On September 2, we read in the Visalia Times-Delta that Tulare County had $14.5 million in unspent funds from the last fiscal year. That was $3.5 million more than county administrators expected. The county reacted by announcing plans to stop the furlough (mandatory time off) program for all employees, claiming that this plan would only cost between $2 million and $2.5 million.
Our SEIU bargaining team, negotiators and attorney met with the county on September 9. We all agreed that the county’s changed circumstances meant any and all topics were open for negotiation. That included the proposals the county rejected when it imposed its offer back in July. At this first meeting, Tulare County’s negotiator presented only one proposal to be considered by the bargaining team: suspension of the furlough program.
For the next few weeks, our bargaining team circulated surveys, held meetings to discuss proposals and invited the membership to vote on the proposal package that would be presented to the county. After receiving an overwhelming number of responses and votes, the bargaining team understood their mission was to negotiate something better than what the county was offering. Tulare County administrators hid behind their proposal as being the “fairest” plan to use that excess money. Our members, however, had a different idea for what is fair; many indicated that they would be willing to keep the furloughs in place if it meant their newest co-workers could finally see an increase in their merit pay, which has not moved in three years.
On November 3, the bargaining team provided the county with a 32-page document of proposals. It included payment of step increases (merits), re-instatement of sick leave buyback for members not due to receive a step increase, more employee participation during selection of health plans, increases to uniform allowances and improvements to discipline and grievance procedures. The final bargaining session resulted in the county agreeing to minor changes to the contract—a total of five sentences plus their original furlough idea. They plan to take this document to the Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. Once again, they want to force their ideas on our membership. The SEIU legal team plans to file another charge against the county for failing to bargain in good faith. We must not give up no matter how bad things might appear–we are Stronger Together!
Tulare County’s furlough plan:
1. Suspend furloughs (MTO) through the end of Pay Period 18 (2012).
2. Reimburse employees for furlough-related wage deductions since Pay Period 17.
3. Eliminate MTO balances.
4. Convert any furlough time taken since Pay Period17 to vacation time or comp time and deduct accordingly. Employees who do not enough time to cover furloughs taken will not accrue vacation hours until their furlough time is paid back.