Are striking SLO County workers exaggerating their financial struggles?

December 13, 2018


A group of striking San Luis Obispo County government workers claimed Tuesday they do not make livable wages, yet many, if not most, of the employees currently on strike collect between $50,000 and $100,000 in annual pay plus five-digit benefit packages. [Cal Coast Times]

On Tuesday, the first day of a three-day strike, San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Association (SLOCEA) members picketed outside the county building. Dozens of union members packed the board of supervisors chamber, where some held signs and spoke during public comment.

Some speakers cried as they discussed their financial hardships and asked for higher pay. Several speakers said they are currently on Medi-Cal, and one said she is in Section 8 housing, raising questions as to whether the workers are giving factual public testimony or possibly providing false information when applying for government assistance.

“Very much pride and humility to admit the fact that even after a five-year (employment), me and my two children, we still qualify for Medi-Cal and Section 8,” Cassandra DeSpain, a county employment/resource specialist, said during public comment. “If my wages were fair living wages, there is absolutely no reason I should qualify for those programs.”

Yet in 2017, DeSpain received $58,626 in pay and $74,828 in total compensation, according to the Transparent California database.

In order to qualify for Section 8 housing in SLO County, a three-person household must have a gross income of no more than $37,450, according to the HUD income limits listed on the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo’s website.

Cal Coast Times reviewed the pay received by about half of the county workers who spoke during public comment at the board of supervisors meeting. Of those employees, in 2017, most received pay of more than $50,000. On the low end, one worker was paid only $44,200 while receiving $59,448 in total compensation.

On the high end, one speaker received $101,035 in pay and more than $130,000 in total compensation.

When factoring in overtime and other pay, as well as benefits, multiple individuals who spoke during public comment receive more than $100,000 annually in total compensation.

In 2017, Clark Guest, a drug and alcohol program supervisor, received $134,809 in total compensation. James Mallon, a supervising appraiser, received $132,403; Allison Mee, a social worker, received $116,905; and Amber Trigueros, a mental health therapist, received $116,619.

“We are underpaid,” Mee said during her public comment. “You took away our callback time.”

Mee, as well as other social workers, criticized the county for reducing the amount of pay they receive for answering the phone during on-call overnight shifts. The social workers contend they are not fairly compensated for getting woken up at night, sometimes repeatedly, before going to work the next morning.

County officials recently agreed to give SLOCEA members .5 percent increases for the current fiscal year and additional 2 percent raises, effective July 1, 2019. The union members are demanding immediate raises of an additional 2.5 percent, to give them 3 percent raises for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

As a result of the strike, the county has temporarily shuttered all public library branches in the county, and multiple mental health services are either shutting their doors or cutting their hours of operation during the strike. On Tuesday, multiple library workers and social services employees spoke during public comment.

“We do not feel valued,” said Mary Blair, a library branch manager. “They started off offering us zero. It is not being part of a team.”

In 2017, Blair received $65,258 in pay and $82,910 in total compensation.

In support of the strike, union members said they are vastly underpaid compared to government workers in comparable counties as documented in a third-party fact finder report. The report recommended the county give SLOCEA members a 3 percent raise.

However, critics say SLOCEA members are overpaid compared to private sector workers, and the constant wage comparisons to other county governments are driving up government employee salary and benefit costs at a time SLO County is facing more than $360 million in unfunded pension liabilities.

Prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, SLO County officials said 3 percent raises were not affordable. However, public statements made by striking workers appear to have garnered sympathy from board members.

All four supervisors in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting said they are willing to meet with union members to discuss their concerns. Supervisor Lynn Compton was absent on Tuesday because of a family emergency

“We will move forward together,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said.

Supervisor Adam Hill appeared on both KSBY and KCOY, noting his sympathy for union members who Hill said deserved higher wages.

“It’s painful, to be honest with you,” Hill said to KSBY. “I don’t think that we have been fully aware of how difficult it is on many of our employees.”

A review of the individual supervisors’ pay shows Hill receives the highest total compensation, slightly more than Gibson and more than $40,000 above Supervisor John Peschong, who accepts the smallest benefits package of the five board members.

In 2017, Hill received $141,229 in total compensation, of which benefits accounted for $48,543. Hill has received more than $40,000 in benefits each of the last four years, as has Gibson, who has collected slightly less than Hill.

At the other end, in 2017, Peschong received $100,820 in total compensation, of which benefits accounted for $18,348. During Tuesday’s board meeting, Peschong said he knew many of the comments made by county workers came from the heart.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold, the median benefits collector among board members, said everyone on the dais would like to meet with employees to discuss their concerns.

