WatchSonoma Watch

County workers reject contract proposal



The largest union of Sonoma County government workers on Monday soundly rejected a proposed contract that would have cut their pensions and pay.

Eighty-three percent of those workers, represented by Service Employees International Local 1021, who voted opposed the proposal.

About 1,200 of the 1,700 workers who would have been covered under the three-year agreement were eligible to vote. Voting began last Tuesday. The union represents about half of the county’s 3,400 workers.

Lathe Gill, area director for Local 1021, said the proposed contact “didn’t deliver enough on health care.”

He also cited cuts to holiday time and pensions for the sweeping rejection.

“You can’t live in Sonoma County for six years without a cost-of-living adjustment,” Gill said.

The result canceled today’s scheduled ratification vote on the proposal by the county Board of Supervisors and stalled the county’s progress on long-sought measures to

SEIU 1021 union members Mayra Gallegos and Sindy Fisher, Eligibility Workers with the County of Sonoma, rally in front of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Tuesday, July 31, 2012 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / PD)

curb rising public pension costs and reduce overall compensation levels by 3 percent.

“It’s disappointing,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “There has been a lot of work on both sides. We did have a tentative agreement, and we were hoping they would ratify it.”

County Administrator Veronica Ferguson stopped short of calling the union vote a setback but acknowledged it delays changes county officials believe are necessary to sustain the pension system.

The proposed contract resulted from seven months of negotiations and was the first for the county’s 11 bargaining groups to include both county-proposed and state-mandated changes to pensions, revisions that affect current and future employees.

The two sides are set to return to the bargaining table Wednesday.

“The county is going to continue to negotiate hard around the goals of reducing our pension costs and the total cost of compensation while trying to respect our workforce,” Ferguson said. “The particulars of this deal being rejected does not change that direction.”

The union represents mostly the county’s lower paid line staff. Those workers have taken aim at the higher pay and perks of managers and argued that their own ranks have been unequally thinned in budget cuts from 2008 to 2011. They also have gone without a cost-of-living adjustment to their wages since 2007, a freeze that would have continued under the new contract.

Bargaining team member Tim Tuscany, a psychiatric nurse with the county’s behavioral health division, said the proposed benefit reductions were unmanageable for the lowest-paid workers.

“The cost of our health care has become so high they can’t afford it,” Tuscany said.

A pair of lump-sum cash payments this year and next, totaling $2,200, plus increased county contributions toward employee medical costs apparently were not enough to sway union members.

“There is no guarantee they can get anything better, but they’re willing to try again,” Tuscany said.

On the concession side, a central provision of the contract would have shifted an additional share of pension premiums, equivalent to 2.25 percent of pay, onto employees.

New employees also would have been shifted into a new, lower tier of pension benefits expected to cost taxpayers less over the long term.

The vote is likely to affect talks under way with eight other county bargaining groups.

If the county-SEIU negotiations are not successful, the talks will have to go to mediation and fact-finding by a third party before the county could impose a one-year contract.

You can reach Staff Writers Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.

20 Responses to “County workers reject contract proposal”

  1. Robert says:

    The main problem is that Churchill is wrong. His math is not based on facts. Sad. The “experts” created this problem. So now another “expert” gets a guest spot to proclaim a fix. Round and round we go.

  2. GAJ says:

    In today’s paper there’s an article by Ken Churchill that makes the case that the county needs to be putting $215 million per year into the bloated pension fund to keep it solvent.

    There are currently 205,000 housing units in the County so that works out to $1,050 per household per year.

    Before the gold plated giveaways of the early 2000′s the County spent an average of $10.8 million per year on pensions.

    Does your household have an extra $1,000/year to fund this extravagance?

    Well, you’d better find it or move to a County that isn’t such a fiscal disaster.

  3. County Employee says:

    Go back in time 6-7 years or so before the real estate bubble burst when building construction trades, real estate agents, mortgage brokers and others in this field and the financial fields were making money hand over fist and probably thinking their riches would go on forever. Oops.

    Now that so many haven lost their temporary riches, they are coming after me because I still have a secure job and a secure retirement. I’ll never get rich working for the government as a lower paid line staff member, but I knew that going in 14 years ago and accepted the trade. I valued job security, retirement security, and health insurance for my family over the possibility of making wads of cash. All of this recent government employee bashing smacks of pension envy and little more. You lost yours so you want me to lose mine, too.

