WatchSonoma Watch

Changes to exempt employees’ pay upset Sonoma County union


A short-lived ceasefire between Sonoma County government and its largest labor union broke down this week over last-minute changes to the

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)

pay and benefits proposed for the county’s highest-paid employees.

The deal, which covers elected officials, department heads and managers, is one of two going before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday in what could mark the county’s first significant move to rein in pension costs for represented and unrepresented workers.

But leaders and members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 said the recent changes, including some pay and benefit sweeteners for top officials, reneged on promises the county made in order to secure cuts from rank-and-file workers.

“It’s like a knife into the back of employees,” said Dana Candy, an SEIU-represented senior office assistant in the county’s behavioral health division.

Lathe Gill, the union’s Santa Rosa-based director, described the initial reaction among members this week as “an uproar,” saying it could undermine employee trust in the Board of Supervisors.

Whether the reaction is justified is up for debate.

The changes resulted from supervisors’ closed-session meeting Tuesday, where they gave new direction on a package first approved in August.

The revisions include a 16-month extension of county payments into officials’ deferred compensation retirement accounts, a largely executive-level benefit proposed to end for all others this year. The equivalent offset for SEIU members is additional county contributions to health care costs and one-time cash payments to employees.

The new package for top officials also would trigger an overall 3 percent bump on cost-of-living adjustments to wages, excluding county supervisors, whose pay would not be increased. SEIU members are set to get the same 3 percent salary boost by late 2015.

Even with the changes, the new package results in deeper cuts for top officials than those negotiated for the unionized workers. Overall, the total compensation loss for the Board of Supervisors is 8.5 percent, more than triple the concessions that SEIU members agreed to, according to the county. For department heads and administrative managers, cuts are more than double the SEIU loss.

“We believe that’s a major contribution,” said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson, who herself falls into the department heads group. “I would hope SEIU would respect that.”

The blowback, however, appears likely to spill over into Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Understanding of the two deals remains uneven among county employees. SEIU representatives blamed the county’s timing — making changes only after a recent union contract vote. They said it appeared deceitful.

“They should have been upfront,” said Candy, the office assistant.

Several county supervisors declined to discuss their stance on the changes, but defended the county’s overall approach to labor concessions.

“The solution that we crafted said this was going to be built on shared sacrifice, with more sacrifice coming from the top,” Supervisor Efren Carrillo said. “That’s exactly what this agreement represents.”

Both deals appear headed for board endorsement. They are at the heart of the county’s plans to curb rising pension costs and reduce long-term liabilities to its retirement system, now at $353 million.

The two deals alone could achieve up to three-quarters of the $150 million pension savings the county says it needs over the next decade to make its retirement system sustainable.

Supervisor Mike McGuire described Tuesday’s vote as historic, saying the county has never before reduced pension benefits, at least outside of recent state-mandated moves for future workers.

The proposed actions would scale back pension-eligible pay to include salary, a smaller number of job premiums and some cash and job-related allowances. It would eliminate from retirement calculations various cashouts of accrued leave, end-of-career bonuses for department heads and other pension-spiking opportunities.

“The focus should be on what we’ve been able to achieve,” McGuire said.

But tensions between two sides may only be set to escalate.

SEIU narrowly approved the current proposed contract in February on a 52-to-48 vote, and only upheld the vote late last week after an internal legal review. In December, union members strongly rejected a previous package, prompting leaders to draw up strike plans.

A new fight could begin Tuesday, when union leaders may launch a bid for a local ballot initiative that would require a higher number of rank-and-file workers to managers than currently exists at the county.

Union leaders have blasted the county’s management costs, saying the latest moves offered further evidence of a problem.

“It’s a clear indication that they (the county) haven’t changed their tune about reforming management waste,” said Gill, the local SEIU director. “It’s ridiculous and we’re done with it.”

County officials have said they intend to study staff-to-management ratios. They also have defended the across-the-board wage boosts, saying the increases were equivalent to those offered by comparable counties and fit with a projected rebound in property tax revenues.

“The discussion was: If we are going to provide cost-of-living adjustments to our union employees, what were we going to do for management and still stay true to our goals coming into negotiations?” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, describing the board’s closed-door talks this week.

The county is in negotiations with its other 10 unions and bargaining groups. Ferguson, the county administrator, declined to say whether they also would be in line for 3 percent salary boosts. Most county employees have gone five years without a cost-of-living adjustment to wages.

