SEIU members picketing
Picketing on Thursday by SEIU members. Courtesy SEIU Local 221

County of San Diego employees began picketing Thursday against what they contend are unfair labor practices by management, as their union announced that a possible strike would begin on or after Sept. 5.

The lunchtime picketing took place at county-run family resource centers in Chula Vista, Lemon Grove and San Diego.

The Service Employees International Union Local 221 alleged that county management, among other things, took a “take it or leave it” approach to bargaining, set “unlawful and arbitrary” deadlines to complete negotiations and threatened a penalty for failure to meet the deadlines. A county spokesman rejected the claims.

The union, which represents 10,000 county workers, previously agreed to give management 10 days notice of a strike, which is scheduled to be delivered Friday. While the notice is designed to meet that obligation, an actual strike date has not been set, according to the union.

The union action comes about a week after several mediation sessions were held between the two sides.

“The county’s offer is a five-year deal with 13 percent wage increase and 35 percent increase in employee health and welfare benefits,” Communications Director Michael Workman told City News Service.

“They would also receive $5,250 in cash stipends,” Workman said. “Four other county unions have accepted this deal. It is fair to the employees as well as the taxpayers.”

He said the wage increase is 3 percent in each of the first three years, and 2 percent in both of the final two years. The stipends would be paid out at over $1,000 a year.

The union complaints about arbitrary deadlines are over flex benefits, which are set during the open enrollment process that the county can’t change, according to Workman. He said a ratified agreement needs to be in place by Aug. 31 for SIEU members to receive the benefit increase next year.

Meanwhile, if a strike occurs, the county will implement a plan to maintain operations. Certain employees deemed essential would not walk off their jobs, according to Workman.

— City News Service