Picketers in support of striking San Luis Obispo County employees lined downtown Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday afternoon.
The county’s first-ever strike began Tuesday morning as dozens of employees holding picket signs packed the Board of Supervisors meeting.
“A few months ago, I sat down with my wife and we sat in front of a map and we tried to figure out where we were going to move to because we can’t afford to live here,” said Department of Social Services employee Mark McCullough during public comment.
“In order to cover the days I will be missing this week and hopefully pay off some of what I had to put on my credit card to get me through my health crisis, I will be selling my mother’s wedding ring,” Health Education Specialist Ashley Allen told the supervisors.
“After a five-year employee, me and my two children, we still qualify for Medi-Cal and Section 8,” added county employee Cassandra DeSpain.
After an hour-and-a-half of public comment, picketers took to the sidewalks in front of the county buildings.
Nearly a thousand San Luis Obispo County employees were expected to strike starting Tuesday.
The 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 3 percent cost of living increase but only received .5 percent.
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.
The County says they value their employees but are trying to take a fiscally-responsible approach and hope they can come to an agreement soon.
Following public comment at the supervisor’s meeting on Tuesday, the supervisors all agreed that the testimony made an impression.
“It’s painful, to be honest with you,” said District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. “I don’t think that we have been fully aware of how difficult it is on many of our employees.”
As a result of the strike, county officials say the airport’s business office is closed but flights are continuing as scheduled. The clerk-recorder’s office in Atascadero is closed but the San Luis Obispo location is open. All county libraries are closed except for the libraries in Atascadero and Arroyo Grande.
The Behavioral Health department is seeing several impacts, according to the county. Day treatment will not occur unless staff is present, Therapeutic Learning Classrooms and school-based services will not occur unless staff is present, and the substance use disorder adult clinics in Grover Beach, San Luis Obispo, Atascadero, and Paso Robles will operate on reduced hours. Atascadero Youth Services, SLO Youth Services, South County Youth Services, Martha’s Place, and SAFE will be open.
The county says it will keep its website updated with new information about the strike and its potential impacts. All employees are expected to return to work on Friday. Those that are on strike will reportedly not be getting paid leave.
There is no set date for when county officials and SLOCEA will meet again for negotiations but the union’s general manager tells KSBY the county has expressed a desire to meet sooner than later.