Nurse Kim Conklin holds up a sign as protests with other nurses outside of Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011.
Nearly 6,000 public employees in Riverside County will walk off the job on Tuesday as part of a one-day strike held by the Service Employees International Union to protest changes to contract conditions.
County nurse Dolores Gonzales says the walkout is a last resort.
"We believe we have no choice but to send a message by withholding our labor," Gonzales said.
County leaders have recently imposed new contract conditions, after a year of acrimonious negotiations.
The terms require employees to contribute more to their own pensions: 3 percent this year, 5 percent after that.
But Gonzales and other workers say they have already made enough compromises. She says wages and benefits have flat-lined while health care and other living costs have increased.
"For the past several years we have worked with the county and shared the pain," Gonzales exclaimed. "For some, it has been the decision between making a house payment or putting food on the table."
The union claims the county engaged in unfair labor practices when it declared an impasse and imposed the new terms. County leaders say every time they tried to win concessions, the union would demand salary increases.
"All the board’s been trying to do is save jobs," said county supervisor Bob Buster. "Particularly [those of] the younger, last in who are let go — often after they receive a great amount of training, dashing their hopes of advancement."
Nurses, emergency dispatchers, office workers and other classified employees are expected to participate in the one-day walkout. The county plans to fill the gaps with non-union, temporary workers.