San Joaquin County landfill employees went on strike until noon Wednesday in an attempt to pressure county officials during ongoing contract negotiations.
County employees from Mental Health Services of San Joaquin County and other facilities also went on strike, but for a shorter amount of time, according to Cindy Clays, San Joaquin County’s director of human resources.
The strike forced the Harney Lane landfill outside of Lodi and the Manteca landfill to close until employees returned to work that afternoon.
The county directed customers to nearby facilities during the closures, according to San Joaquin County Deputy Director for Public Works Mike Selling.
One such location, the Waste Management facility on Turner Road in Lodi, is operated privately and was not affected by the strike.
County officials and representatives of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 70 percent of the county’s employees, have been negotiating a new contract for several months. But with talks at an impasse and the current contract set to expire June 30, union employees took an aggressive step.
“The county is trying to take things away from our bargaining units,” said Joan Baker-Warren, the Harney Lane landfill supervisor. “They want us to give up things that we shouldn’t have to give up. We gave up things in the last negotiation to help balance the budget.”
But Wednesday’s strike violated the county’s employee-employer policy, Clays said. Workers who walked off the job won’t be paid, and the county is investigating the effects of the strike.
“It’s considered to be an unfair labor practice,” she said. “We’ll be looking at this on a case-by-case basis.”
The strike addressed two specific issues.
First, union employees said that while the county increased its budget by $60 million this year, it’s proposing to increase safety equipment and safety supplement expenses by less than 1 percent.
Second, the union is requesting that the county quit contracting out work that union workers can do for the same or lower price, Baker-Warren said.
“We’re asking (the county) to stop,” Baker-Warren said. “We think that’s illegal.”
While the union blames the county for stalling negotiations, county officials said they’re actively bargaining, adding that both sides are meeting three times this week.
Clays added that the county isn’t willing to provide wage increases during the first year of a new contract, which is hindering talks. Instead, the county wants to see revenue increase during the first year of the contract before considering wage increases.
The union is hoping to reach a deal by Friday, and could strike again if that doesn’t happen, Baker-Warren said. And what will happen if a deal isn’t reached by the end of the month?
“It could get ugly,” Baker-Warren said.