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County union vote upheld



Sonoma County government’s largest labor union has upheld its close vote approving a tentative contract, a step

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)

that likely marks the end of a tense tug-of-war with the county that began almost a year ago.

The election result had been in doubt since union voting ended Feb. 26 because of a conflict in internal union rules.

With that resolved, the agreement is expected to be approved by the Board of Supervisors at its March 19 meeting. It would represent the first significant progress in the county’s bid to curb its rising pension costs and hold down salary expenses for represented employees.

In exchange for the concessions, which include the elimination of pay and perks that can boost pensions, greater cost-sharing by employees in retirement benefits and a short-term salary freeze, workers are set to receive future-year wage gains and additional help with health care expenses.

The deal with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 would settle what had been an escalating standoff with the county, including plans for a strike had the agreement not been ratified.

It also could affect ongoing contract talks with the county’s 10 other unions and bargaining groups.

Fiscal watchdogs and pension overhaul advocates have criticized the negotiations, saying quicker and deeper cuts are needed to cover mounting service backlogs, including road upkeep, and pay for long-term pension liabilities, now at $353 million.

But county officials have defended the deal, saying the changes to pensions alone could save the county more than $83 million over the next decade, accounting for 58 percent of the savings the county says are needed to make the system sustainable.

“It had to change and it has changed and we’re on our way to that overall goal,” said David Rabbitt, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

SEIU officials were unavailable to comment Monday.

County administrators signaled that the closely watched settlement is likely to be a model for county negotiators as they seek agreement with other unions.

Like SEIU, most have publicly questioned the need for further cuts after years of job losses, unpaid furloughs and other reductions intended to close large, recession-era deficits.

“Given the long history of things that have been taken from them, there are a significant number of employees who are very unhappy about this,” said Bill Robotka of the Engineers and Scientists of California Local 20 IFPTE, which represents about 200 county workers.

County officials have argued the cuts are needed to free up money for government services and infrastructure projects that have been put off during the economic downturn.

SEIU represents half of the county’s 3,500 employees, including rank-and-file workers in most county departments except for public safety divisions. The employees tend to be among the lowest paid in county government.

The union informed the county in a letter Friday that the outcome of the union’s Feb. 26 ratification vote in favor of the tentative agreement would stand.

The 32-month deal was approved by a 52-to-48 percent margin.

But the legal outcome was in question for more than a week because of a conflict between current union rules, which require only a simple majority for approval, and past practice, which required approval by each sub-group or bargaining unit in the local.

By that measure, the deal — rejected by four of the union’s six county bargaining units — would have been voted down.

The contract vote last month was the union’s second since the two sides began negotiations in April. In December, union members overwhelmingly rejected a package that would have extended what is now a five-year freeze on cost-of-living wage adjustments for an additional three years.

The new proposal offers a shorter, 16-month freeze in exchange for a total bump of 3 percent over the second 16 months of the contract.

A projected rebound in property and sales tax revenue is expected to pay for the additional expenditures, county administrators said. Those estimates show a current-year rebound of 0.75 percent in property tax revenue, the main source of county discretionary funds. Future-year growth is projected at 1 to 2 percent annually.

The deal also includes additional money toward employee health care costs — previously estimated at $4.8 million for the life of the contract — and a set of tiered one-time payments to each worker starting at $1,915 and reaching $2,700 for the highest-paid SEIU members.

Pension cuts were part of both packages.

The county’s goal heading into bargaining was a 3 percent total reduction in employee compensation.

County administrators on Monday did not make public their analysis, which they plan to publish Friday. But they said the cuts and sweeteners on pay and health care in the deal would amount to an overall 2.5 percent reduction in 2013-2014, for a savings of about $4.3 million on current payroll.

The reduction in 2014-2015 would be about a 2 percent drop on current payroll, or a $3.4 million savings, they said. The county’s total annual pay and benefit costs represent $490 million of a $1.3 billion budget. SEIU accounts for about $200 million of the total.

Pension costs, including annual payments on pension bond debt, have eaten up a greater share of county payroll each year. Now at about $97 million, or 20 percent of total payroll, they were projected to grow to 30 percent by 2022 without any changes.

To curb those costs, county supervisors last year backed elimination of many forms of pension-eligible compensation, including leave cashouts, deferred compensation retirement payments and dozens of categories of premium pay.

The extra compensation adds an average of more than 12 percent to pensions for county employees, or more than 14 percent for sheriff’s deputies and other public safety workers, a Press Democrat analysis last year found.

The SEIU contract is the first to curtail those moves for represented employees. The same limits are included in a tentative contract package for the county’s highest paid employees, including the Board of Supervisors, department heads and managers.

Also up for approval next Tuesday, it calls for a 6.9 percent cut in total compensation for supervisors, 4 percent for department heads and 3.5 percent for managers, according to preliminary figures provided by the county.

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

12 Responses to “County union vote upheld”

  1. Shari Wright says:

    I’m a secretary who supports 3 high level managers. In fact, my whole building is practically managers. We have seen 8 years of cuts to our take home pay and decreased benefits. I cannot afford to rent a two bedroom apartment or pay for health insurance for my child. The County did not bargain in good faith and once again we got screwed. For those of you who seem to think the low level employees make too much, you are just plain wrong.

