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Lane County Workers Strike Ends

The six-day strike by members of Lane County’s largest union came to an end Oct. 24.

County negotiators had walked away from discussion Monday afternoon telling members of AFSCME, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, that they would not return until Wednesday; however, a tentative agreement was reached Tuesday evening. 

In a press release before workers returned to their jobs Wednesday, Oct. 25, the county said, “We are pleased an agreement has been reached that demonstrates respect for our workers and our community,” said Lane County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky. “We look forward to welcoming our coworkers back and continuing to provide high-quality services that improve the health, safety and vitality of our community.”

Lane County workers had kicked off their sixth day on strike Tuesday after negotiations for a “fair contract” stalled Monday. 

On Tuesday before the strike ended, picketers walked in front of the Wayne Morse Plaza by the county courthouse, holding signs asking drivers to honk if they needed a raise, too. 

Not every worker on strike was unhappy with their own contract, but some showed up to show solidarity for fellow workers. 

Jill Hambly said she was willing and able to strike as long as necessary but some workers don’t have that option. 

Hambly said that a number of county workers qualify for assistance and things like bills, car payments and medical costs make remaining on strike unfeasible. Had the strike continued, county workers would have lost their health insurance on Nov. 1. 

Major sticking points include a cost of living increase that is balanced out by workers beginning to contribute to their own health insurance plans. 

Jennie Guyan, a union spokesperson added, “It’s not that the union is against [paying for health care] but with the proposals the county has, a lot of our employees would not receive much of a difference in wage increases and it would be offset by what they have to pay in health care. This is happening at a time when non-represented staff don’t have to pay for their health care.”

Guyan has worked for the city since 2009. She says that for the first five years, she qualified for assistance. “I feel frustrated that the county won’t use fair market wages for all employees, both represented and non-represented.”

Along with health care and wage disputes, union members were frustrated with the way the county treats temporary employees. 

Guyan stressed that no one expected overnight change. Wage improvements take time, but the union is asking the county to begin taking steps toward market wages. 

“I moved to Lane County because it’s a place of equity,” Guyan says, “and I know the county likes to exemplify how equitable we are and what are great place this is to live, but they’re not walking the walk … they’re not putting their money where their mouths are.” 

The strike and return to work were the culmination of eight months of negotiations, according to the county press release.