WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County remains public-union stronghold


Eighty-four percent of the nearly 6,000 city and county employees in Sonoma County are represented by unions or associations that bargain for wages and benefits, a process at the crux of a national debate.

Members of SEIU Local 1021 take to the streets in 2008 in Santa Rosa to protest the county's decision to cut health care benefits. (Kent Porter/PD)

With school employees added to the mix, the share of the nearly 27,000 public workers in the county who are covered by collective bargaining agreements is about 90 percent.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s success last week in stripping public workers of most collective bargaining rights represents the zenith of growing unease over government employment. Critics say generous pension benefits not available to many in the private sector have contributed to job and service cuts by cities, counties and schools struggling with budget shortfalls in the wake of a devastating recession.

The facts and the forces at play are hotly debated, with local union representatives agreeing that pension overhaul is needed while complaining they are the target of a union-busting campaign by Republican lawmakers and conservative activists.

“It’s more about ideology than actual numbers,” said Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council.

But even among the county’s liberals, concern that public pensions are straining government purse strings is “the talk of the town,” said Terry Price, a Santa Rosa political consultant who has worked for pro-labor Democrats.

And Gary Wysocky, an accountant elected to the Santa Rosa City Council in 2008, said there is one city number beyond dispute: “Our general fund has contracted by $20 million.”

“Something does have to give,” Wysocky said.

Wisconsin’s move to end public-worker contract negotiating except for salaries has spread to Indiana and Ohio, but is unlikely — by most accounts — to reach Democrat-dominated California.

“Not with Jerry Brown as governor, no,” said Tony Alvernaz, president of Santa Rosa’s largest city employees’ association.

Pro-labor Democrats dominate Sonoma County politics, with all four state legislators — state Sen. Noreen Evans and Assembly members Michael Allen, Wes Chesbro and Jared Huffman — in that camp.

The success last year of several city council and county Board of Supervisors candidates deemed more business-friendly left the local political scene a bit more fragmented.

If Republican Meg Whitman had won the governor’s race, “we would be having a different conversation (about public labor unions),” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist. But Whitman was soundly defeated by Brown.

Almost one in seven workers in Sonoma County is employed by local, state and federal government agencies, according to state data. Half of those 26,700 government employees work at local schools.

A survey by The Press Democrat found that 84.3percent of local city and county employees overall are represented by collective bargaining groups. But there’s great range in the ranks, from 97percent affiliation at Santa Rosa’s City Hall to just 37 percent in the town of Sonoma.

All but 42 of Santa Rosa’s 1,225 city workers belong to 13 bargaining units, either unions or employee associations. Department heads and workers with access to city payroll and financial information are exempt from bargaining.

In county government, the largest local public work force, 3,033 employees (83 percent) are in 11 bargaining units and 616 are unrepresented.

Union representation runs far higher among school employees. The California Teachers Association represents 96 percent of teachers in 39 of the county’s 40 school districts, said Jeff Heller, director of human resources for the county Office of Education.

In the Petaluma city schools, 95 percent of teachers, classified employees and other workers are unionized.

Overall, nearly two-thirds of all federal, state and local government employees in Sonoma County last year were represented by bargaining units, according to estimates by academicians Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson based on federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

In the county’s private sector, only 12 percent of employees were represented by unions, they estimated.
Statewide, 60 percent of public employees and 10 percent of private workers are represented, the academic report said.

Unions have come under attack as cities and state lawmakers struggle to bring budgets into balance, cutting jobs and reducing services, which in turn increases pressure to raise taxes on workers and businesses struggling to make ends meet.

“We’re being demonized as part of the problem,” said Alvernaz, head of the Santa Rosa City Employees Association representing 440 workers. “We’re being asked to make concessions to cure the problem.”

Alvernaz and others dispute the assumption that greedy public employees are breaking the bank. “No, I think a bunch of greedy Wall Street cats are to blame,” he said.

Pension funds tied up in the financial markets were hammered by the Great Recession, said Sylvia Allegretto, a UC Berkeley labor economist.

“The wizards of Wall Street imploded the market,” she said. “Now we’re trying to balance these (government) budgets on the back of average workers.”

When the return on invested pension funds drops, government must make up the difference because retirees are guaranteed fixed payments under what are known as defined benefit retirement plans.

Compounding the cash shortfall for state and local government, Allegretto said, was the extension of the Bush tax cuts under the Obama administration, which cost California government billions in annual revenue.

“There were choices,” Allegretto said, “but no one’s talking about them.”

Many private sector workers have been pushed from pensions into 401(k) plans with no guaranteed payoff or seen their pension funds dissolved, Price said. The result, when these workers see public employees retiring in relative financial comfort, is “pension envy,” he said.

Union advocates say Republicans are capitalizing on the situation to mount a political movement against their longtime nemesis, the labor unions that donate millions of dollars to mostly Democratic candidates.

They also point to reports by the California Public Employee Retirement System, or CalPERS, which manages a pension fund for 1.6 million public workers, that the average retiree receives a $26,000 annual pension.

Supersized pensions are going to city and county bureaucrats who earn “bloated six-figure salaries,” not rank-and-file workers, Maldonado said.

However, there’s also been a pattern of rapid escalation in retirement benefits, enabling many workers with long careers to retire with for 75 percent to 90 percent of their pay or more, and in the case of public safety officers, to do so at age 50.

The trend is most evident among recent retirees. In Sonoma County government, for example, the size of pensions for recent retirees has increased nearly 90 percent since 2000.

Retirees should get by on less than their working salary, Wysocky said, on the assumption their children are grown and their mortgages paid off.

Pensions should be based on 10-year averaging of pay, rather than peak pay, he said, and there should be age standards — as there are with Social Security — for when public pension payments begin.

Alvernaz, the union leader, said he and others “can’t be faulted for negotiating the best deals possible for our members.”

But he’s willing to listen to pension modification proposals.

“What people want now is a fix,” he said.