SEIU represents about half the county’s 3,500 employees. Their members, among the lowest paid in county government, include rank-and-file workers in most county departments except for public safety divisions. They represent about $200 million of the county’s $490 million total payroll.

By contrast, the more than 600 employees included in the county’s “salary resolution” are many of its highest paid, though the group also includes unclassified and unrepresented workers who do not have six-figure salaries. The group represents roughly $112 million of the total payroll.

Their representatives have largely stayed out of the fight so far. But a leader for the largest unit, the 430-plus administrative managers, waded into the debate Friday.

Without the new offsets, “we would have been taking quadruple the hit” SEIU members did, said Deva Proto, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Administrative Management Council.

“We’re not happy about the cuts, but we accept them,” she said. “If we did start to get into a fight, it would undermine the organization as a whole. I don’t think we want to do that.”

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

19 Responses to “Changes to exempt employees’ pay upset Sonoma County union”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Steveguy-you are always harping on whistleblowers. I’m a whistle blower and apparently you haven’t read my posts because I’ve said many things about the BOS over and over again. Now if only the PD would stop favoring the BOS and actually do some indepth reporting maybe we could all be happy.

    The BOS is saying they want to cut rank and file to help the publics’ liability for pension costs. THEY SHOULD HAVE GIVEN UP THEIR PENSIONABLE DEFERRED COMP BACK IN 2008 while the rank and file were laid off in droves. SEIU told them they should to keep rank and file working and they were too selfish to give theirs and let the management keep their deferred comp and ALL THEIR JOBS.

    Where were you when all this was happening?

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  2. David Stubblebine says:

    @Steveguy: The first sentence of your post shows the complete folly of your own assumptions. If the unions really had bought the BOS members, they should be getting everything they wanted without a fuss. Since they’re not, the union ownership of elected officials must be a false assumption. Since you have proven so conclusively the total inaccuracy of this belief, can we stop littering WSC posts with it ad nauseam? It’s getting almost as sickening as the ICLEI and Agenda 21 nonsense. What’s next: The alien space craft is waiting for us just behind the comet?

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  3. Brown Act Jack says:

    And the uusal excuse is the meeting is under Govt. Code 54957.6 which is

    54957.6. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a
    legislative body of a local agency may hold closed sessions with the
    local agency’s designated representatives regarding the salaries,
    salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits
    of its represented and unrepresented employees, and, for represented
    employees, any other matter within the statutorily provided scope of
    However, prior to the closed session, the legislative body of the
    local agency shall hold an open and public session in which it
    identifies its designated representatives.
    Closed sessions of a legislative body of a local agency, as
    permitted in this section, shall be for the purpose of reviewing its
    position and instructing the local agency’s designated

    Now notice that the purpose of the meeting is not to set anything but to instruct their negotiators with the employee’s organizations or with the individual representative.

    And want to bet on whether they negotiated with the individual non-represented employees?

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  4. Brown Act Jack says:

    the previous post was from

    San Diego Union v. City Council (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d
    947 , 196 Cal.Rptr. 45

    A court case determining the facts!

    “Consequently, the [146 Cal.App.3d 957] omission of any
    reference to salary or other terms of compensation in section 54957 and the express
    reference to a specific kind of salary discussion within section 54957.6 evidence a
    legislative intent not to include such salary discussions within the ambit of the “personnel
    exception,” requiring such a hearing dedicated to salary determination to be open and
    public unless such discussions fall within the narrow provisions of section 54957.6″

    So,there it is, and what will the response be?

    We have always done it this way!

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  5. Brown Act Jack says:

    We conclude the Brown Act prohibits exclusion of the public
    during City Council sessions at which such salaries are discussed and/or determined,
    except when a specific nonelected officer’s or employee’s job performance is evaluated
    the City Council should meet in executive session for that purpose only and, upon
    determining the individual warrants a salary adjustment, hold a properly noticed, public
    meeting to determine that adjustment. As so interpreted, we affirm the judgment

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  6. Start at the Top says:

    A separate article in the Press Demo this morning says that County Administrator Ferguson makes $304,000 annually.

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  7. Janet says:

    What they fail to mention is that the deferred comp is pensionable. Thought their goal was to reduce pensions. Guess that was for the lowest paid workers only. Highest paid workers would still get pensionable deferred comp. Cannot trust county or BOS ever!

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  8. Steveguy says:

    Odd how the Union workers actually support the same folks that are at fault. It’s their Union dues that elect these con artists.

