Possible Strike in Tulare County

September 16, 2008 8:27:54 PM PDT
Hundreds of Tulare County employees are one step closer to a strike. The local members of the Service Employees International Union were asking for a raise in pay and benefits. But county leaders didn't meet their demands.Members of SEIU Local 521 say they're ready to go on strike after supervisors approved a lower pay increase than they wanted. The county workers say ? even with the increase ? they still won't be able to afford health insurance.

Dozens of county workers chanted outside the Board of Supervisors building Tuesday afternoon. The Tulare County employees sent a clear message to Board of Supervisors Tuesday: They want more money than the county is willing to offer. Wearing purple and holding signs, the SEIU union members said they're paid considerably less than neighboring counties and can't afford health care.

County mental health clerk Dianne Evans says "I have four other medications that I take and it's a struggle sometimes. I have to get the one I think is most important and let the other ones go until the next paycheck."

Union members include mental health and sanitation workers, as well as Ag inspectors. Evans and other county workers hoped supervisors would approve a 5% pay increase and pay more for health insurance. But in front of a packed room, supervisors voted for a 2.75% pay increase plus a $500 one-time payment for SEIU employees in November and some increases in benefits coverage. In total, county officials voted on paying 4.4% more than last year.

County representative Eric Coyne says, "This is a challenging year for us, financially. As we speak they're inside starting to take action on the county's spending plan and budget."

County C.A.O. Jean Rousseau says "The package we have on the plate today is what we feel is sustainable in the long term." The board's decision angered union members who said supervisors are only hurting the quality of county services.

SEIU union president Kristy Sermersheim "It's ridiculous to work here and provide services to the community and not even have health insurance that you can afford."

Richard Kelsey, a county mental health technician says "What we're asking is give us the pay that will give people incentives to stay in the county because who I want to work with are people that are well-trained."

The SEIU president says 98% of the union members have already voted to approve a strike. They're meeting with a contract action team this week to decide when and how they will strike. County officials say, either way, they will continue county operations.

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