67 Responses to “Sonoma County remains public-union stronghold”

  1. City Worker says:

    Nice comments. Just for that, You, can pay for my retirement starting at age 52, about 96% of my mage plus medical for the rest of my life, and my wife’s. You don’t get a choice in the matter. YOU WILL pay. I am not lazy, I do my job well. I am not pathetic, though some I have dealt with thought I was ruthless. I can tell by your comments, you don’t like me even though I could be your neighbor, your kids teacher or the one who just saved your choking baby’s life. I do not consider those actions pathetic. But since that is your attitude, I will not care about how much I take from you. You a pathetic drip. Drip on this spounge so I can soak it up. Your prejudice does not hinder my resolve to do my job well until I retire. Then I might even start another career with another gov’t agency and double dip, just to piss you off. It has nothing to do with getting the most out of college and training, Goodness no. I will just get the most out of you and yours. Have a nice day and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  2. John says:

    Public employees are a bunch lazy whining pathetic self righteous no good for nothing people. Most of the public workers were rejected from the private sector they therefore became reliant upon the public sector knowing they can’t be fired. The liberals have created a monster that has sucked America dry.

    Go back in time and look at what public servants did back then verses what we the taxpayer servants are forced to pay; a free ride without the fear of being fired. Face it, liberals will stop at nothing to suck off taxpayers and we’re sick of it.

    The system is bloated and we’re not taking it anymore. It’s about time the pubic system becomes what it is intended to be, you work for us; we don’t work for you. You are all a bunch of whining lazy pathetic self righteous people that need to get real job and stop relying others to create your density.

  3. Billy C says:

    I once had the perception that public employees where there to serve the tax paying public. Now it feels like the reverse is more true. As time progresses
    and the financial situation deteriorates
    I am afraid it will become painfully clear how badly the lowly tax payer has been played.

  4. FUBAR says:

    Quote of the Day Goes to Steve Humphrey >

    “The socialist mind has a real memory problem when their equality programs backfire”.

    BAM !.., ’nuff sed.

  5. Steve Humphrey says:

    Alverez and Algretto conveniently fail to mention that the greedy instruments created by the “wall street fat cats” were born in the halls of a Democratic Congress and Administration with their mandated loan policies inflicted on the nations mortgage industry. Without these toxic loans, the banking industry wouldn’t have had to find a way to rid themselves of these assets, and Wall Street (yes in it’s greedy creativity) wouldn’t have developed the derivitives that shook our economy.
    The socialist mind has a real memory problem when their equality programs backfire.

  6. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    John S. The average worker in Sonoma County DOES NOT MAKE $125,000. Are you nuts or just making things up in your head?

    I wish I made that. All my coworkers do too. We’re all laughing at your post. Those of us that haven’t been laid off.

  7. GAJ says:

    Here is an interview from this morning with the CalPers Chief Investment Officer who, in his tenure, is averaging returns well below the 7 3/4% target.

    His strategy from the video seems to be risky bets in emerging markets.


    Is it just me or does this guy seem to lack conviction?

    Watch the short video and see if you agree with me that the taxpayer will have to make up for this guy’s incompetence.


  8. John Sakowicz says:

    Bottom line? Government is too big. Budgets are too big. Budget deficits are too big. And government debt is too big.

    And taxes are too high.

    And SEIU is too powerful. They buy and own the public officals who sign their contracts.

    Here in Mendocino County, we look upon Sonoma County’s 3,400 county emplyees, making an average of $125,000, including benefits — the top 500 managers making an average of $200,000, including benefits — with absolute horror.

    Absolute horror!

  9. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    GAJ-the intent is for the younger workers to get the same when they retire. It is the Republicans and rightwing agenda to take EVERYTHING AWAY from ALL WORKERS. For those of you who don’t believe this, you’d better get a clue. After unions are gone you will be indentured servants with no rights.

    As to older workers in jobs with tenure. Are you advocating that they be fired so younger, cheaper, LESS EXPERIENCED workers be given a chance? I hear that about teachers. Who says younger workers are better than older workers? I’m sorry for the younger generation. They should be given the same opportunities as we had. But we older workers aren’t the cause of this recession. And some of us would like to retire but can’t because our pensions aren’t enough to live on or our social security.

    Look to the hoarders of money-the top richest 2% and big corporations for the reasons for this recession. Vote for real changed not for those sponsored by big business.

  10. GAJ says:

    Bottom line the taxpayer will be forced to increase payments to sustain this house of cards, (an increase of at least $3million in Santa Rosa alone next year), while the Union employees and their supervisors will fight to reduce any cost to them of keeping the house of cards propped up.

    Less tenured and lower tiered government employees, most of them Union members, will be sacrificed in the process.

    Future government employees will also be asked to accept much less to keep the current most highly compensated baby boom government employees living in the style to which thay have become accustomed.

    Baby Boom generation State and Local government employees DESERVE more in pay and retirement than the generations that came before and will come after.

    At least that’s the message I’m getting.

  11. Villager with Pitchfork says:

    Government has become bloated. For every poor soul trying to get a permit to make a change to their house, there are 5 people at PRMD standing there saying NO. Studies, inspections, meetings—all of these employees managing thousands of pages of rules and regulations BLOCKING the citizens from using their land.

    Every legislator assumes that they’re elected to MAKE NEW LAWS instead of cleaning up and streamlining what others messed up before. What does this mean? More regulations, more government workers.

    When you consider police, fire, teachers, government offices (state, county, and city), courts, etc, it’s a wonder that there ARE any non-government workers. Now with the regional groups there’s yet another layer of unelected government drones.

    It’s a kind of welfare, so I suppose we should be grateful that all of these people are not out on the street clogging up the gutters.

    The unions are using dues without asking the workers how they want them spent. The unions are self-serving bloated organizations making sweetheart deals and personal fortunes. The dirty secret.

    The days of Cesar Chavez are sullied by today’s unions.

  12. No problem says:

    I don’t care about the your debt in Sonoma County. I didn’t make it, it won’t effect me. I know this for a fact. I live in a solvent county, I only come to Sonoma county to pick a great wage and benefits. I see people who think I don’t earn my wages and should have to live on cat food in retirement. Some of you want me to take a huge pay cut and probably lose my house. They can just pay more taxes. You don’t care if you hurt my family, fine, pay more taxes. You can’t change it, it will go to a vote soon and you will pay more. You talk trash to me and have no clue, screw that, pay more taxes. Sonoma County isn’t even close to a consideration of BK so the union contracts will stand. You WILL pay more taxes. You don’t have the following or the resources to stop it, you are stuck so blast me, because your comments about wanting to finally pay back the unions for your troubles, means financially hurting my family. For that, I will not care about your pain, just shut up and pay more taxes. You will in the end so get to it. There, you are now happy you pissed someone off. You can’t touch this. You will sustain it, you won’t have a choice.