    I also value my ability to make a difference in the lives of the people I serve – people who know and live in poverty in a way most of you can’t imagine. There is no private sector equivalent of what I do because there is no money to be made in what I do. A company cannot earn huge profits helping poor people find shelter, food, medicine, and protection from abuse. The next time you feel a rant about overpaid County workers coming on, ask yourself who you would call if you suspected your elderly neighbor of being abused or neglected, if a child shows up at your home or office with suspicious bruises, if you need help to get to your doctor’s office for your next round of chemo, and no one, not even your own family, will help you. Find a private company you can turn to who will help you with those problems when you have no money to pay for their services.

    I have no problem examining the financial problems of the County and coming to an agreement that is fair to everyone including the taxpayers of Sonoma County (which includes me). But leave the juvenile name calling out of it. That helps no one.

  4. RAW says:

    It would be a little tough to convince a judge to approve a BK when the county has a balanced budget for 2013 – Some people dont like the expenses, but the county CAN afford it. Some of it is stupid spending, but they can afford it.

  5. David says:

    “BUSTED !

    Public employee caught posting nearly 5,000 posts to public chat boards WHILE ON THE JOB …

    Your typical government employee.



    Ever wonder why the Press Democrat never reports these type of incidents? Its because the PD dislikes exposing government criminals.”

    There is a poster on these forums who claims to be a Sonoma County employer who also posts all day long. It has been pointed out to the PD but they ignore it and will not investigate.

  6. Jim says:

    Just shows how out of touch and how warped minded the union is. “You can’t live in Sonoma County for 6 years without a cost of living increase”?? Really?!?

    Let’s see…6 years ago I was making double what I make now. The economic downturn caused by the idiots in Washington led me to a 100% loss in income, a drain on my savings for almost a year and taking a job with a commute that costs me $25/day in gas.

    I have since found a job with a long commute (as mentioned), started two side businesses and cut living expenses significantly.

    The sense of entitlement union members have, where they believe a wage increase is automatic rather than earned, is one of the problems with unions. Everyone gets a raise of they walk. That is ridiculous. Where is the incentive for strong workers to excel? To innovate?

    Union members make absurd claims that they make less than they would in the private sector. They make claims that they “deserve” or “earned” the wages and benefits that they force us taxpayers to pay. The house of cards will collapse under the weight of excessive wages and benefits. Bankruptcy is looming in every city, state and at the Federal level.

  7. Jean Anderson says:

    If the offer is so bad, then why not quit and go find a higher paying job with good benefits?

    Oh wait…these are the higher paying jobs with good benefits.

    They should be thanking the taxpayers instead of demanding more.

  8. Frank says:

    most Unions can’t survive without Government assistant (private sector)
    hum sounds like walfare to me

    Unions also the reason for higher taxes
    X union member
    cert welder, cert equipment operator
    the last project i was on, was not allowed to weld, but my viewing of the welds doine by others, folks sad part is it passed inspection and the weld looked like popcorn
    I would like to know why Local 3 will not hire locals, anybody notice the out-of-state plates for the dummy train project
    does not Sonoma county have resident hiring laws, local hiring laws, affirmative action laws or is this just for San Francisco
    I have never wittness a more prejudice and aggresive group of people in my life til i join the union, i’m not talking about color folks
    unions have been voting and shooting the foot they march on and wonder why they are shrinking 12% annually
    will never work for or support unions.

  9. Snarky says:

    BUSTED !

    Public employee caught posting nearly 5,000 posts to public chat boards WHILE ON THE JOB …

    Your typical government employee.



    Ever wonder why the Press Democrat never reports these type of incidents? Its because the PD dislikes exposing government criminals.

  10. bear says:

    Yes! Replace them!

    No doubt there are many on this site who have the education and experience to replace the entire county workforce.

    Better yet, contract out all of county government. Dump the pension system, eliminate health care and pay minimum wage to all, including management and the BOS.

    I’d offer you a fantastic deal on contracting out. The first year would be incredibly cheap. Costs would go up the second year, and by the third year we’d have you by the balls. All profits to the investors, not the employees who are doing the work.

    Just don’t demand anything but minimum wage services

    Funny how we did not have these problems until 2007 or so, when the vulture economics and unregulated greed of the republican party had not yet kicked in.

