Curry County officials crafted a 13-page “Strike Response Manual” — a mere five days before its union-member employees were to strike Aug. 20.
The strike was called off Thursday after county commissioners submitted one last offer after an executive session Wednesday.
The strike would have been the first in Curry County history.
The 17 union-member employees were asking for increases in pay, health insurance and cost of living expenses. They maintain increases the board of county commissioners gave them last year merely brought them to 2014 wages, when compared to comparable-sized counties in Oregon.
They work in the assessors, clerk, finance, building and planning and facilities maintenance departments, and would have left their department heads or elected officials to do all their work in their absence.
Now, the county is better prepared to address the issue, should it arise again.
The new manual establishes how department heads and elected officials would perform the duties of their employees if they threaten to strike again.
A letter included with the strike manual and signed by Commissioners Tom Huxley and Sue Gold — the line for Commissioner Court Boice’s signature reads “opposed” — indicates County Administrator Clark Schroeder will be responsible for continuing county operations during a strike.
Usually, such manuals are not made public, as they are considered confidential as an attorney-client matter.
“We believe the document has value to the public, our employees and the union,” the letter reads. “So with respect to the attached manual, we make a limited waiver of that confidential privilege and make it public.”
Any Strike Response Manual, the document reads, must have a contingency plan to address issues related to security, companies that supply materials — everything from paper to food for jail inmates — the possibility of hiring people to replace those striking, picket line monitoring to ensure no misconduct ensues and communications between bargaining unit employees regarding developments of the strike.
The manual also advises county officials to alert the sheriff’s department — they work under a Teamster union contract — and Gold Beach police that the county may request extra patrols “if the need arises.”
“While the county trusts our employees will be respectful and lawful during the strike, the outcome of the strike is uncertain,” the letter reads. “Therefore, while the county hopes for the best, some terms in the (manual) represent the county preparing for the worst. … We think it likely many of the provisions of the Strike Response Manual will not be invoked.”
Law enforcement also should be advised about access points to county buildings and rules regarding people crossing picket lines. Additionally, a supervisor needs to be appointed as a picket-line observer, the document reads.
Observers will be advised to note who might join the picketers, obtain any pamphlets that might be distributed and note any disturbance or illegal conduct by those on strike.
“The county’s ability to control the climate of the picket line is critical,” the manual reads. “Non-striking employees and other personnel should avoid confrontations with strikers or action of any adversary nature. They should not congregate near the picket line or engage in conversation with the strikers.”
Videotaping action on the picket line is also permitted, although there are criteria established by which to do that, the manual indicates.
The employees striking also have rules by which to abide. They cannot block other people from entering or leaving the building, particularly those who work there, nor engage in any physical violence or threaten any harm to non-striking employees. Even verbal threats are illegal, the document reads. And picketers must stay on sidewalks and not enter county buildings.
The county might consider providing security at its entrances and parking lots, the manual reads.
Once the strike begins
The manual outlines five ways the county might consider functioning: using management and supervisors, any union-member employees who don’t participate in the strike or non-bargaining-unit employees; or hiring replacements contracting out work.
The use of other non-striking employees — called “crossovers,” in strike parlance — “makes it easier for the county to maintain operations,” the manual reads. “Having crossovers working behind the line is extremely demoralizing to the other strikers and can trigger a ‘domino effect’ of persuading other strikers to return to work.”
And the county can hire people to replace those on strike, although many — in and out of the union — have noted that qualified people aren’t inclined to want to work for Curry County due to its financial instability and low wages.
“The hiring of permanent replacements — or even announcing an intent to do so — can be beneficial because it ‘turns up the heat’ considerably on the strikers and may prompt (picket line) crossovers,” the manual reads. “On the other hand, the hiring of permanent replacements is a highly contentious issue and may create a more volatile situation on the picket line.”
The manual also lists benefits workers forego while on strike, including pay, unemployment wages, insurance typically paid for by the county, holiday, vacation or sick leave and, in some cases, pension benefits.
If safety becomes an issue, the manual advises working employees carpool, eat lunch in and have supplies delivered in off-hours when picketers aren’t present.
The county has the right to communicate with its employees, the manual reads, but, “the law prohibits employer communications intended to undermine or bypass the union.”
The workers who remain need to be kept aware of what’s going on, as well.
“First, it’s imperative to win and maintain their loyalty in the dispute,” the manual reads. “They will be asked to cross a picket line, which can be quite traumatic. Second, the county will want to minimize the impact of rumors or misinformation.”
Citizens who need to visit county offices are often reluctant to cross a picket line, as well, the manual reads.
“By giving the citizens advance warning (and perhaps some encouragement), the citizens will be more prepared and willing to cross the picket line,” the manual continues.
County management must avoid any unfair labor practices during an economic” strike such as this,” to avoid it turning into an issue related to unfair labor practices. That means they can’t interrogate, threaten, pressure, physically abuse or offer incentives to those on strike.
On the other hand, it is permissible to convey to them that their jobs are available, the county is operating successfully without them and they can resign their union membership if they opt to come back to work.
“Strikes are often won or lost before they actually occur, depending on the county’s level of preparedness,” the manual reads. “The county can drastically increase its ability to weather a strike through advanced preparation.”