  13. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: I See Jealousy – “If the pension system fully recovers and is sustainable, then it will be a matter of “they get paid too much” or, “Their pensions are too big” .. It won’t matter how solvent the system becomes, a target has been identified and must be brought down, regardless of facts.”

    You see ‘jealousy’, I see ‘facts’. In the larger scheme of things, the Federal government has a $14.1 trillion national debt, with a $1.5 trillion deficit.

    The state of California currently has a $25.4 billion deficit, and is projected to run $20 billion deficits through 2015-2016.

    I think it will be awhile before the ‘system’ becomes solvent and we will have to look for other targets to bring down, ‘regardless of facts’.

    The facts are that this debt is unsustainable, whether you are a government or public sector employee. Government employees are complaining that they are being singled out and picked-on, so maybe they should look at it this way: if they are part of the fiscal problem, then they are going to have to be part of the fiscal solution.

    Taxpayers, including government employees, aren’t picking up my tab for the money I’ve lost over the last 4-6 years in the stock market, mutual funds, my 401k and increased health care costs, so why do government employees feel that the taxpayer’s are supposed to pick up the tab for them?

  14. tdawg says:

    Liberals blathering on about the same old same old.. “It’s FOX News’ Fault”, “It’s Glenn Beck and the Tea Party’s Fault”, “It’s the Koch Brothers’ Fault”.. Phlease!! The reality is that over 80% of American workers DO NOT belong to a Union. Unions got bad names through their history and what they have done, LONG before Glenn Beck or FOX News existed..

    Also it seems the ones that are truly “Jealous and Envious” are government employees who seem to have a disdain for those private sector workers that PRODUCE goods and services. Wanting to constantly “Tax the Rich” or demand that “the Rich pay their fair share” is sheer irrational hatred of those that have worked and produced to earn money.

    Those in the Public Sector were NOT forced to take their jobs and have every opportunity to work in the Private sector if they feel that Private Sector workers get a “better deal”, but the reality is most people take Government and public sector jobs because they are truly, “The Better Deal” where someone can do as little work as possible, have job security, union benefits and a pension.

  15. TheObserver says:

    @ Anderson

    The third-person reference is a literary technique that only the literate would understand. A Shakespeare quote does not make you literate.

    Furthermore, you are certainly not independent in the larger sense of the term. You are very DE-pendent on things like government services.

    Unless you get off the grid and go subsistence farm and cut yourself off from society completely, you are not independent of government. You need roads, and lights, and cops, and fire fighters, and groceries and healthcare.

    No, you are not independent…what you are is a hyprocrite.

    As for your remark about irrational hatred…I don’t find it irrational. It is based on being used and ground to a pulp making other men and women wealthy for more than 30 years as an employee in the private sector.

    Greed is a disease and the afflicted aren’t even aware that they have it.

  16. I see jealousy says:

    It is amazing that people are considered overpaid for the simple fact they make more than you. Have any of you heard of IRA’s or just plain investments? Everyone took a hit in 2008. I talk with a Sonoma County Retirement Board member yesterday and they gained 20% last month. It won’t hit the news becuase it might deflate someones ego. If the pension system fully recovers and is sustainable, then it will be a matter of “they get paid too much” or, “Their pensions are too big” .. It won’t matter how solvent the system becomes, a target has been identified and must be brought down, regardless of facts. Most of you wouldn’t care if it could be afforded, you want to see other suffer to make yourselves feel better.

  17. Skippy says:

    @ Judy
    Again it is none of my business how wealthy anyone is except myself. None.
    My concern is the zero-sum fallacy under which you labor. The belief that, if some have more it is because others have less, is patently false in every respect.
    It is also the foundation of all socialist philosophy.
    I reject the theory entirely.
    You accept it.
    That makes me an anti-socialist/anti-collectivist.
    What does accepting the zero-sum theory say about those who do?
    Answer: nothing good and nothing true.

  18. Judy Ferre says:

    I never said I hated rich people, I grew up in an affluent household, private schools, private college, big house due to the wealth of my grandparents who came to California with about 500 dollars in their pockets in 1918. They worked hard, bought large properties in San Francisco, and made lots of money.
    This money over the years was dispersed throughout my extremely large family and what I have from it is the ability to pay for my son to go to college without help. Now, my husband and I work 5 days a week, we pay our mortgage on time and most of the time our bills on time.

    My husband was laid off after 11 years of loyal, honest employment after the little business he worked for was bought by a huge business. The first order of business was to fire all the long term employees because they were making “too much” money 15.00 an hour. If they had been unionized that would not have happened because the union respects hard work, loyalty, and time put in of it’s members. My husband was working again four weeks later and did not collect any unemployment.

    You Skippy are the hater, you hate yourself. You have decided to vote against your own self interest in order for the elite 400 in this country to keep the rest of us oppressed . Maybe you just aren’t smart enough not to believe everything you think. Those 400 elites have as much wealth as 155 million Americans, do you think they got that wealth through ethical, legal means or maybe it was just inherited? Hard working Americans deserve to have their hard work rewarded and we can start by asking the elite to pay their fair share. There are plenty of rich people who believe in the American dream, there are just not enough of them to make a difference.

    I ask you again The Koch Brothers gained 30% in their wealth last year, did you even come close to that?

  19. Robert Michaelson says:

    It’s a true waste of time trying to argue labor history or even reality politics with the Tea Party Ditto Heads on this site. The continuous Fox News and Glen Beck Talking Points lies about unions and pensions have completely destroyed any semblance of critical thinking. Otherwise you would not see nonsensical attacks on working class people and defense of the corporate plunderers who destroyed our economy. Unfortunately, since the PD allows the anonymous posting all you get here are the same five anonymous blowhards bashing unions and progressives and anything Ayn Rand would object to. I knew this website was dead to logic and discussion when they started attacking the poor guy from Sebastopol for trying to rein in noise pollution. Meanwhile real fascism is going on full scale in Wisc where constitutional rights of free association and assembly are being destroyed and these folks are cheering it on and demanding a “ban on unions” (you may want to pick up the Bill of Rights, Pearl, I’m just sayin’) Instead of fighting with the five irrelevant Ayn Randian mouthpieces with ludicrous handles (Beef King, REALLY?) go to the Alternet or Truthout website and get some real news and discussion.

