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County, labor leaders await outcome of contract vote

By BRETT WILKISON

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The outcome of a standoff between Sonoma County’s government and its largest union could be decided today in a contract vote

SEIU 1021 union members with the County of Sonoma rally in front of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in 2012 in Santa Rosa. (PD FILE, 2012)

SEIU 1021 union members with the County of Sonoma rally in front of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in 2012 in Santa Rosa. (PD FILE, 2012)

by workers.

The closely watched decision by members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 will hinge on pay provisions, as well as a general discontent among union workers about the size and compensation of the county’s management ranks.

Both sides took a step back from confrontation Monday when the union said it would not stage a strike planned for Thursday. The county, in turn, withdrew a request to state labor officials to prevent a walkout.

Approval of the tentative agreement could defuse what has been an escalating legal fight between the union and the county. Rejection, however, would set the stage for an even more protracted battle, including a likely strike. The union represents about half of the county’s 3,500 employees, and any deal it reaches could determine contract terms for the rest of the county’s union workers.

Agreement by a majority of unionized employees also is needed before tentative pay and pension cuts for managers, elected officials and other non-union workers go into effect.

An SEIU leader said he expected the vote to be close for or against. Members started casting ballots last week and are set to finish by 3 p.m. today, with results expected by about 9 p.m.

“I think the membership is feeling a lot of angst,” said Lathe Gill, Santa Rosa-based area director for SEIU Local 1021.

The union in December overwhelmingly rejected a previous proposal that included an unpopular wage freeze and pension concessions. The union since planned for the strike while the county took its steps to block it.

Changes at the bargaining table led to the latest tentative deal. While pension cuts remain, the proposed pay freeze, now in place since 2008 on cost-of-living adjustments, would only continue for 16 months.

After that, for the remaining 16 months of the contract, starting in mid-2014, the county would provide a cost-of-living wage boost of 1 percent in the first year and an additional bump of 2 percent in mid-2015.

County officials have expressed hope for a settlement while remaining tight-lipped about its terms, saying they do not want to influence the union’s decision.

“I really want their vote to go forward in as neutral an arena as possible,” said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson.

County officials insist the contract proposal would result in savings for taxpayers, freeing up funds needed for government services and to pay off long-term pension liabilities. How much the immediate savings would be offset when the cost-of-living increases take effect is unclear.

SEIU leaders said they were unsure whether the future-year salary sweetener, plus additional money toward employee health care, would be enough to sway a majority of their 1,200 voting members. Many have called for an immediate wage bump, pointing to the reductions they’ve experienced since 2008 to help fill recession-era budgets.

Since then, the cost of living has gone up nearly 11 percent, with no adjustment for SEIU-represented workers, who are among the lowest-paid county employees. The cost of pay and benefits for county management and the fewer reductions in their ranks since 2008 have become central union issues.

“It’s enough to make or break the vote,” said Gill of the SEIU.

Although the SEIU called off its Thursday strike, a no vote by the union would authorize a future strike. Gill said reaching another tentative agreement would be “difficult.”

Given that, county officials said they would return to negotiations, now in their 11th month, but would not rule out a new effort to block a strike while the two sides remained at the bargaining table.

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





3 Responses to “County, labor leaders await outcome of contract vote”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    There is no rule that management and the unrepresented need to wait until everyone got their contract. In 2008 they WENT FIRST, then imposed the contract on SEIU.

    I believe that the county has made “promises” to do something about the manager to rank and file ratio and their pensionable perks that they don’t intend to keep. Not only that, but they are balancing the budget on the backs of the rank and file AGAIN while adding new management positions. Meanwhile they GET TO KEEP THE 3% RAISE THEY GOT BUT THE RANK AND FILE DIDN’T GET, while the rank and file takehome pay will immediately go down 2.25%.

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  2. chuck reilly says:

    I say we let these Public Employees strike. Like Ronald Reagan, we can bring in substitutes.

    I dare ANY of them to try working in Private Industry – for real companies. They’d suffer a 30% cut in wages and benefits and would forced in produce or move on ….

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  3. Tired of Lies says:

    “Agreement by a majority of unionized employees also is needed before tentative pay and pension cuts for managers, elected officials and other non-union workers go into effect.”

    Once again LIES!!! There is no contract “NEEDED” to have these cuts to the non-represented staff. As line staff, the bargaining team, and SEIU have been told ON REPEAT we have no right to bargain for administration or management. But, oh wait, that is only the case when it is convenient and we are not being made to be the “bad guys” holding up cuts.

    Press Democrat why do you keep spouting this? The County could have put into place cuts to admin and management (which have NOT taken place in the last TWO contracts with line staff) MONTHS ago. They CHOSE not to. How much public tax money would we have saved if they had been enacted six months ago? I am tired of reading this bull!

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