By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County government and its largest group of public safety workers have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract.
The deal, involving the 470-member Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, is the first reached with rank-and-file public safety employees under the county’s recent bid to curb rising pension costs and reduce total compensation.
The deal covers correctional deputies and counselors, probation officers, park rangers, emergency dispatchers, fire inspectors and some investigative posts.
Kimber Williams, SCLEA’s president, said the proposed contract achieved savings for the county while remaining “fair” to the group’s members.
The association announced the deal on its website Thursday and set a ratification vote for Monday.
“The county was clear it was concessions bargaining and ongoing savings that were the focus,” Williams said.
She voiced confidence that employees would approve the deal, though sources in the bargaining unit have suggested it faces what is likely to be a tight vote.
County officials declined to discuss the agreement this week, wary of interfering with or influencing the vote. They said the deal was consistent with a contract reached earlier this year with the county’s largest labor union and recent deals with top officials and a small group of law enforcement managers.
Negotiations between the two sides began in July and the group’s contract expired in November.
The new contract, as summarized by the law enforcement association, would achieve savings for taxpayers through a package of concessions that includes a schedule change designed to reduce overtime, a continued salary freeze through October 2014, and the reduction or elimination of some wage premiums offered for dozens of different posts, skills and duties.
The premium pay can add up to 17 percent on hourly rates for some off-hour shifts and an average of more than $1,100, or 1.2 percent, to final pension-eligible compensation for county public safety workers, county pension records show. Public safety unions have strongly guarded the extra pay over the years while county supervisors signaled last year they wanted many categories eliminated.
The proposal would only do away with three categories, those going to offsite probation officers and gang and drug task force members, according to the labor group’s summary. It would change all continuing premiums to ensure only hours worked — not vacation or sick time — qualify for wage enhancement.
It would shift some county pension costs to employees and eliminate other types of pension-eligible pay, erasing most pension spiking opportunities. It would also eliminate, at least for the contract period, county payments into deferred compensation retirement accounts.
County officials declined to estimate savings from the concessions. The target in negotiations with most rank-and-file groups has been 3 percent. SCLEA members account for approximately $69.3 million of the county’s total salary and benefit costs, now at about $492 million a year.
To offset some of the compensation cuts, employees are set to receive a 1 percent salary increase in October 2014 and a 2 percent bump in August 2015. The agreement would expire Dec. 1, 2015.
The employees would also receive county-paid contributions into new health reimbursement accounts, starting at $300 a month for a family plan.
The bargaining unit would get four additional vacation hours a year, a benefit not extended so far to other workers. But the law enforcement group is not in line for a set of one-time cash payments used to offset cuts for other workers, according to the contract summary.
Other sweeteners include an increase in equipment vouchers for some posts and language that would restore county deferred compensation payments after the contract expires.
The deal likely signals the county’s current negotiating approach with other public safety groups, including those representing deputy sheriffs and sheriff’s office managers.
The county’s chief aim in contract talks has been to reduce taxpayer costs for employee pensions. Since 2000, those costs, including annual payments on pension bonds, are up more than 400 percent.
If SCLEA members approve the deal Monday, county officials said they would provide both the agreement and an analysis of its terms before a Board of Supervisors vote, tentatively set for June 25.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.