than 2,000. About 1,500 SEIU members and supporters later marched through downtown Riverside.

Some union members said they felt they had no choice but to join the picket line.

“I’ve seen some bad deliberations, but this is the worst,” said Linda East, 53, a policy writer for the county-operated CalWORKS program.

East said holding a picket sign is unfamiliar turf for her.

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