  11. Lisa Maldonado says:

    Today the Board Of Supervisors voted to pay a couple hundred THOUSAND dollars in “consulting” contracts. The Board has also given over 300 THOUSAND dollars of our tax dollars to the Chamber of Commerce’s BEST Program (a so called employment development program that has yet to show ANY jobs created )The BOS in the past has passed a special resolution so that Paul Kelly could receive the largest amount of benefits upon his retirement and I am certain that Supervisor Valerie Brown leaves after eight years with a very fair pension and benefit package as part of her six figure salary. Yet SEIU 1021 workers who handle the county’s business and deal with the public and fix our roads, clean our water and keep our children healthy are being punished with take aways and attacks on their health care; rank and file IHSS workers who do the actual hard work of delivering services and taking care of disabled and seniors make only 12$ an hour and have NO HEALTHCARE. That is what they are paid for tolieting and bathing some of the most needy and helpless among us. I am not sure when the ‘race to the bottom’ for wages and benefits became a legitimate public policy in our county, but it seems to meas if we should be trying to get decent wages and healthcare for every worker, not trying to drag people down to the lowest salary and benefit
    s like crabs in a barrel pulling each other down. There is money to pay fairly, the only thing lacking is political will. We see how the Board can afford money when it wants to. In fact they are hiring managers and department heads at six figure salaries as we speak. Let’s not try to pull each other down. There is always a more desperate worker will ing to do your job for free. If you want to live in that kind of a degraded and unhealthy society I suggest China where you can work for cents a day in misery. Working people ARE taxpayers and we contribute to our communities. We deserve a decent wage and healthcare for our kids. And thanks to the union for fighting for it!

  12. RAW says:

    County kids, hold out for all you can get. No one cares about you, no one cares about your issues. get what you can while you can. Others will go after everything they can take from you. Don’t give up without a fight because you wil NEVER get anything back. The tides have turned, you are hated and you are the public enemy. Disregard all the hate and jealousy here and fight on. Unsustainable it the new battle cry of the unimaginative. This problem was sovled 5 times over and no one had the guts to do it. Fight one kids.

  13. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I predicted this would happen. The OVERPAID BOS’s salaries are set to the judges and not in line with other county BOS. THEY NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR OWN OVERPAYMENT FIRST. They make more than SF BOS for heaven’s sake. They also need to take away TOTALLY (not hide it somewhere else) the $4M county paid deferred comp from the managers before they ask lower paid workers who DIDN’T GET A COLA in five years, for more concessions. SEIU workers’ salaries were not compared to comparable counties. SEIU workers already took huge hits to their income and with layoffs and the managers protected themselves. In the last 10 years 567 rank and file workers lost their jobs versus 3, THREE, managers.

    The BOS wants SEIU, the lowest paid workers in the county, to take the brunt of the cost cuts while the managers get to keep their 3% COLA they got in 2008. SEIU employees did not get that COLA, but a 2% pension pickup of their pension costs instead that the BOS wants to now take back. Many families now have no health insurance for their kids because they can’t afford the premiums, yet these same workers help the public obtain health insurance. The real issue for the SEIU workers is the cost of insurance. That was #1 on the list. That was not addressed and county workers shouldn’t have to go on the government dole to cover their children with Medi-Cal because the BOS wants to keep their own high salaries and benefits.

    People on this blog keep saying how overpaid the county workers are. They are clueless. Some county workers make as little as $9 an hour. Add the cost of health insurance to that, and you are making NOTHING.

    Lastly, the BOS of supervisors are NOT ADDRESSING BUT ADDING MANAGERS TO the 1:5.73 manager to rank and file ratio. THEY ARE APROVING NEW MANAGEMENT POSITIONS. There are managers doing CLERICAL WORK. Oregon passed a law that manager:rank and file ratio would be 1:11. This state needs to pass the same law. Maybe some enterprising group can get a Proposition together to vote on next November and control this crazy obsession with putting high paid, high perk managers in everywhere.

    Rank and file need fairness from the BOS. SEIU has been fighting the excessive costs incurred by the excessive numbers of managers in this county and have gotten nowhere. Lots of SEIU families are struggling just as those in the private sector are. The BOS made big mistakes in the past (their own salaries being a huge one not being addressed) and now want to take it out on the lowest paid workers and their families. The SEIU workers are the workhorses in the county and serve the public. They are the ones who meet and greet you when you need services.

