County both close and far from striking deals with its unions

The Bakersfield Californian Logo

BY JAMES BURGER
Californian staff writer | Posted March 1, 2012

Members of one Kern County union voted to approve a contract deal with the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Another began voting on the same deal Wednesday.

The rest of the county’s many unions face a March 13 deadline to make a similar deal. If they don’t, supervisors plan to force them to accept the first year of a county-drafted contract.

That would result, union officials said, in the county and its employee groups going immediately back into another round of contract negotiations because imposed conditions can only last for a year.

Officials with the county’s largest union said Wednesday that if the county imposes on it, a strike by thousands of workers is almost assured.

DEAL

Marc Haiungs, president of the Kern County Law Enforcement Association, said his membership of sheriff’s deputies and District Attorney investigators voted solidly to approve a compromise with supervisors.

All that’s left is to clean up some minor contract language and get supervisors to sign the plan.

Under the three-year deal, employees hired after contract approval would earn a reduced pension benefit — down to a 2 percent at age 50 formula from 3-at-50. Workers could retire at age 50 and earn 2 percent of their highest annual salary for every year they worked for the county.

All KLEA members would pay 20 percent of their health care premiums starting in the first year of the contract. And each union member who doesn’t already make a contribution to retirement from their paycheck would begin covering one-third of their annual share of investments over the second and third years of the contract.

In return, all union members would get a 2 percent raise in the second year of the contract.

For newer employees, Haiungs said, the deal is easy to accept. They already pay full health care and retirement costs.

Older employees, he said, would see an average loss in take-home pay of about 7 percent because earlier contract deals protected them from health care and retirement payments in exchange for other concessions.

Kern County Fire Fighters President Derek Robinson said his union members began voting on the same deal Wednesday. First impressions are that members support the deal, he said.

Supervisor Zack Scrivner said that on March 13, he expects to see contract ratification deals with unions like KLEA and, if the positive trend holds true, Kern County Fire Fighters.

NO DEAL

The other county unions are further away from reaching agreement with the county.

The county’s largest union, Service Employees International Union, Local 521, offered supervisors a couple of twists on the deal Kern County fire fighters and sheriff’s deputies are making.

That didn’t go over so well.

Chuck Waide, SEIU regional director, said the union wanted the 20 percent health care costs phased in over two years. Those flat fees would slash sizable chunks out of the pay of veteran low-wage general employees.

And SEIU asked for a second 2 percent raise in the third year of the contract.

Since the union already created an alternative retirement plan for new employees, in 2007, that benefit change isn’t even on the table.

But, Waide said, they were told by county negotiators Tuesday to essentially “Go to hell.”

“They are moving to impose (a contract) on March 13. It’s been made pretty clear that the board is not going to be available until the 13th, when they plan to impose,” he said. “There is no good-faith bargaining, that’s for sure. They really don’t give a damn about general employees.”

Under an imposed county contract, employees who don’t currently make health care premium payments would begin paying 20 percent of those premiums.

Scrivner wouldn’t speak to the SEIU situation specifically. But he acknowledged that unions that don’t make a deal by March 13 will face imposition of contract provisions.

“We’ve exhausted the process, negotiated in good faith. We’ve gone through fact-finding. We’ve gone through mediation,” he said.

Waide, and other union leaders, point out that fact-finders and mediators have consistently taken the unions’ side — suggesting the county needed to budge from the concession’s-only contract supervisors have backed for more than 1 1/2 years.

Haiungs of the sheriff’s deputies’ union said those findings are largely why the county has finally buckled and offered concessions to his union.

Scrivner said supervisors hope unions will be willing to “reach an amicable solution.”

He said the Board of Supervisors has given the County Administrative Office the parameters of acceptable deals and authorization to reach agreement under those terms before March 13.

STILL TALKING

Other unions said Wednesday they are working on a deal with the county.

Brian Ronan of the Kern County Probation Officers Association said the county isn’t really offering a new deal.

But the county has made it clear that, if the union wants to offer the same terms the sheriff’s and fire unions have submitted to their members, there might be room to reach a deal, he said.

He is taking the idea to his membership. But there is frustration that KCPOA — which already pays 10 percent of health care premiums and made other concessions in recent years — is being asked to take the same deal as unions that haven’t offered concessions in the past.

“The message I’ve gotten from my membership so far is ‘We’ve given concessions.’ Now we’re being treated the same as other groups who haven’t given concessions until now,” he said.

Bart Camps, president of the Kern County Sheriff’s Command Association, said his union is looking at making a similar deal to what front-line deputies represented by KLEA just approved.

“We hope to come to some sort of agreement,” he said. “I will probably present something to the county along those lines.”

But Melissa Allen of the Kern County Prosecutors Association said that union has already offered more than the sheriff’s and fire unions are agreeing to give. But they want a 4 percent pay increase.

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