  20. Mary says:

    All of this blather about our poor union brothers and sisters losing their jobs, suffering and wondering how they are going to make it make me sick.

    I am really sick and tired of going into a city, county or state office and being treated like I am there to steal something. The attitude is “I am in a union and you can’t do anything to me if my attitude is rotten because I am having a bad year and I have union rights.”

    Customer service training is a foreign subject and not taught in any language used in Sonoma County in the public sector.

    Besides being way over paid and over pensioned, these public employees need a good dose of reality when it comes to dealing with the people who really pay their salaries, the taxpayers.

  21. Cognitive Dissonance says:

    TDawg: I think I’ll take scientific studies over your ability “to look at unemployment” and KNOW what the cause is.

    I suppose that means there’s been a fundamental shift in how pensions worked between 2007 and today? By your logic, no changes, no change in unemployment?

    Don’t let logic get in the way of your “facts”.

  22. FUBAR says:

    Until the CA voters completely reject the leftist liberal ideology, there is no hope for this state. We will continue to have career politicians like Jerry Brown and Noreen Evans, standing side by side with the public unioins, telling us we have a “revenue” problem, all the while giving gold-plated pay and benefits packages to government employees.

    There is good news though. It is mathematically impossible to tax our way out of this mess….but we can work our way out.

  23. Skippy says:

    I defend the Koch brothers because you may wish to be wealthy someday, and be willing to do the work to become rich.
    I don’t care how much you, the Kochs or the Soros’ have or earn. It is none of my business. Nor is it yours.
    Envy and resentment are poisons you take to kill someone else.
    Stop looking at all others have and start appreciating your blesings.
    The Buddhists are right; this life is a veil of tears.
    How we deal with that fact determines the color of our lives.
    Stop hating others and wishing for their downfall.
    You never know when you will be targeted for doing what you believe is right.
    Judge not, lest you be judged.

  24. Fiscal Conservative says:

    In New york currently there are open negotiations to amend 2009 contracts with a 20% wage deduction and employee contributions to the union trust funds to reduce the unfunded liabilities.

    Negotiators have summed up the discussions as ” Unions still believe this is a recession, like other recessions, things will be bad for a period of time, but by year end they will get back to normal”.

    Management believes this recession has created a new normal”

    One thing is for sure, We can not continue use a credit card( bond market and stimulus funding) to pay for benifits that we can not afford.

    I do not blame those who seek the golden carrot retirement. This was the plan and it hurt’s to see it threatened.
    It needs to be put in to perspective that 60,000 people in Sonoma County are unemployed, and those who are have seen substaintial decreases in wages and benifits.

    Like our GDP, the tax base is declining.
    Ranting and raving, protesting and threatening will do nothing to change the figures. The placement of a clinched fist with a star, the symbal of the American Socialist party, does nothing to unite us. In fact, it allienates most of us.

    All Americans have tough tasks ahead of the to rebuild this Nation. Each of us has or will need to give up dreams of prosperity while we create a new industrial economy.

    The economy of .com, free credit and carbon trading have tanked. When we turn to our natural recources, our abilities to engineer and manufacture we will see an a steady increase to our GDP.

    Unions are not our enemy. They are just the next ones in line to feel the contraction. Union employees will be key to our future sucess.- that is if they are able to change with the times. If they can not adapt, they will follow the lead of Jimmy Hoffa’s teamsters and fail.

    The real enemy, is those who say no to past laws that protected our American economy with fair international trade, as well as those who say no to industry due to extremist environmental regulations.

    When we cast asside those who tell us we can’t and again become a Nation that Can, prosperity will return.

  25. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    To answer Skippy about the Koch Brothers.

    To start with, the Koch Brothers INHERITED THEIR MONEY, born rich and spoiled. They have no clue how it feels to lose your job, home, benefits or anything else. They just can’t have enough money. Their whole existence is to make more NO MATTER WHO IT HURTS.

    Second of all, no one resents their riches. What they do resent is that they pour BILLIONS into “fixing” elections all over this country and BILLIONS on lobbying Congress. The end result they expect is to smash the middleclass.

    Third of all-these super, beyond your imagination, rich brothers are only interested in attacking the middleclass workers, ALL WORKERS NOT JUST UNION WORKERS. WE middleclass workers have been a target of the richest 2% since Reagan was president.

    Fourth of all-I would betthe Koch Brothers pay NOTHING in taxes because that’s the way our Plutocracy works. The rich corporate interests have bought our Congress with only a few Congressmembers actually representing you and me and the rest of the American people. We vote but have no representation so we have no real Democracy anymore. Capitalism is folding as well. Capitalism requires satisfied workers That means that workers are valued as assets and get something out of the PARTNERSHIP WITH BUSINESS. It’s a give and take. Business takes and gives nothing back these days. Small businesses are suffering too because they are middleclass.

    Skippy, do you think you will be as rich as the Koch Brothers someday? Is that why you defend their unethical, immoral practices? Protecting your future riches? Otherwise, you just don’t make sense.

  26. American citizen says:

    Oh Please ! I was in the private sector for twenty five years and had what I thought a pretty decent income and benefit package, until I started working for the public sector. Now, I am working at a snails pace for the most incompetent M.A. educated people I have ever met in my life. Remember people government jobs only take from the taxpayer. Government does not produce or make anything. When I see 24 year old firefighters sitting around in their county paid for recliner chairs making close to $180,000.00 per year and being able to retire at the age of fifty with 100% of their top three quarters and 3% COLA’s for the rest of their lives I really start to wonder who is pulling the wool over who’s eyes. If the average taxpayer knew what was going on you would see pitchforks and torches at the gates. The average taxpayer should be pissed off. In my county where I work we have close to 100 million dollars in unfunded liability’s. These unions are breaking the bank and will continue to do so if the Demorats don’t stand up to the union bosses and show some political backbone. It makes me sick when I see on T.V. an S.E.I.U. boss threatening a newly elected Democrat politician that if they don’t get what they want then their political future will be cut short. Enough is enough !

