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6K Riverside workers plan county-wide strike

January 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Thousands of workers in Riverside County planned a county-wide strike Tuesday morning. The workers are upset over the Board of Supervisors' decision that affects their pension and benefit plans.

Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) picketed at the Riverside County Administrative Center all day, starting at 7 a.m. They held a rally outside the Board of Supervisors' meeting in the morning.

The county has an $80 million budget gap, and is seeking labor concessions. The union accuses county officials of giving themselves raises and perks, while the rank-and-file have faced cuts.

"I haven't had a pay raise in five years," said registered nurse Kathy England. "Not a cost of living, not a step advancement, for five years."

The nearly 6,000 registered nurses, healthcare providers, and public service workers said the county has not bargained in good faith, and authorized the one-day strike after they rejected the county's final contract offer.

SEIU also alleges that the county has engaged in unfair labor practices.

"They never wanted to bargain in good faith here, never did," said Bob Schoonover from SEIU Local 721. "They knew exactly what they wanted to do. They are claiming they don't have money, they are giving raises to different groups."

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the raises, arguing that the Deputies District Association received them because they agreed to concessions upfront on the pension plan.

The county said these are lean times, and that they have lost about $200 million in revenue per year for the last five years due to the economic downturn.

"And now that we are having the problems that we are having with property tax values, the money is just not there," said Board of Supervisors Chairman John Tavaglione. "We need to get them to the table so that they can negotiate with us in a serious level."

The board said there have been 37 contract talks since last April with the SEIU. Both sides said that they want to get back to the bargaining table.

"We want what's fair and what's right, that's what we want, that's why we are here," said a county social worker, who did not want to be identified. She said she is conservative and has never turned up for a rally until now.

Workers at Riverside County Regional Medical Center gave the hospital a 10-day notice of their plans to strike. Surgeries were canceled, but a judge ordered some nurses in the pediatric, critical care, psychiatric unit, as well as emergency room to remain on the job because their jobs are vital.

The union also said the hospital hired temporary workers on Tuesday. The board said that the work action by the nearly 5,800 workers on strike has actually saved the county money.