EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Workers represented by Lane County government's largest labor union went on strike Wednesday, seeking higher wages while trying to fend off an attempt to make them pay for health insurance.

The Register-Guard reports striking workers established picket lines outside different county buildings in Eugene.

The workers are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It's the union's first strike in Lane County since 1979.

The two sides have been negotiating since March on a new three-year contract but are more than $20 million apart on employee compensation costs.

The county has offered pay raises of about 3 percent on average in the contract's first year. The county also wants employees to start paying $20 to $70 per month toward their health insurance coverage premiums; they currently pay nothing.

The union wants far higher raises and rejects the county proposal to contribute to health insurance plans.

County spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge said officials will try to minimize how the strike affects service to the public.

"Being the first day of the strike, this is new territory for a lot of people," she said. "It's an all-hands-on-deck situation."

AFSCME and its nurses unit employees represent 692 employees, nearly half of the county's roughly 1,400 employees.

With an undetermined number of workers on strike, county managers had the option of implementing plans to suspend numerous health programs, close community health centers and cut operating hours at different county offices.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow said all divisions of her office remain open, although a slow-down of some work related to criminal cases is expected. Clerical staff and victim advocates are represented by the union.

"Hopefully, the strike will end quickly," she said. "But we've had plenty of time to plan how we will operate and we can sustain at this level for the time being."

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com