  27. tdawg says:

    @Cognitive: One doesn’t need a “study” simple look at the Unemployment rate which tells a pretty broad story. Texas’ unemployment rate is just below 8% and California’s is 12.4%.

  28. Anderson says:

    @The Observer

    What’s with referring to yourself in the 3rd person? It’s weird.

    As Hamlet said “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    Your irrational hatred of the right and conservatives tells other posters on this thread all they need to know about you. The haters in Wisconsin described in the Yahoo article are union lefties, but you try to change the subject with ridiculous claims about Palin and Beck. As an independent, I find it clueless.

  29. Cognitive Dissonance says:

    TDawg: I would love to see a citation for your “rich people are leaving the state in droves”…especially since the last headline I saw suggested that was a lie being spread by the Texas Governor.

    Also, I bet I can cite 10 credible studies that show that there is a negligible difference between compensation of the average public and private employees for every credible study you can find to the contrary.

  30. tdawg says:

    Aww.. I KNEW it was a matter of time before some union supporter pulled the “1930′s Germany” card.. Also really “classy” for public employee supporters to sue and loot the taxpayers for more money.

    Also @Let’s be Reasonable: No one is “blaming” anyone. The FACT is that the generous salaries, benefits and pensions held by public sector employees are unsustainable. Many people that work in the private sector have been laid off or lost income in some form for their household. Also, these allusive “Rich” people are leaving the state in droves, taking many private sector with them due to the unfriendly business climate, excessive taxation and Draconian environmental laws.

  31. TheObserver says:


    TheObserver condemns hateful and threatening rhetoric regardles of where it comes from, and yet reminds you that most of it comes from the right and that the only politician to actually be attacked and shot thus far is a Democrat.

    Only conservative nut cases encouraged by the spew of Palin, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck will actually use the gun.

  32. bear says:

    Will no one here understand that ALL of you could have applied for ANY government job if you had the education (usually an MA), certifications and experience? And maybe kept that job if you’d maintained your credentials? Sorry if you made other choices.

    Do you really think that government employees, including teachers, are immune from being dismissed? You’re wrong again.

    What we did do was accept lower pay in exchange for promises of current and future benefits. And we had no choice. I contributed about $275 every two weeks, AND paid significant amounts for health insurance. For decades.

    The point is that shortfalls in the public pension system are directly due to the stock crash that trashed your (and our) 401Ks. Yet we’ve all saved billions, and things should even out assuming the economic recovery continues.

    But shameless republicans are using this temporary situation to trash public employees, cut their salaries and benefits, and increase their workloads by laying off workers in this manufactured “crisis.” The same thing that private employers who offshore private sector jobs are doing. Are you slow??? We’re all on the same side!

    So now public employees are the new fall guys for idiotic economic policies? Hey, we support the troops, because that’s where OUR tax money is going at the moment. Except for the $6 TRILLION spent by the US alone on nuclear weapons in my lifetime. Nice that we have the cash to finance unwinnable wars and unusable weapons.

    I swear if we were all were in 1930′s Germany you’d be blaming some ethnic group for your own misfortunes and bad choices, and those of loser political parties. Actually, labor unions WERE targeted in 1930s Germany. Look it up.

    The first rule of shooting is to correctly identify the target?

    But it’s OK. I’m sending my trash to the Wisconsin statehouse. See ya in court.

  33. Anderson says:

    From Yahoo:

    “At least 18 Republican lawmakers have received death threats since voting for Gov. Scott Walker’s modified budget repair bill — and the number is climbing.

    Several suspects have been identified, while obscene phone calls, threatening e-mails and other “thug-like” intimidation tactics continue to be used by union supporters to incite violence and anger toward Republican senators.

    One particularly threatening e-mail warned Republican lawmakers to “put your things in order because you will be killed and your families will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks.””

    What happened to “tone down the rhetoric” after the Tucson shooting? Or is it okay if left-wingers make these kind of threats? Those “public servants” showing their true colors.

  34. tdawg says:

    @Judy: This Pipe-Dream of “Tax the Rich” is just that. The “Rich” have the option of relocating to another state taking thousands of potential Private-sector jobs with them.

    Also, the fact remains that the people that would impose those taxes, members of the Legislature, the Governor, etc. are themselves rich, so why would they deliberately tax themselves?

    What is being proposed in California in June is the result of what happens when unions don’t want to pay their “fair share” and demand that the “rich” are taxed. What will happen is additional Sales Tax (which impacts the working poor more and middle class consumers more than those “affluent”) and the tax on vehicle registration (again, a tax on the poor to fund union benefits). Analyzing these taxes, it becomes apparent who needs to pay their “fair share”.

  35. Skippy says:

    @ Judy
    Why do you hate people wealthier than yourself?
    What is wrong with the Koch brothers getting rich?
    Do you believe that, if they have less, you will have more?
    Why should you or anyone else decide how much is too much wealth?
    Are you paying your fair share, or are you among the 1/3 of Americans who already get the majority of their income from the pockets of working Americans like the Koch brothers?

  36. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @tdawg – when I first got my job working for government, my friends laughed because of the low pay. “Those that can’t do, teach or work for government…” Funny how we’re now the spoiled leeches on society… Folks, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed. The last time income inequality was this bad was in 1929. Instead of attacking folks in the middle class, why don’t you ask why ALL of the gains in the last decade have gone to the very richest!?

  37. Reality Check says:

    //Why is slashing pay and pensions more acceptable than asking for the rich to pay their fair share?//

    What’s their fair share? What percentage of their income do the Koch brothers owe you or society? Is it 50%, 60% or what?

    Btw, had Obama had his way, taxes on the rich would have gone up about $60B per year, assuming the rich did nothing to avoid the increase, which they usually do.

    Still, that’s serious money, but not remotely serious enough to deal with our $1.6 trillion budget deficit. I’m afraid your tax-the-rich solution is short a buck or two.

  38. Inquiring Minds says:

    Who gets to decide what is a fair share? Who gets to decide at what point you are rich? For someone scraping by on Social Security, any City/County/State/Federal worker is “rich”.

