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Union Workers Occupy Riverside Administration Building

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One-day strike is latest escalation between county management and the union

By Lee Ragin, Jr. –

Hundreds of striking Riverside County Union workers rushed the County Administrative Center in downtown Tuesday morning, chanting "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Bob Buster's got to go,” referring to County Supervisor Bob Buster, who has pushed for pension reforms.

About 500 members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 gathered at 8 a.m. , wearing the union's purple colors. The demonstrators occupied the lobby and atrium of the county building, refusing to leave until supervisors return to bargain a new employment contract.

A handful of Riverside County Sheriffs looked on as union members chanted, blew whistles, waved their arms and coughed in unison during the supervisor’s weekly meeting.

Gilda Valdez, the union's chief of staff, said the peaceful protest was meant to disrupt the supervisor’s meeting.

“We want them to come to the table and negotiate a fair contract.”

Afterward, about 1,500 members and supporters took part in a boisterous but peaceful march through downtown Riverside. Police escorted the group, which snaked along Lemon Street and other streets before a long walk from University Avenue to Main Street, where the line passed through city hall.

Wendy Thomas, the union’s chief negotiator and a Riverside County employee said the union will take any job action necessary to get them to come back to the table.

Today’s one-day strike marks the latest escalation between county management and the union, which represents about 5,800 workers.

At issue is an increase in what employees pay in pension costs.

In December 2011, county officials imposed pay and benefit changes after reaching an impasse with the union.

On Monday, citing patient safety concerns, Judge John Vineyard prohibited nurses in Riverside County Regional Medical Center’s medical and surgical units as well as its emergency department, critical and progressive care units, pediatric uni ts and psychiatric unit, as well as nurses working at jail facilities from joining a oneday strike by union members.

The county faces an estimated $80 million budget gap between ongoing expenses and revenue and has been seeking ways to reduce expenses. Requiring the employees represented by the Laborers’ union to pay toward their own retirement would save the county $1.4million between now and June 30, and $8.9 million next year, county spokesman Ray Smith said.

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