By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A little more than a year after conducting the first strike in county government history, San Luis Obispo County’s largest labor union reached a deal that will enable its members to receive raises of at least 7 percent over the next year and a half.
Some employees deemed to have been earning below-market pay will receive raises of 10 to 15 percent over the next 18 months.
On Tuesday, the county board of supervisors approved a three-year labor agreement with the San Luis Obispo County Employees Association (SLOCEA). The agreement with SLOCEA, which represents more than 1,700 of the county’s nearly 3,000 employees, has an estimated ongoing annual cost to the county of $12 million.
Under the new labor agreement, SLOCEA members will receive 3 percent raises retroactive to July 1, 2019. Some workers will receive equity raises on top of the 3 percent increases, according to a county staff report.
All union members will then receive 2 percent raises on both July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021.
Some workers who will receive total pay hikes of more than 10 percent include wastewater systems superintendents, an account clerk, economic crime officers, a social services investigator, greenskeepers and a child support specialist.
In addition to the pay raises, SLOCEA members will receive benefit increases. The benefit package includes increased compensation for employees who are on-call overnight and a $500 payment in 2020 that is intended to offset pension and health care costs.
On an ongoing basis, increases to SLOCEA health benefits alone will cost the county nearly $600,000 annually.
The labor agreement also includes a cap on employees’ shares of pension contribution increases.
Funds that will be used to cover the salary and benefit increases are expected to come out of county reserves and general fund contingencies. Departmental savings are also expected to help fund the pay hike.
In 2018, county officials offered SLOCEA the same raises that most management employees received, which amounted to a 4 percent increase in salary and benefits over two years.
SLOCEA rejected the offer and conducted a three-day strike in December 2018, which resulted in the closure of all public library branches countywide and the shutdown of some social services. About 900 union members participated in the strike.
Even though SLOCEA rejected the county’s offer and opted to conduct a strike, union members still received small pay increases in 2018. That year, county officials decided on their own to award SLOCEA members .5 percent raises, as well as benefit increases, effective at the beginning of 2019.
Negotiations between SLOCEA and the county resumed in April 2019. Following 15 sessions of negotiations, the two sides reached a tentative agreement on Dec. 4.
On Jan. 2, SLOCEA notified the county that its members ratified the deal.
The recent raises for both management and union workers have come as the county has needed to close multiple budget shortfalls.