    Quit worrying about what others make and whether it it fair or not. What isn’t fair is for the taxpayers to pay exorbitant salaries, pensions and benefits for others. If ATT, PG&E, or any other publicly owned company did the same thing, you would be demanding something be done to reduce your payments. That is exactly what most taxpayers are asking for, reduce my bill!

  39. Judy Ferre says:

    Why is slashing pay and pensions more acceptable than asking for the rich to pay their fair share? Why is taking services from the neediest and most at risk people the answer to our budgetary problems, when big business are still recording record profits. The Koch brothers wealth climbed 30% last year, did yours?

  40. Jim M says:

    Whatever the cause right now we are heading for a situation where many many cities and counties are going to face a choice of drastically slashing services or going bankrupt. Neither outcome is going to be good for public employees or for the public at large, but I believe most cities will opt for bankruptcy in order to restructure their pension obligation.

    Some level of compromise is in everyone’s interests, this needs to start with honoring pensions that have already been earned, affirming union rights to public employees while renegotiating unaccrued pension benefits.

  41. tdawg says:

    I love how the public employees on here or Union Reps like Mockingbird, act as if they are patron saints, doing a “job to serve the public”.. Phlease.. Most people get a job in the Public or Government sector because it’s the BEST deal around! A stable job at a decent salary, excellent benefits and a pension!

    Also, the argument about Teachers that keeps being brought up is another attempt by the unions to tug at the heartstrings of taxpayers to approve more taxes. C’mon now.. There is no argument that Good to Excellent teachers DESERVE to be rewarded and compensated well.. The argument though is that BAD teachers or dead weight NEED to be unemployed! The unions seem to love the protect those “bad” teachers which is overall detrimental to providing a quality education that the unions claim to espouse “It’s all about the Children”.. Yeah.. Right!

  42. TheObserver says:

    TheObserver agrees with mockingbird…

    TheObserver is so tired of the whining of the wealthy, republican minority. The typical neocon republican is an animal because he or she lives by the rule of survival of the fittest. These are the people who support war, predation and slavery and who (unpatriotically) do not believe in taxes.

    These are the people who support the free use of guns in society and who believe God is a Christian exclusively.

    These are the people who do not believe in government itself. Who do not think that a government is necessary for the orderly conduct of daily life.

    These are the people who will exploit anyone they can to keep the highest standards of luxury and wealth. Thus, they employ the cheapest labor, whether it is the undocumented mom cleaning their home, or the chinese child making a computer or our shoes overseas.

    The worldview of the neocon is illegitmate because it is based on the Law of the Jungle and is a source of suffering. The worldview of most republicans is socieopathic. As a group, TheObserver believes they are border line insane.

    The re-imposition of heavy regulation on business is necessary and CEO salaries should be regulated and set by he government. No contracts for CEOs that enable them to ruin companies and make risky bets with no consequence to their compensation. Salaries and bonuses of CEOs and all executive compensation should be set by a comission established by congress.

    Further, no company that is crucial to infrastructure, such as banks, insurance companies, utilities, and others should be allowed to issue stock to the public. This would insulate these crucial businesses from market forces that could destroy them.

    Yes, folks, the government sometimes has to put the rotten, corrupt, crafty executive in his or her place for the sake of the people. The stock market and business continues to thrive while so many people sit jobless and the unions must fight to keep their basic rights…what a world.

  43. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    GAJ-you’re right about the upper tiers however we lower tier workers haven’t had a COLA for 4 years now, have to pay more for our health insurance leaving many with no family coverage, have had an effective 5% cut in our income. It times past we weren’t given COLAS because we were told we would have good benefits and pensions when we retired. The unions went along with this to save public money. To me, whose been working for 26 years, promises should be kept.

    As far as me making more than my coworkers in the private sector. That isn’t true. What makes the difference is the pension and benefits which brings us up. Without those, we make less than you do considering the higher education levels that most public employees have (those pension and benefits looked awful good for some of us college educated that we went into public service even in low level public jobs). Here’s a website for some answers:

  44. Reality Check says:

    What does a local political do when faced with a demand the next contract include a raise, but the budget can’t afford it? Simple. Propose deferred benefits. Never mind that the raise wouldn’t have been granted in the first place. The money wasn’t there.

    This outcome makes everyone happy. And public employees buy the con that they’ve paid for the added benefit by forsaking a raise.

    That the raise would have been cheaper in the long run is irrelevant, even if it had been granted. No one’s thinking about the long run. That’s someone else’s problem.

    Well, it’s our problem now.

  45. GAJ says:

    Mockingbird; we in the private sector are so sad that they cut back your Cost Of Living Adjustments.

    Mind you, we’ve never had them in the first place, but keep crying us a river.

    You do understand that as a lower tier government employee, (at least that’s what you are portraying yourself as), that you are NOT the problem but you WILL be sacrificed in order to keep the upper tiers with longer tenure employed.

    The taxpayer will get less services and lower tiers of government employees will inevitably be laid off because we “can’t” go back and change the rules for the over the top bennies of the upper tiers of government employees.

  46. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    So many misinformed people making comments. So many jealous, ungrateful people. We public workers work for you and need to be compensated. We do a good job FOR YOU. I will say again, pension and benefits ARE IN LIEU OF CASH IN OUR PAYCHECKS. In other words, we got less in COLAs (cost of living wages) BECAUSE we had good benefits and pensions.

    You all miss the fact that it was big financial that caused this economy to bust. Greedy at the top. NOT PUBLIC EMPLOYEES. There has been NO trickle down to you or to public employees. In fact there has been a trickle up. Just read the article that the PD posted called \The pension haves vs. the have-nots\ and see how ALL MIDDLECLASS COMPENSATION HAS BEEN LOWERED OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS OR SO in California. Yours as well as mine along with the erosion of pensions (and undependable 401Ks-another hit at the middleclass by corporations) and benefits. If we work our entire lives-I am going on 26 years- and pay into a pension plan with part of my income why do you begrudge us so?
    Sounds petty and resentful rather than thoughtful and knowledgeable.

