By Kurtis Alexander – The Fresno Bee
By many measures, John Pinheiro was a star employee for Fresno County.
The savvy 45-year-old labor negotiator pulled off the unenviable task of squeezing pay cuts from thousands of union employees, sacrificing his personal popularity to help the county avert a financial nightmare.
The cuts sparked last year’s labor strike, but the protest was short-lived because Pinheiro and his superiors succeeded in a battle of wills that earned the deft negotiator a glowing job review.
One county supervisor even sent flowers to his home.
A year later, however, Pinheiro may be the county’s public enemy No. 1.
The rise and fall of Pinheiro
Pinheiro’s job review last February called him an “honest and ethical” employee who deserved the highest possible pay increase.
The seven-year employee had made his mark the previous year when he sought salary concessions from more than a dozen labor groups in an effort to help the county balance its recession-battered $1.6 billion budget.
Working closely with personnel director Beth Bandy and the county’s top executive, John Navarrette, Pinheiro helped negotiate a respectable $12 million worth of concessions. He and his colleagues saw through an additional $32 million of pay cuts that were forced on the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union after the group and the county couldn’t agree on a voluntary rollback.
“The Board (of Supervisors) was extremely pleased,” Pinheiro said recently.
SEIU and its more than 4,000 members were not so pleased and responded with the first of three grievances with the state labor board, alleging that the county had not bargained reasonably.
The penalties vary, but the labor board could take the extreme step of asking the county to renegotiate pay cuts.
Pinheiro says that County Administrative Officer Navarrette made it clear to him that he was acting illegally, working behind the scenes to try to get 300 correctional officers to break from SEIU. It’s a move that would weaken the county’s most outspoken and confrontational labor group.