    Somebody should also look into the sweetheart ” Consultant” deals handed out too !

    If the rank and file want to point fingers, they should check themselves and their complicity.

    I can understand the rank and file being upset as they get labeled along with the management. Like I have always said here- Without whistle-blowers nothing will happen. Nothing.

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  9. rank & File worker says:

    This makes me sick. I’m already trying to figure out things to cut from my personal budget to cover the paycut that is coming. I just can’t take much more of this, I have a family to take care of. It almost feels like a punch in the stomach.

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  10. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Thanks, Accountable, you made my case better than I could. Our BOS previously set their salaries to the judges’ income which is set by the state. That’s why our county’s BOS are so highly paid. Also, they would use different counties in the past to set theirs and managements salaries than the counties they used for the rank and file. Supposedly they’ve changed that.

    Not only is the BOS taking themselves and the management out of that August 2012 Letter of Intent (THIS WAS AN AGREEMENT with the union) specifying what they and the management were willing to sacrifice if SEIU and the other unions bargained faithfully, they plan to give RAISES to the management beginning immediately. It’s all available for the public to see online. SEIU bargained IN GOOD FAITH directly according their agreement in this letter of intent and now the BOS are changing that agreement ONE WEEK AFTER SEIU voted for it. This is how much the public and rank and file employees can trust this current BOS. Heading this onslaught is Zane, Carillo and Rabbitt.
    In 2008 when SEIU and other union employees walked off the job to protect their health insurance, SEIU and the unions were also demanding that the management and BOS give up their county paid deferred compensation WHICH WAS/IS PENSIONABLE and to cut the ranks of management. 5 years later times $4M in PENSIONABLE DEFERRED COMPENSATION PER YEAR EQUALS $20M dollars added to the county’s and the taxpayers’ pension liability. IMAGINE HOW MANY ROADS THAT WOULD HAVE FIXED!!!!! The managers also got a 3% raise that year which the rank and file DID NOT GET. The rank and file got a 2.25% pension pickup by the county that they now want to take back which will mean IMMEDIATE decreases in the rank and file paychecks. Right now some of them are paying $700 to $800 out of their paychecks for health insurance but many have dropped their families off because they can’t afford it and many are on PUBLIC AID. County workers help Sonoma County families obtain health insurance AND THEY CAN’T EVEN AFFORD IT FOR THEIR OWN FAMILIES.

    Apparently, the managers and BOS are going to have a decrease in their PENSIONABLE deferred compensation to 2.25% (when they agreed in the letter of intent to give it ALL up) and will be getting an immediate 3% raise-that will equal 6% the rank and file did not get. The rank and file won’t be getting their 3% until near the end of the 3 year contract. The taxpayers should also check to see if they are giving up their car allowances which is pensionable (they could drive a county car which is not pensionable-they sit in the county lot UNUSED). There are other items they get that are pensionable also.

    As a taxpayer I am appalled at the actions of this BOS. They agree that this county has too many managers but still continues to approve BRAND NEW MANAGERMENT POSITIONS, yet there isn’t enough road crew to handle the demand since they’ve been halved since 2008 due to layoffs. If the public wants ROADS REPAIRED then management positions need to be culled. It makes no sense to keep and add management position at the expense to the tax payers and the rank and file that actually work with the public.

    All of this is on tomorrow’s BOS agenda. Anyone interested in fairness to the employees and the public should come and have their say. The agenda is on the internet, but don’t plan on the BOS keeping the order.

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  11. Tired of Lies says:

    Time to take it to the BOS. I hope all of the people who are constantly on this board screaming about rank and file employees being cut how we don’t pull our weight are willing to say the same about the BOS and management. They already make more then most people public or private sector. How much is enough? What is it going to take for Sonoma County to WAKE UP? Line staff are NOT the problem. The problem is greed and mismanagement. Line staff will once again be taking the cuts on our backs, while management and administration laugh their way all the way to the bank. It’s disgusting.

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  12. Grapevines says:

    I don’t know why they are surprised. They went into this knowing they were dealing with a pack of weasels. Actually comparing what we have to tolerate as a BOS is doing weasels an injustice.

    Not a shred of dignity or desire to do do anything other than line their pockets at the expense of the taxpayer is what I see going on.

