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Contra Costa County Workers Rally Over Pay, Benefits

MARTINEZ (CBS SF) - An estimated 4,000 unionized Contra Costa County workers marched outside of county buildings Tuesday, as part of a daylong series of labor protests against proposed pay and benefit cuts.

The union workers are members of the Contra Costa Labor Coalition, which organizers say represents some of the county's lowest-paid employees, from custodians and clerks to engineers and animal care services personnel.

Union members held rallies during workers' lunch breaks in Pittsburg and Martinez Tuesday, while a series of rallies throughout the day took place at the county employment and human services department in Antioch.

KCBS' Dave Padilla Reports:

"We're trying to bring some attention to the labor negotiations and send a message to the (Contra Costa County) Board of Supervisors," labor coalition spokesman Rollie Katz said Tuesday, surrounded by about five dozen protestors carrying signs in front of the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez. "They have proposals on the table - particularly in health care - which are really hard for our people."

He cited a county proposal to cover 100 percent of increased health care costs in the coming years as a key grievance in the coalition's current contract negotiations with the county.

Union officials said that over the last two years, the employees they represent have agreed to steep benefit and pay cuts, while other organized county workers earning higher salaries, such as sheriff's deputies and registered nurses, have not agreed to the same cuts.

Katz said that while the labor coalition is prepared to accept some pay and benefit cuts, union members ask that the county "meets us halfway."

Jose Avila, an environmental services employee who has worked for the county for over a decade, echoed those sentiments at Tuesday's rally in Martinez.

"We want a fair contract," he said. "The cuts they're asking for are going to hurt people making under $3,000 (monthly) - if they have a medical emergency, it's going to put them in bankruptcy."

Katz said that so far, negotiations with the county have progressed slowly, with county officials now proposing coalition workers accept a five percent pay cut versus an initial proposal of six percent.

County spokeswoman Betsy Burkhart declined Tuesday to discuss details of ongoing negotiations with the union coalition, but issued a prepared statement saying, "We are still engaging in efforts to reach a fair contract with all of our bargaining units, and will continue to do so."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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