MARTINEZ (KCBS) – Health care costs are at the heart of a labor dispute in Contra Costa County that’s been brewing for more than a year and appears poised to bubble over sooner rather than later.

“A strike is one of many tools in the toolbox,” warned Sean Aten of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents roughly 800 county employees.

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“If necessary, we’d work with our brother and sister unions to come to a fair settlement for our employees,” he added.

The labor dispute revolves around employee premiums, which Aten says have jumped over 140% since 2009, cutting into take-home pay.

“Employee premiums for the health care plans have just skyrocketed,” he said.

According to Aten, a walkout is possible because the county isn’t doing enough to defray health care costs for the union members.

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“One of the things that the county is not in a position to do is to pay the total health care cost, it’s just not feasible,” responded Contra Costa County District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover.

Revenue, according to Glover, is simply too limited.

“The increased pension costs that we’re going to experience next year, $56 million, just doesn’t allow us to do anything in terms of putting money towards any more health care costs.”

It remained to be seen whether the Affordable Care Act would provide any adequate alternatives for county employees, perhaps reducing the cost of their health insurance premiums and staving off a strike.

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