    As the article above says, look to management (who are NOT UNION) with their bloated salaries along with perks you wouldn’t believe. The rest of us public workers go to our jobs and work hard FOR YOU. We, rather that the managers are also the ones being laid off. Guess who makes the lay off decisions?

    And for all of you that have children and grandchildren in CA public schools remember, you get what you pay for. If we can’t recruit QUALITY TEACHERS, YOUR CHILDREN ARE THE ONES WHO WILL SUFFER FOR A LIFETIME WITH POOR CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS. Training a teacher is extremely expensive. Going to school on loans, coming out with huge debt, then to teach at a job that doesn’t pay enough to pay off your school loans much less be able to afford to live in Sonoma county is bad enough without the public resenting paying teachers too. With that expense who in their right mind would want to be a teacher? CA is already somewhere near 47th of all the states in quality of education. Can you all afford to send your children to private school?

  47. Dupicated efforts says:

    I heard from a friend who works for the county that the sheriff was floating a plan to have the county dispatch take over all or most of the dispatching in the county. Apparently it a hugely duplicated effort in every city. Save where you can people. No quick fix is in the works. This is a long, slow crawl.

  48. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Bear

    - “I have never read a more idiotic and misinformed series of comments in my life.”

    Sounds just like what union officials spout as their propaganda to justify the the cost to the masses for the benefit of the few.

    - “Do you REALLY think that union members just \wave a wand\ and get whatever they ask for?”

    No wand involved, just millions of dollars spent by unions like SEIU, on ‘buying’ the favor of select politicians, which, by the way, isn’t Republicans. SEIU spends a lot of money and effort on telling their membership how to vote in every election: I’m surprised SEIU doesn’t send people around to fill out the employees ballot for them.

    - “In the 1950s 40% of the workforce was in a union.”

    You conveniently ignore the fact that the main reasons for the unions’ success from the early 1900′s to the ’50′s or so was due to removing the hazards in the workplace, conditions that are now regulated by state and federal employee protection laws.

    - “News flash: all the government employees who are getting laid off will NOT be spending money at your business.”

    News flash for you; the people who are buried in home mortgages, higher taxes and higher DMV fees to help support your lifestyle, unsustainable health and retirement benefits can’t be spending money in businesses either.

    Your comments come across as far more self-serving than what’s best for the economic health of Sonoma County, and the State of California. I guess as long as ‘you have yours’, all is good in your little world, but the reality is that this is a new economy, and one that isn’t going to change for a long, long time. In fact, we may never see the golden days of the last 30 years or so, so public-sector employees, just as private-sector employees over the last three years have had to do, is accept the inevitable and know that there WILL be downsizing and increased costs for health and retirement benefits.

    You should be happy with that, though, as many, many private-sector people don’t have health insurance, retirement plans, job security or even… a job.

  49. BigDogatlPlay says:

    Am I the only person who finds it somewhat odd that in a largely rural (outside the incorporated cities) county of less than 500K population we have ~6000 government workers?

    And 27,000 when one folds in public education workers?

    Is it too late to ask the board of supervisors and the councils of the cities to tell us, person by person, where all that headcount is, what it is doing, and how much of it is duplicated effort?

    This article isn’t so much saying that SoCo is a union stronghold as it is telling us that government is way overstaffed.

  50. Gerry La Londe-Berg says:

    Up to date information from a knowledgeable source

  51. Eric says:

    The County of Sonoma remains a union stronghold becuase it’s union members have no way to opt out. Once you are in, that’s it. If the unions were so confident of the support of it’s members they would not require closed shop and the “confiscation” of union dues in perpetuity. The truth is, if members could could pay on a voluntary basis, many would opt out. How would that shift the power?

  52. Democratic County says:

    I was one of the few Libertarians at the Sonoma County Democratic Party crab feed recently. They celebrated the fact that every elected official in the county was now a Democrat. Who will they side with? Unions. Will most of them listen to you? Of course. Will they act on what you say? No. They are elected over and over and over and they know there is no situation, pension or otherwise, that will prevent them from being elected.

    I am sure it feels good to rant and vent. Unfortunately it will not change state law that lays out how unions are dealt with. As for changing the retirement systems and salaries, no one here has any power and darn little influence on the subject. It hurts, but those are the facts. Socialistic as they are. Welcome to Sonoma County, the real one.

    I do agree with several posts. Most either made up their stats or found them at idipedia… The pension system needs some work, but it won’t happen in the next 15 to 20 years. See, I can call all this facts too. Elect some different people and maybe, just maybe, you can get a 2nd tier retirement for new people to limit the cost. But it will cost.

  53. Common Sense says:

    Gee Dave, I thought newspapers were supposed to be impartial and not pick sides. On this article they did a good job! Remember, this is not a war and most are just trying to survive.

  54. Dave says:

    The Press Democrat needs to decide where it stands on this issue. One week you publish articles and pictures claiming that all of Sonoma County stands with the Unions in Wisconsin against the tyranny and evil being thrust upon them. And then the next week you publish articles and pictures claiming that unions (the same unions) locally are unleashing tyranny and evil upon our own County. You do not get to have it both ways. Pick one and go with it.

  55. bear says:

    I have never read a more idiotic and misinformed series of comments in my life.

    Do you REALLY think that union members just \wave a wand\ and get whatever they ask for?

    We fight for everything we get, and we set the standard for what private sector workers get. If we all give up, then YOU lose even more than you already have.

    Do you really think that private sector corporate bosses give a rat’s ass about what you think? Or what your standard of living is? The unions fight for you, even if you’re not in one.

    Hey, you could be, but apparently the people on this page lack the courage to fight predatory management. In the 1950s 40% of the workforce was in a union. Let’s just have a \race to the
    bottom.\ where all are equally screwed.

    News flash: all the government employees who are getting laid off will NOT be spending money at your business. Instead, they will move out of this overpriced county and spend what they have left elsewhere. Is this the goal?

    Meanwhile, all the BS about public sector pensions is due to the republican deregulatory economic policies that tanked the stock market and your 401(k).

    Not to mention a couple of expensive and unwinnable wars.

    Oh please, remain calm and see the problem clearly?

