Some 3,900 San Joaquin County employees have worked four months without a contract.
While union leaders don't want to strike, they'd like to see what they perceive as greater cooperation from county negotiators, said Patrick Ikeda, president of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union.
"A strike is an option, but that's not our goal," Ikeda said Monday. "We recognize that the county does need money. We're not looking for more money."
Meanwhile, SEIU employees continue to work under the contract that expired June 30, Ikeda said. They've met with county negotiators more than 20 times since April, but with no agreement, County Administrator Manuel Lopez said.
Ikeda thinks one of the biggest obstacles in getting a deal hammered out is that the Board of Supervisors and Lopez have deferred negotiations to others.
Ikeda said he would prefer that one or two of the five county supervisors participate in negotiations. The Ralph M. Brown Act, California's open-meeting law, allows private sessions if less than a majority of elected supervisors are present.
"They're isolated from the conversation," Ikeda said.
Negotiations have been slow, he said, because county negotiators are unable to respond to union proposals without going back to the Board of Supervisors. Union members allow SEIU representatives to agree to anything that's in the employees' best interests without consulting employees, Ikeda said.
"The county can't deviate from the script," Ikeda said. "They can't say 'yes;' they can't say 'no.' It makes for a very tedious conversation."
Lopez said that SEIU also has to take any county proposals back to its membership before a contract can be approved, just as county negotiators must get approval from the Board of Supervisors. Twenty-five county employees attend negotiations of SEIU, but they don't have any voting authority, Lopez said.
The county is pushing for six furlough days a year, a 48-hour reduction. Meanwhile, SEIU suggests some employees work four 9.5-hour days per week, Ikeda said. Some employees would work Monday through Thursday, while others would be on duty Tuesday through Friday. That would mean that workers would earn five percent less for working 38 hours per week. On the other hand, they get a three-day weekend. "It's the spirit of compromise," Ikeda said.
Lopez declined to comment on the potential six furlough days, saying that the Board of Supervisors and county staff consider negotiations confidential until an agreement is reached, even if SEIU doesn't consider discussions confidential.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.