On Tuesday, Jan. 31, about 1,400 of the 5,800 county employees, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721, walked off the job in response to the board of supervisors having declared an impasse in negotiations. In November, the county had imposed mandatory pay and benefit terms including forcing worker contributions to their pension plans.

County Public Information Officer Ray Smith said that county operations were largely unaffected by the strike, given that departments shifted personnel to cover for striking employees and that about 250 nurses and other medical workers were enjoined from participating by a judge’s order.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, the county reached a tentative labor agreement with its largest union, the Laborers International Union of North America. The deal would improve salaries and benefits for member workers in exchange for pension reforms that could save the county more than $60 million a year in pension costs if the deal is ratified by the union.

During the SEIU protest, in the board of supervisors’ chambers, union representatives called for new negotiations. Smith said later, “Any discussion about the county’s willingness to consider a contract proposal will come in private with the union, where labor negotiations are supposed to occur.”