Labor unions back county workers in contract fight

BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer
jburger@bakersfield.com | Wednesday, Feb 02 2011 06:02 PM

Last Updated Wednesday, Feb 02 2011 06:02 PM

The Kern, Inyo and Mono Counties Central Labor Council voted Tuesday to support Service Employees’ International Union, Local 521 in its brewing contract battle with the county of Kern, according to SEIU.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors has declared impasse in negotiations with SEIU and mediation efforts have failed. Supervisors are expected to vote on imposing contract provisions that would require county workers who do not pay into health care premiums and retirement benefits to begin doing so.

The 5,700-member Kern County chapter of SEIU 521 has voted to give its bargaining team the authority to call a strike.

If that happens, said SEIU spokesman James Geluso, the Labor Council’s vote would allow members of other affiliated unions to also refuse to do work for the county through, for example, contracts their employers have with the county.

A number of major union groups — representing nurses, electricians, engineers, plumbers, roofers and food workers — are affiliated with the Labor Council.

“We’ve voted to stand behind 521 and the egregious and illegal stand by the Board of Supervisors,” Donny Williams, president of the Central Labor Council, was quoted as saying in the SEIU press release. “Union members understand that honorable employers negotiate with their employees, not just make demands.”

Members of SEIU have accused supervisors of pursuing specific concessions from their employees and being unwilling to consider any counter-offers from the union’s negotiation team.

“The county has not refused to negotiate,” said Assistant County Administrative Officer Elissa Ladd. “The county has negotiated in good faith and has been open to suggestions on ways to deal with the difficult fiscal environment that all local governments face.”

Geluso said members of labor council unions would withhold work from the county of Kern as long as that work was not critical to protecting public safety.

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