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    David-ever hear of breaks and lunch breaks?. I’m at lunch right now. 30 minutes only.

    How about retirees? SEIU has a huge number of retirees putting in time at the committees, even working for the union when extra help is needed.

    Your presumption is rude. But that’s status quo for some on this post. You presume incorrectly because you don’t truly know anything factual.

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  3. David says:

    A County employee who has time to post on the PD forums all day shouldn’t complain about their wages or how hard they are working. You are doing all of your complaining on the taxpayers dime. The PD could do a great service if they would investigate this misuse of taxpayers money.

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  4. GAJ says:

    @Match It.

    I could easily boost my income 10% by asking my tenants to pay market rates for renting homes from me.

    It’s not always about grabbing every last dollar to the detriment of others.

    Your implication that taxpayers should match Public Safety concessions by “donating” more money in taxes or to some other cause is specious.

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  5. Big jim says:

    @ GAJ
    Public Safety protect nothing so well as their own pay and benefits. They are always looking for new ways to grab a bigger percent of the tax take and have been remarkably successful at it since 9/11. When a former Sonoma County sheriff is getting $239k per year pension, you know the system is broken, but who will step up to fix it?

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  6. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    GAJ- If the county BOS actually follows through with what the PROMISED SEIU would happen those safety employees will get the same lousy deal. BUT WATCH FOR THE DEAL WITH MANAGEMENT. The county has been very busy replacing rank and file workers with managers. They are contracting out jobs, eliminating rank and file jobs and replacing those laid off WITH MANAGERS with their perks and higher pay. I sincerely doubt the managers will be cut. The BOS lied to the PD and the public saying that they had to wait for SEIU to make a decision before they could implement the managers cuts. They didn’t wait in 2008, THEY WENT FIRST. Of course, then, they WERE GETTING A RAISE THAT THE RANK AND FILE DID NOT GET. They get to keep that 3% raise. There was NO REASON for them not to implement the cuts to managers because managers are not union. They should have gone first by example.

    That’s why county workers don’t trust that the managers, again, will not suffer any severe cuts. That’s why SEIU wanted the “go first” then we’ll negotiate. The fact that the BOS insisted SEIU should be first and the other contracts go first is so the workers won’t know that that the managers will be favored, again, until after all the other contracts are signed and in place.

    The promise about the manager will not happen. The money will shifted around and they will have very little in cuts. They got their raises in 2008 so even if they are cut 3% the field in NOT EQUALIZED. And there are too many managers taking COUNTY TAXPAYER MONEY.

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  7. Skeptical says:

    Great news. Now the BOS can spend all the savings on Fouride projects and the like. How is that righting the ship? How is that fiscal discipline.

    Don’t be mislead Press Demo, the BOS is being compensated at 40% above supervisors in comparable size counties. The propsed cut is hardly leadership and leaves them compensated way above their peers.

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  8. F. Shirley says:

    Finally the county’s biggest union has a contract. What a relief. What concerns me about this contract is how the pension savings were accomplished and the omission of information from the actuarial analysis of the effect of pension changes.

    1. Pension savings came from the county stopping payment on a 2.25% pension pick-up forced on SEIU members instead of a receiving a Cost of Living Adjustment that other bargaining were given. That means that many of the county’s lowest paid workers have not had a lasting wage increase for almost 8 years.
    2. Pension savings came from requiring new hires to pay the 3.03% additional contribution to the retirement plan that was levied on current members to pay for the “3% at 60” retirement formula. New employees receive a 2% at 62-retirement formula.
    3. New hires that have reciprocity from another government agency are also required to pay an additional 3.03% contribution even though their retirement formula is 2% at 61.25. New employees are required to pay for the benefits of current employees.

    All of these changes were goals of the county heading into bargaining. How does this meet the pension reform goals stated by the Board of Supervisors in 2011 of being fair, equitable and sustainable for all employees?

    The actuary report from Bartel Associates did not estimate the savings for the county resulting from eliminating the county contributions to the Deferred Compensation plan or from the 5% increase for Retiring Department Heads. The report was designed to include this information but was not included in the report presented to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 26, 2013.

    As a taxpayer, I would like to know how much of the Unfunded Actuarially Accrued Liability (UAAL) results from Deferred Compensation paid to managers and elected public servants (BOS) and the 5% Increase to Department Heads. Deferred Compensation, which is included in the final calculation for retirement, costs the taxpayers over 4 million dollars annually. If terminated, the savings to the long-term pension liability should be substantial.

    The trend seems to be to blame the rising UAAL on Union Represented workers. The Deferred Compensation plan and the 5% Increase for Retiring Department Heads was responsible for the raising UAAL, too. I would like to know how much. Taxpayers need to know. More transparency is needed here.

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  9. Match it says:

    maybe you could set a good example by donating say 10 percent of you income to a charity. Dont hold your breath

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  10. chuck reilly says:

    “Public Safety” needs to please stop wrapping themselves in the Flag and agree to a compensation structure that won’t bankrupt the County. If they won’t, then other measures must be taken …

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  11. Reform says:

    Public Safety ?

    As in the following types of Public Safety?


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  12. GAJ says:

    One would hope now that Public Safety would now choose to make some significant sacrifices as well.

    Don’t hold your breath.

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