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  13. Cotati Station Neighbor says:

    I don’t know why this isn’t the lead: “…the new package results in deeper cuts for top officials than those negotiated for the unionized workers. Overall, the total compensation loss for the Board of Supervisors is 8.5 percent, more than triple the concessions that SEIU members agreed to, according to the county. For department heads and administrative managers, cuts are more than double the SEIU loss.” It is really news that the union is complaining about it. That’s status quo. It’s true managers’ packages were nearly identical to the union’s negotiated settlements in the past. But going into this years negotiations, I recall there was no expectation that all packages would be the same…they just need to achieve a common goal: an overall 3% reduction in county costs towards salary and benefits, especially pensionable.

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  14. Illegal is Legal says:

    Is anybody surprised by this? I mean really, this should not be a shock to the tax payers of Sonoma county or the rank and file county employees. These backdoor BOS meetings are why we are in this sad situation. Again, the lack of efficient, transparent leadership from our BOS’s is going to hurt this county.

    If there wasn’t a wedge between upper management and rank and file employees before this, there certainly will be now. Too bad we have to get used to being lied too, very unsettling to say the least.

    I remember when Efren was a guest speaker at one of our meeting, one of the rank and file employees asked him how much his salary was and he responded with “my salary is none of your concern”. OMG Really? We all pay taxes to the State of California and Sonoma County and then you, the BOS’s want to cut our pay, increase our health care costs and cut our overall benefits and “we the tax payer” can’t question or ask what you make? Unbelievable.

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  15. Bill me says:

    For once, I might actually be on the SEIU side. This smells “sneaky” and greedy by the “higher ups”. The Supes don’t get it yet. Cut the high priced positions, and add lower cost “worker bees” to get out of the mess the previous BOSupes have created.

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  16. Accountable says:

    We the people have the right, through the Referendum Process, to control the compensation of the Board of Supervisors. A proposed 8.5% total reduction in Supervisor compensation is a slap in the face. There needs to be at least a 20% total reduction, which would rank us just below Contra Costa (which has 2 times our population and higher cost of living).

    Notice that the B.O.S. claims that compensation needs to be in line with “comparable counties”, but NEVER specifies which counties they are comparing us to. Why? Because that comment is a fabrication! Most county employees are paid significantly above our comparable county of Solano.

    Here are the Board of Supervisor 2010 Total Cost of Employment for Bay Area counties: Alameda-$239,977; Sonoma-$227,884; Santa Clara-$225,437; Contra Costa-$189,662; Marin-$169,877; Solano-$167,000; Napa-$128,416.

    San Mateo County (which is larger and has a higher cost of living) pays a salary of $115,975, with employer contribution to pension at $11,279. Compare that to Sonoma County, which pays a salary of $133,640, with employer contribution to pension at $50,400. And, guess what!! We, the taxpayers of Sonoma County, pay the most toward Supervisors’ pensions in all of the nine Bay Area Counties.

    The Referendum Process is the voters constitutional right to control Supervisors salary. California Constitution XI (b) reads:

    The Legislature shall provide for county powers, an elected
    county sheriff, an elected district attorney, an elected assessor,
    and an elected governing body in each county. Except as provided in
    subdivision (b) of Section 4 of this article, each governing body
    shall prescribe by ordinance the compensation of its members, BUT THE

    Article II, section 9, of the California Constitution provides for the referendum process in California. ELECTORS HAVE THE POWER TO APPROVE OR REJECT STATUTES OR PARTS OF STATUTES.

    We need to start a referendum petition to halt the Supervisor Compensation Ordinance. People of Sonoma County…we can rise up and take back our power. When we show the B.O.S. that we can control their compensation, we are sending a clear message that they work for us, the taxpayers of Sonoma County.

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  17. bear says:

    How many mangers does it take to oversee a few employees?

    How long has the pay and benefits of the BOS or management been frozen?

    How fair is it to change the deal after it’s been made?

    Sounds like the deal all republicans offer to workers: take this or go away.

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  18. The Answer says:

    Much of the pain and emotional distress felt by the poor county union employees and their beleaguered SEIU union bosses would go away if the Board of Supervisors would reduce their pay and benefits to something more earthly. Say $600 a month.

    Like dictators, the BOS set their own salary and benefits and stamp the approval on the deal. They negotiate with themselves.

    They say fish rot from the head down and this appears to be the case.

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  19. Steve Humphrey says:

    ” the more than 600 employees included in the county’s “salary resolution” are many of its highest paid……The group represents roughly $112 million of the total payroll.”

    So, that’s an average total compensation package for this group of $186,666 per year. No wonder the SEIU is upset.

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