Following the meeting, Arnold voiced concerns about the county fiscal woes, including a current budget deficit of more than $4 million and the ongoing costs of increased compensation. Since 2014, the county has paid out more than $40 million in overall compensation increases, Arnold said.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The individual employee sob stories don’t persuade me. Everyone is responsible for their own financial situation, and their rate of pay is just one variable. Are they disciplined enough to stay off their credit cards? Do they avoid eating out if they have other priorities? Do they really need new cars with large payments? Can they take a second part-time job? Do they have to live in SLO?

The jobs pay what they jobs pay. Factor that in with everything else and take responsibility. I used to live in a garage after I graduated from Poly and got a real job.

I hate to see the public whining by the employees. It gives them a bad name, even though many are fine workers and responsible people.

Unions exist to leverage workers’ collective interests against their employer. Government workers are employed by the public. Therefore public sector unions are directly opposed to the public interest.

Im not even gonna defend the county workers pay, but when a home cost $500,000 for a pile of crap, gas is $4.00 a gallon half the year, and taxes rob you of whats left, this is what you get. Pretty basic economics and I never even attended Cal Poly ;). Every year another story comes out about the single digit SLO population that just might qualify for a home loan. Rents are as high as a mortgage so where are they gonna live? SLO Co has created it own little economic monster and he coming for you.

Don’t forget that in 2014, county workers were given $1000 each because health insurance costs had risen 30+%.

It still irks me that the B O S approved those payments.

Last time I checked, most of our health insurance costs went up (and continue to do so) because of Obamacare yet only the SLO county employees were given that $$$–not some magical money that just appeared, but money taken from our taxes.

Sorry picketers but you aren’t getting any sympathy from me.

How about RESCIND the high percentage pay increase to the department heads that were already making obscene amounts of money on the backs of taxpayers.

That’s right, REVOKE the pay increase and take it out of their checks going forward.

Those that GIVE can also TAKE back IMO.

Take the reverse department heads wage increase and GIVE IT TO SLOCEA !


The department heads would scream bloody murder for about 2 seconds and then they would realize:

They are NOT in a union and can be fired at will (unless some idiot contract exists that enriches them)

The department heads are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore, especially if their pay increase was reversed.

Department heads quit in protest like dead fly’s on a hot day.

They seek other employment in the counties surveyed with a much higher salary in comparison.

The fleeing department heads soon realize that $200K – $300K jobs are not a dime a dozen and even some private sector employers actually do hire based on being “the best and the brightest” but that does seem to be a reverse standard in government.

I just believe that every earnest worker should be paid a wage that allows them to live life to the fullest within their means. The vast inequities of wages continues to baffle me.

I am not sure where Cal Coast News got these figures but when I look at mine and then at my end of the year total, it doesn’t match even slightly. The totals on the website that they found are totally inflated. And, so those that believe the article to be exact science when it is rather to get the public to be against the County employees, need to realize that journalism has never been “the truth,” but rather a way to gain attention and add more readers. Every employee in every job should have a cost of living increase no matter how much they make. And, when the Social Workers have actually received pay cuts because the After Hours call back time pay was cut by 75%, that is not fair when they are woken up in the middle of the night to investigate child abuse and still have to report to work the next morning at their regular time. Also, the cost of the benefits went up. So at the end of the day, a lot of County Workers took a pay cut and a slap in the face from the County. The Social Workers are the ones who have to investigate child abuse reports day and night. They keep SLO County kids safe!

So you are saying that everyone everywhere should just get a pay raise? And where do you expect all of this money to come from? Oh, how do I get in line to get that $1000 bonus from the county for my medical insurance?

People who are stupid enough to be self employed or work for some dumb private company should be forced to pay higher taxes to support those who were smart enough to work for the county.

Make the taxes so high that the idiots who work for themselves or some private company are forced to move…..

Then, the county workers will have everything they want!

I started to get pissed then saw the irony in your statement! :0)

My mama taught me a simple rule of life many years ago: don’t spend money you don’t have.

That goes for the County as well as individuals. The County is in a serious deficit problem; they do not have money for raises. It would be the height of irresponsible behavior to grant them. Which means, it’s almost a certainty that they will.

You mean like how management got 15% pay increases? That’s weird.

This is what happens when the union parades their sheeple out to play on our sympathies, they are exposed. It takes some nerve to whine when you’re pulling down more than 100k annually.

The first mistake was granting raises to management, bad call BOS. Don’t compound the problem by promising raises we DO NOT have the means to pay for. We need to know how the county is going to pay its current obligations before you put us on the hook for even more. The situation we’re currently facing calls for cutting back, not driving us off the cliff faster.

Simple solution to that – rescind the management raises. It’s the right thing to do given the financial situation of the County government.

I like that thought. Any idea if this is even possible?

Absolutely possible. They won’t have to return what they’ve already been paid, but they can cut them from this point forward.