On March 31, 2011, Kern County proposed its “Modified Last, Best and Final” offer to SEIU 521. This offer was rejected by our members. Impasse was then declared in the negotiations for a new contract between SEIU 521 and Kern County. Under the Employer-Employee Relations Resolution, SEIU 521 requested a fact finder for recommendations regarding the issues on the table at the time the impasse was declared.
The county’s demands are for the senior employees to contribute 20 percent of the cost of healthcare premiums, and for the county to shift the “employee” component of the retirement contribution to the workers. The real impact of these demands would be a major pay cut for the affected employees. All union proposals were rejected.
On Monday, Sept. 12, your bargaining team met with the fact finder selected from the State Mediation Service and the county’s negotiators. This meeting was the final step in our 16-month-long bargaining with the county. Both sides presented arguments about the issues being disputed, and the fact finder will consider those arguments and make a report.
Here are some of the things your bargaining team pointed out to the fact finder:
- Kern’s County’s General Reserve Fund has $64 million, and the 2011-12 budget has new positions which are funded. The county doesn’t need your money to prevent layoffs.
- The county ignored that many of us are paid for by state and federal funds, when they calculated the cost of benefits.
- SEIU 521 members made changes to our retirement contribution back in 2004. We are the only county union that has revamped retirement benefits for new employees. As the senior employees retire, the remaining employees will all contribute the full amount into retirement. The major issue here is that new employees are aware of the contribution when they hire on. The senior employees were hired in with an understanding, and they bought houses, bought cars, and planned their futures based on a given pay rate. Now the Board of Supervisors is going back on its word.
- The contract has an article which assures that no change to retirement will be made unless agreed to by the members.
- If employees take over paying their retirement contribution and therefore have their wages reduced, it would reduce county revenue from the state and federal governments by an estimated $10 million.
Our team presented our final proposals. We pared down our 41 proposals to just a few:
- Release time for stewards when they are called on to handle discipline.
- An advisory board to study and recommend standards for caseloads at DHS.
- A consistent policy on employee breaks.
- Maintenance of membership.
- Binding arbitration in grievances, so that the Board of Supervisors does not have the ability to reject the arbitrator’s decision.
- A temperature policy, so that workers aren’t stuck in 80-degree-plus buildings.
- A cash incentive for opting out of medical benefits.
We used contracts from other counties and clear and defined arguments to show the county that other employees in the state have these fair working conditions. The county negotiator said the county was not willing to change the contract language to include these proposals.
The fact finder will now take the 20 exhibits we presented in support of our proposals and the county’s position into consideration. We expect the fact finder to render a decision in 30-60 days.
Your bargaining team started out 16 months ago with 12 members. Members of the team experienced many health and personal issues. Some dropped out for a period of time and others were not able to return. The final group consisted of Mike Marler from Parks; Wayne Caldwell from Roads; Carla Moreno, Alicia Rizo, and Doris Wood from DHS; Andrew Hammack and Roy Clark from KMC; Matt Hall from Planning and Dutch Kooren and myself from Mental Health. Join me in thanking them and Chuck Waide for their dedication to ensure fairness for the SEIU 521 employees of Kern County.
Regina Kane, BSN
Kern County Chapter President, SEIU Local 521