  56. Really Big Fish says:

    The unions,represneting only about 4% of the county population of 460,000 actually want their neighbors, friends, business asociates and anyone with a pulse that has money to pay for their grossly over compensated salaries and pension benefits. They want you to work harder and suffer more because they are under the felonious assumption that they are of the greatest value to the county. Always many appreciations for the police, fire and first responders but it’s a “public” job and you work for taxpayers. It’s time to restructure the union game.

  57. GAJ says:

    If you want to LOSE an election around here run on a platform that puts the taxpayer demands first, (ie. good services delivered at a reasonable price).

    If you want to WIN an election be sure to represent the interests of the Government Union workers first, no matter the long term negative impact on the taxpayer.

    The 12% in the County represented by a Union have done a great job in convincing the remaining 88% that their interests are in the best interests of the population.

    History has proven otherwise and yet the problem is only in its infancy.

    I don’t expect any politician trying to fight the interests of that 12% to stand any better chance of election in the future.

  58. Frank says:

    i wonder how much tax increase were willing to bare, until the people say enough, I have to feed my kids too.

  59. It’s extremely important to understand Sonoma County’s Pension Fund SHOULD BE 100% funded on average based on the real market value of its investments. When employees retire the County should NEVER have to put more money into the Fund to pay their pensions. All that is supposed to be needed after retirement is for the Fund to earn its target investment profits.

    As of December 2009 (most recent available analysis I know of) Sonoma’s Pension Fund was supposed to have $2 billion. Based on the real market value of its investments it was 1/3 short ($700 million). In addition as of June 2010 the County still owed $250 million of the $350 million it borrowed when it sold Pension Obligation Bonds (POB)in 1993 and 2003.

    And then in August 2010 the County sold a third round of POB – this time borrowing $290 million. Most of that was put into the Pension Fund. The Fund got the cash – the County (and the people) still have to pay the debt.

    So – the combination of Pension Bond debt and the amount of the Pension Fund’s deficit based on the real market value of its investments is about half of what the Fund is supposed to have.

    Every year the Pension Fund gets what’s called an \Actuarial Valuation\. That Valuation is – in very real terms – the County’s Pension Funding Plan. If everything had worked over the past 2 decades according to that Plan the Pension Fund would be 100% funded – as it’s supposed to be.

    Instead – the County’s Pension Funding Plan achieved only half its goal over the past 2 decades – and the result is the people of Sonoma County still owe $1 Billion – you aren’t supposed to owe a dime.

    Sonoma County’s financial managers should have compared the actual results of its Pension Funding program to these Plans and figured out why the County has been forced to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars every 10 years or so. They should have specifically identified what keeps going wrong and taken steps to \fix it\.

    Instead – $1 billion of unfunded pension debt – with interest – has been forced onto the next two generations. They won’t get one minute of services or one dime of infrastructure. It is a debt that should not exist – and wouldn’t exist if the County had adjusted its Pension Funding Plan to fix what kept going wrong.

    The argument that it’s all the fault of those greedy capitalists on Wall Street and the \Government of/by and for Wall Street\ in Washington doesn’t answer the question – so why has Sonoma County had to borrow hundreds of millions every 10 years – and why does it keep happening?

    Now I’ll make a leap from that extremely important and unanswered question to the issue of public employee unions.

    The unions held the politicians they supported accountable to make promises. But they didn’t hold them accountable to do what needed to be done to actually fulfill them.

    Make no mistake – the people most responsible for this mess are the government officials who had a duty to manage Our Public Money responsibly – but didn’t. But union leadership played a very big role. You didn’t look at the numbers realistically. You either didn’t see how badly public officials were screwing up your members retirement funding, or worse didn’t care because you knew the California Constitution requires the pensions to be paid – whether or not there’s enough money in the Pension Fund.

    You may say it isn’t your job to make sure government officials are properly funding your member’s retirements – but your members have been put into an entirely unnecessary political fight with what is going to become a large majority of the people across the political spectrum.

    Our local and state governments are caught between a rock they didn’t create – the bad economy – and a hard place they did – this huge an unnecessary unfunded retiree benefits debt.

    The buzzards are coming home – the deeply flawed financial management of your members retirements has created a huge debt – so huge that the majority of people are not going to be willing to tax themselves enough to pay it – and are not going to accept the collapse of public services that we are beginning to see.

    This huge debt was unnecessary – and you played a big role in allowing it to develop.

  60. Moe says:

    The issue isn’t the cost of pensions. It’s the ultra rich manipulating the market, creating the AAA rated mortgage backed securities. Pensions investing into those AAA rated securities, and the rich guys taking the pot of gold when the securities fail. The ponzi scheme created by the ultra rich to rip off the working man has worked. Add the blather on Fox News, and people believe that it’s the unions fault. Oh, don’t forget the $80 million salaries of the oil company CEOs. Our fuel prices must rise to support them. Then there is health care cost… $500M for a CEO? Come on people, we can’t keep giving our money to the ultra rich.

  61. Pearl Alquieres says:

    I wish “I” belonged to a Union that gets to decide who my boss will be & how long he gets to be my boss! Better yet… the “Union Official” who negotiates my contract with that boss!! Now THAT has to be one easy job.

  62. tdawg says:

    This is why taxes are so high in the area. Public Employee unions TRULY believe in balancing the budget on the backs of working private-sector people.

  63. Brian Brown says:

    I was at the DMV the other day and every DMV employee had an SEIU mouse pad. Remember when we earned our raises and pensions? I think the “All in the Family” song had it right. “those were the days” If you’re young, you should listen to that song on youtube. It sums it up.

  64. Steele says:

    I have no issue with the unions, they are doing what they should be for their members, get the most beneficial package possible.

    There needs to be a barrier between the elected officials ability to negotiate packages with the unions who elect them.

  65. Dan Delgado says:

    So Sonoma County is still a “union stornghold?” Duh. That’s why we’re having this debate.

  66. Reality Check says:

    If General Motors signs contracts with unions that result in an expensive and inefficient workforce, and does this long enough, it risks losing its business to a competitor. Which of course is what happened. And hundreds of thousands of union autoworkers lost their jobs.

    Public employee unions face no similar restraint. Government is a monopoly. Worse, local politicians have an incentive to promise generous contracts in return for political support.

    Just look at who we elect in Sonoma County to see how well this symbiosis works.