Nearly one hundred public sector workers rallied outside the entrance of the County Administration Building on July 9 to demand a living wage. | Credit: Margaux Lovely

A sea of people in purple T-shirts chanting, “Fair contract now!” couldn’t be missed at the entrance to the County Administration Building, where almost one hundred public sector workers flooded the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 9. SEIU 620, the union representing more than 2,800 of the Central Coast’s public employees, spoke up for their right to a livable wage in Santa Barbara County after hitting a wall in contract negotiations.

The union’s previous contract, which expired in June, offered a 7.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment over the past three years. However, inflation increased by 15 percent in the same period, according to SEIU, leaving union workers in a financially vulnerable position.

“The current offer from the county is unacceptable,” said Laura Robinson, the union’s interim executive director. “We’ve effectively been given pay cuts from the last contract.”

Union members are calling for a 5 percent wage increase in the first year of their new contract — to match that of elected officials — as well as expanded medical coverage for themselves and their families.

“If you think 5 percent is good for you, then 5 percent is good for all of us!” read one of the signs. Board Chair Steve Lavagnino made a point to correct that number, telling the room that a 3 percent wage increase was the maximum for the Board of Supervisors. “Just making sure we’re reading off the same page,” he added.

“If you had a union, you might be able to get 5 instead of 3 percent,” joked Robinson in her public comment to the board.

All jokes aside, the board voted in March 2023 to increase their salaries by 5 percent — up from a 3 percent increase in 2021 — to account for the higher cost of living. This increase was scheduled to go into effect the following September, but there seems to be some debate about whether it actually did. All other elected county officials received a 5 percent wage increase.

“Our members are in crisis…. They should not be choosing between paying rent or buying groceries,” Robinson emphasized.

Other union field representatives made the message clear. “Get creative,” they urged.

This article was underwritten in part by the Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund for Social Justice, a proud, innovative supporter of local news. To make a contribution go to

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