No, they're not using the "S" word. But leaders of the state's largest public employees association are ready to consider just about any other job action to protest what they're calling a paltry pay increase.

"Strike? There are a lot of frustrations, but it's not a reality," said Terry Scow, vice president of the 8,000-member Utah Public Employees Association.Even though it's against the law for public employees to strike, scattered groups of state workers are ready to walk off the job, according to UPEA officials.

Members of the association's state board spent much of a three-hour meeting Monday coming up with alternatives to a strike, deciding to let employees have a say in what type of job action they want to take.

A survey will be distributed to state workers asking them which of several options they can "endorse to deliver the message to elected officials you are dissatisfied."

The options range from writing letters to Gov. Norm Bangerter to participating in partisan politics to wearing a symbol of dissatisfaction - such as red to indicate anger- to attending a protest rally.

But among themselves, public employees are talking about doing "something radical, like the teachers did," according to Melanie Hall, a state Department of Human Services employee and head of the UPEA Advisory Council.

In the fall of 1989, public school teachers closed schools statewide to protest a tax cut. The threat of another walkout helped persuade the 1990 Legislature to come up with a 6 percent salary and benefit package.

This year, lawmakers weren't threatened with a walkout and came up with less for both teachers and state employees. And while teachers are unhappy, this year it's state workers who are raising the most ruckus.

Although lawmakers called it a 5 percent increase, the pay and benefit package that takes effect July 1 was funded at only slightly more than 4.5 percent for both state employees and teachers.

Teachers are expected to end up with a bigger increase than funded because, unlike state employees, they can negotiate for more money with local school districts.

The nearly $20 million increase for state employees includes $4.7 million, 1.1 percent, to cover increased costs in medical insurance and $7.6 million, 1.7 percent, to cover the state's retirement contribution.

There is $7.7 million - 1.7 percent - for salary increases. The 1.7 percent will boost the average state worker's paycheck about $20 a month, or $240 a year. Hall said one option being discussed is for all state employees to call in sick at the same time so state government services would come to a halt, a tactic better known as the "blue flu" because police have used it.

Such a "job action," as Hall refers to it, could last more than just a day. State employees don't need to bring a statement from their doctors testifying they are ill unless they are absent from work at least three days.

"They just feel like we've been promised more for years and the legislators are not coming through with it. It's time to do something," said Hall, who represents the portion of the state between Point of the Mountain and Nephi.

The UPEA board also took some action of their own to demonstrate to lawmakers what they think of the salary and benefit increase passed by the 1991 Legislature.

The board agreed to halve UPEA's usual $3,000 contribution to the Governor's Ball. The annual gala is a political fund-raiser for the governor, who also uses the proceeds to cover administration expenses not paid for by the state.