  14. Fiscal Conservative says:

    I don’t miss Hostess Twinkies or Wonder Bread. I wonder how much the hardworking
    taxpayer would miss most of these self-centered, entitlist County workers? Just how hard
    is it to put up a ‘flooded- Road closed’ sign every year next to the flood channel that we
    cant afford to muck out?

    The Bakers unions made demands beyond what the market could bare. They refused to
    negotiate and now the Union members are holding ‘will work for food signs’. I wonder if
    the bank’s that hold the home mortgages and auto loans have sympathy for the cause? I
    wonder if the Union brass who was so encouraging of the strike and busting of attempts at
    negotiation are right there with their brothers and sisters now? I would bet only in verbal
    encouragement only on all counts.

    What is the yet unspecified claim to superior knowledge that makes Sonoma County
    employees elite over the taxpayer’s needs and the duty of the municipal government?
    What is the viable claim to our great grandchildren’s debt? A virtual generation zero…for

    I believe it is only the claim to an illegal pension. A $ 1 Billion dollar+ scam that has
    ruined our local business climate, stolen untold millions for the taxing families and left our
    public infrastructure in a third world disgrace. This group of entitilists want to continue
    receiving full pay and benefits after they retire, the Unions want a piece of everyone’s pie.
    Both want our grandchildren to pay this debt. I refuse to support this.

    Previously bankrupt Vallejo and Stockton are looking better every day while once proud
    Sonoma County rapidly declines and becomes the highest debt ridded municipality in
    I suggest filing bankruptcy and letting the Judge decide how the budget will be set. I think
    when the actual numbers are published this will be the only option for the Board.

    I believe it is time for our County Board of Supervisors to act like the leaders that our
    government needs right now. This is not a popularity contest as some would believe, this
    is hard core leadership of a County that is bankrupt. My suggestion, issue a final ‘take it or
    leave it’ then file for bankruptcy restructuring.

  15. elephant says:

    Change has to come from the top down for it to be regarded as fair and acceptable. Board of Stupidvisors, THIS MEANS YOU.

    Still these county employees should be thankful for what they’ve got. They’re much better off than most of the rest of us.

  16. Reality Check says:

    This is going to be painful to watch. The public wants employee pay and benefits brought back to terra firma, but it continues to elect a board that doesn’t have the backbone necessary to bring this about.

  17. The Hammer says:

    replace them!

  18. GAJ says:

    Classic line from the article; no thought of advancing yourself or getting a merit increase…or the thought that the gravy train era is behind us.

    “You can’t live in Sonoma County for six years without a cost-of-living adjustment,” Gill said.

  19. Grapevines says:

    What nobody is catching is the hypocrisy on the part of the Board of Stupid-visors. They come out with this big announcement that they have written into the employee contracts these big changes. And in small print it’s mentioned that they only apply if the unions and employees agree to them.

    Well it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that wasn’t going to happen and predictably, it didn’t. So now the Stupid-visors get to throw their hands up in the air and claim that there’s nothing they can do about pensions, payrolls, etc. What they really mean is that they are following the line they have been told to say by the unions. Pretend to do something, and yet do nothing.

    Don’t upset the apple cart or rock the boat. And we can count on them doing just that. Nothing at all to address the situation. And pension obligatio
    ns continue to climb to where they are going to become unsustainable. And then what happens?

    What happens when there just isn’t enough money to cover the obligations they are getting us into? It’s already starting to happen folks. Look at the condition of the roads! How about public services, parks, street lighting? Going right into the toilet that’s marked as “Pension Obligations” And this group of Stupid-visors isn’t going to do anything about it.

    I’m not against a fair living wage, or working requirements, but I want it fair across the spectrum. I’m not getting raises, I’m seeing my health care costs rise, and I contribute towards my retirement. Lets see the field leveled out.

    But that would take courage on the part of the BOS, and that’s a quality that is sadly lacking. Nothing but a corral of sheep.

  20. Over Easy says:

    LOL what a joke!

    The lower paid (yet still over paid)workers are fed up with their higher paid (way over paid) managers.

    It is class warfare at its finest! I think a lot of people would be happy to be one of the poor lower paid county employees. They should be thankful they have a job, with benefits, with retirement, etc.