Union chief disputes county’s motivation

When an employer makes a deal with its employees, it should keep its word. That’s a bedrock principle. And it’s even more true when it puts that deal in writing.

This summer, we tried to negotiate a contract with Tulare County.

We had pretty much one demand — that the county honor the promise it made in our last agreement to restore the step and merit pay that was suspended for our newest employees.

This will sound strange to those of you who work in the private sector, but in the public sector, we don’t get paid the full market wage for our skills. It takes three full years for our wages to climb from subpar to par.

We agreed, in our last contract, to freeze many of our members’ wages.

We gave of ourselves to help the county get through a tough economic time.

We understood this meant we would never receive the pay retroactively, but at least our salaries would reset to the level they should have been had we not agreed to the concessions. Then, when the time came to honor that promise, the county rebuked our agreement.

The county said it still didn’t have enough money to make good on its contractual agreement.

During our first round of negotiations we couldn’t come to a mutual agreement, so they declared impasse and imposed their last, best and final offer on us. Now, the county has the money and it has more than enough to honor their agreement.

But it still won’t make good on its promise.

SEIU 521 was called to table by the county last month.

The county said it wanted to end furloughs, and handed us a piece of paper and said sign here. We said, we’re willing to discuss ending furloughs, but only in the context of the bigger picture.

We still want the county to honor its word; let’s talk about that.

The county said: no, we can talk about that, but not until October. Now sign that paper right now.

We refused, in much the same way anyone would refuse to sign something with no chance to consider it.

We have always been willing to negotiate on good faith.

What we are not willing to do is sign a hasty, take-it-or-leave-it offer, which is what the county has presented us with.

The workers of Tulare County are still waiting for the Board of Supervisors to live up to their word and the promise that we mutually agreed to.

We work hard, and we deserve to be paid and treated fairly for our work. Above all, this county’s local government needs to honor its word and its agreements.

GREG GOMEZ

President

SEIU Local 521

Tulare County chapter

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