On Monday, Jan. 30, a Riverside County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting 248 nurses and other essential health care workers, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721, from joining a scheduled one-day strike on Tuesday, Jan. 31. A spokesperson at the union office in Riverside said on Monday only these workers are enjoined from striking, not 911 dispatchers or other SEIU county employees. The union representative said the health care workers had been served with the order.
SEIU represents 5,800 county workers. The union called the one-day strike to protest the board of supervisor’s action imposing mandatory contract terms and conditions, including a requirement that union members pay three percent of their pension costs this fiscal year, an additional three next year and two percent more in fiscal 2013-14. The county determined that talks with the union had reached an impasse following a November union vote to authorize actions including a strike.
Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone, in Idyllwild on Friday, said that the county had filed a complaint with the California Public Employment Relations Board seeking a TRO to prohibit 274 workers from joining the strike because they were essential to maintaining the safety and welfare of the public. Included in the 274 were registered nurses, lab scientists and surgical scrub technicians employed at Riverside County Regional Medical Center and other county facilities. The judge, in his order, enjoined 248, allowing some scrub techs and others to join the strike if they wished. Other employees expected to strike on Tuesday included social workers, 911 dispatchers and other clerical employees.
Stone said he found it “puzzling” that nurses, who had recently been given step raises to bring them to pay parity, would seek to strike. He acknowledged that county nurses had previously been paid “under market” but that the county had made a decision and investment to correct that. Stone said the side contract with the nurses would bring them to full parity within two years. “They were thrilled,” he said of the negotiations conducted last year.
“There’s a $20 million hole in the budget and for the first time the county will have to face making significant layoffs,” Stone said, expressing frustration with SEIU’s failure to negotiate further given current emergent financial conditions facing the county. “The unions know that in good times, the county has been very generous,” he said.
Spokespersons for SEIU stated that this one-day strike of county employees, the first in over 20 years, may not be the last action the union takes and that more work stoppages are possible unless the county returns to negotiation talks.