4,100 Fresno County workers set to strike

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno County Administrator John Navarette told Action News the county would have to wait and see how it would respond to next week's possible strike.

"It perceives to be a disruption to public service to the taxpayers of Fresno County to the degree that would be hard to gauge today." He said.

Navarette told Action News plans were in place to deal with a walkout by more than 4 thousand employees, without stopping county operations. But an hour later the county announced plans to shut down all county libraries if the strike takes place. Action News was unable to reach Navarette for an explanation.

Downtown Library patron Diamante Alfred was among those upset by the news.

"I really think that's ridiculous, I mean something so important to our people, something so important to our city, I mean, why?" He asked.

Navarette blames the SEIU for not dealing with the county.

"We have negotiated in good faith with the bargaining unit." He said.

But the union counters they were still negotiating when the county supervisors imposed a nine percent pay cut, called off talks and declared an impasse. The union has accused the county of cutting off talks in order to avoid a new state law. That law took effect on January 1st and requires a state panel to review local government decisions to declare an impasse in contract talks. The SEIU believes the Fresno County Supervisors did not want to face the additional hurdle and shut the door on further talks before years end to avoid the law.

SEIU member Kevin Westbrook told a news conference on Thursday: "It doesn't have to play out this way. I'm sure the residents of Fresno County and the workers of Fresno County don't want to see a work stoppage. Let both sides come back to the table so we can come to an agreement. That's all we're asking. "

But with the decision to shut down the libraries it appears the county isn't doing any more talking. County Supervisor Phil Larson says it's really up to the workers.

"They have a right to do that. If they want to work three days without pay, that's what they'll do. And if they are complaining about being short of money now they will be even shorter of money."

It's not clear how many of the 4,100 SEIU workers will actually go on strike or if a strike will actually take place. The union is encouraged by a complaint filed against the county by the state Public Employees Retirement Board. The complaint accuses the county of unfair labor practices in dealing with the union and has called for a hearing next week in Sacramento to try and settle the dispute. The hearing is set for January 26th.

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