Santa Clara County reaches tentative agreement with its largest labor union

The Mercury News article today got it wrong about our PERS contribution changes. We got it corrected and the new online version is posted below. 

For those who who have 5 minutes of free time today… PLEASE send a quick note (125 words or less) to: letters@mercurynews.com.

Two things you might say: Point out the PERS error in the news article; and question why a CEMA rep would mischaracterize the cuts in take-home pay for workers.

It is  NOT $400-$600 per month. It is less than $300 for the AVERAGE worker and is on a SLIDING SCALE so that those who earn less are less impacted.

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Published in San Jose Mercury News
Source: http://www.mercurynews.com/politics-government/ci_18613002

By Karen de Sá
kdesa@mercurynews.com

Posted: 08/03/2011 09:08:44 PM PDT
Updated: 08/04/2011 11:46:51 AM PDT

After months of wrangling in one of the most brutal economic climates for public employees in decades, Santa Clara County reached a tentative agreement with its largest labor union shortly after dawn Wednesday.

The all-nighter with SEIU Local 521 resulted in a deal that, if approved by members in a Saturday vote, would require roughly 8,000 employees to take 10 unpaid furlough days in the first year of the two-year contract and four furlough days in the second year. In addition, workers would see their contributions for retirement increase from 3.9 percent to 5.9 percent.

The tentative pact would result in reduced overtime pay because the union is giving up four holidays.

Employees who fill in on temporary assignments also will see their pay reduced.

If ratified by the SEIU workers, the agreement is expected to get final approval at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Board President Dave Cortese praised the employee group for “the dignity by which the negotiations have been conducted.”

Added Cortese: “There hasn’t been the kind of brutal rhetoric that we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s really a credit to our employees that they’ve been willing to go through such an extremely difficult process that has required sacrifices beyond anything county employees have ever had to consider before.”

Santa Clara County’s budget, passed in June, relies on significant program cuts and financial concessions from employees to fill a $219.6 million shortfall.

SEIU has been negotiating with the county since late April, rallying repeatedly at public meetings in their trademark purple T-shirts.

Local 521 chairwoman Wren Bradley described the months of contract talks as “the longest and most grueling negotiations since 1975, when workers went out on strike.” The county, she noted, originally sought $25 million more in concessions than the $78.1 million agreed to Wednesday — a hit “that would have literally pushed people out of their apartments.”

Bradley, a child-welfare social worker, said the union was happy it was able to stave off caseload increases for the county’s most vulnerable clients, including the elderly and foster children.

“There’s not a financial number you can put on that,” she said. “That in and of itself is a major victory.”

The tentative agreement with SEIU is for a master contract covering seven bargaining units that represent social workers, probation counselors, public health nurses, 911 dispatchers and administrative clerical staff — more than half of the county’s 15,000-strong workforce.

Smaller employee groups representing public-sector attorneys and county hospital physicians and dentists are still bargaining with the county.

The county’s second-largest union, representing 1,600 managers and supervisors, reached an agreement June 15.

“These are very significant cuts for employees — $400, $500, $600 a month less in take-home pay. It’s hard for me to say it’s a very good deal because it hurts so much for people,” said Prudence Slaathaug, a County Employees Management Association representative. “But I think it’s a fair deal, given what the county is facing.”

Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.

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