Santa Cruz County workers agree to new two-year contract

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By Jason Hoppin
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 07/11/2011 06:51:53 PM PDT

The county’s largest group of employees has reached a two-year agreement on a new contract that includes continued furloughs and a second tier of pension benefits for new employees but avoids labor strife.

The Service Employees International Union represents about 1,500 county employees, and is among the last groups of workers — and also the largest — to agree to a new contract. With the existing deal set to expire in September, county officials sought the furloughs and pension changes to help with persistent financial woes.

“Based on how the economy is right now, people are happy (to have a deal) because it could have been worse,” said Veronica Rodriguez, SEIU chapter president.

SEIU represents a wide range of county workers, from planners to clerks to health-care employees. During negotiations, the SEIU argued the county was cutting too deeply into workers’ paychecks and would hurt the local economy.

County government is the second-largest employer in the county, behind UC Santa Cruz. The deal includes an added three days of furlough, on top of the 15 days county workers previously had agreed to. The furloughs amount to a nearly 7 percent pay cut.

In addition, the deal slightly lowers pension benefits for new employees. County Administrative Officer Susan Mauriello has said the pension changes across all bargaining units would save $12 million during the next decade. SEIU members ratified the deal on Friday, with 79 percent voting to approve it.

Several bargaining units previously agreed to terms with the county, which were announced prior to the county passing a new annual budget. That budget includes what could be dozens of layoffs.

All deals follow the same basic contours: employees are taking unpaid days off, with fringe benefits also taking a hit. New hires will see reduced pension benefits, and precautions are being put in place to reduce pension abuses.

“What we want to do is step up and do our part, and save jobs,” Rodriguez said. “We’re still going to have layoffs, but not as much.”

Negotiations began in February and were among the most difficult in several rounds of labor talks.

Rodriguez said county employees would not have to begin paying their portion of pension contributions under the contract, which would have amounted to another 7 percent pay cut. That portion is currently paid by the county.

Seven of the county’s 10 bargaining units have agreed, at least tentatively, to new contracts. Discussion with two more are under way, covering corrections and probationary workers.

A contract with county doctors is up later this year.

Contact Jason Hoppin at jhoppin@santacruzsentinel.com

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