East Bay Regional Park District workers are threatening to strike July 4 and 5 over stalled contract negotiations -- a move that could disrupt swimming and other recreation activities on two of the district's busiest days of the year.
All 65 regional parks in Alameda and Contra Costa counties will open those two days with help from park managers and police, park officials said. But swimming is among the activities that could be barred or severely restricted at some parks, they added.
Regional park managers are trying to sort out which activities at which parks would be affected by the second strike in the agency's history. A 1975 strike lasted two months.
"The gates will be open, but some facilities and areas could be closed because of inadequate staff to safely operate them," said Bob Doyle, general manager of the two-county park district. "We think it's poor judgment to strike on a busy family holiday."
News of a possible strike bummed out some park visitors on Thursday.
While visiting Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area near Pleasanton on Thursday to fish, San Jose resident Lauren Neves said a strike would be tough on visitors, especially on July 4.
"Everybody wants to come out to the park," said Neves, 25. "They can strike all they want but I don't think it's going to happen. There are so many people who come out here; they (the district) need the money."
The district's unionized workers decided Monday they would strike for two days -- July 4 and 5 -- unless a contract deal for pay and benefits is reached before then, a union leader said.
The next contract negotiations with a state mediator are set to resume Monday.
"We are not trying to stop people from going to the parks, but this could be a very different kind of Fourth of July for the park system," said Brenda Wood, business agent for Local 2428 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We don't want to strike. We want to reach a contract agreement."
Local 2428 represents about 600 park rangers, supervisors, lifeguards, naturalists and other park workers whose old contract expired March 31.
Wood said the workers want to catch up for some of the pay and benefits concessions they made over recent years of economic downturn.
Park managers say they offered to increase pay 8.5 percent over four years, while getting workers to pay more toward their pension. Workers pay half of the employee share of costs for their pensions, the district would like them to pick up 100 percent of that, Doyle said.
Park workers rejected that offer.
Doyle criticized the union for targeting a strike on the busy Fourth of July holiday when many families picnic, swim and boat at such parks as Del Valle in Livermore, Contra Loma in Antioch, Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton and Quarry Lakes in Fremont.
Lifeguards would be on strike, although park police would not.
Doyle contended the strike would be illegal and said the agency is seeking an order from the state Public Employees relations board to forbid the work stoppage.
Wood said the work stoppage is aimed at spurring a contract breakthrough, not hurting the popular park system.
Park visitors are the ones who would be hurt the most by a strike, said retiree Romy Pajarillo, 68, of Livermore. He doesn't usually fish on holidays, but he would be disappointed if Shadow Cliffs park were closed.
"What are we supposed to do, sit around and watch TV?" Pajarillo said. "We're supposed to be outside, enjoying the fresh air. ... This is a big part of my social life in the mornings, for us old-timers."
Staff researcher Camille Donaldson contributed to this report. Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
Park officials advise the public to go to www.ebparks.org for updates on how parks would be affected by a strike.