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Board splits, approves scaling back perks for SEIU members


Last updated 12/11/2018 at 4:24pm

RIVERSIDE - A divided Board of Supervisors today unilaterally imposed terms of a collective bargaining agreement on Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents more than 7,000 clerks, accountants, nurses, technicians and social workers, despite objections from union bosses who took Riverside County officials to court in an attempt to halt the process.

"I have to do my best for the 2.4 million residents of this county and look out for the budget,'' board Chairman Chuck Washington said. "Going forward, over the long haul, what I see is we're on a path that's unsustainable.''

Despite acknowledging the wide union support he's enjoyed and that it may be "political suicide'' to anger the SEIU, Washington joined retiring Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Tavaglione in voting to impose. Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and V. Manuel Perez voted against it.

As Washington struggled to reach a decision, he pointedly asked Jeffries and Perez for alternate proposals to avoid an imposition of contract terms, but neither man submitted viable alternatives -- other than for the county to start from scratch, ignoring attempts over two years and 40 bargaining sessions to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with the union.

"We need to look at this systematically, with a view to the future,'' Perez said. "I prefer that we start from the ground up.''

SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover warned the board that imposition equated to "a massive gamble and expense,'' noting that the union will press ahead with legal strategies to have the board's unilateral action declared unlawful.

"Trying to ram through this contract in a booming economy doesn't make sense,'' Schoonover said. "Taking away from the workforce that gave back during the Great Recession doesn't make sense.''

Ashley said sidestepping imposition for the easy road of doing nothing was just "kicking the can down the road.''

"There's no guarantee that a year from now, you won't be back in this same ugly spot,'' he said. "If you don't take some action, over the next year, there are going to be substantial layoffs.''

Tavaglione emphasized that the board was the "guardian of the constituents' taxpayer dollars'' and with an economic "slowdown'' likely, the time for talking was done.

"Let's stop the wishy-washy discussion and make a decision,'' the supervisor said.

The board previously considered whether to impose its ``last, best and final'' offer on SEIU in June, but that vote was tabled when the California Public Employee Relations Board procured an injunction from Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters, who directed the board to suspend action based on unresolved claims filed by the union with PERB.

That injunction, however, was voided by the California Fourth District Court of Appeal on Nov. 2.

During a May hearing, attorney Ed Zappia, the county's "fact-finder,'' said the proposed three-year contract rejected by SEIU seeks a "reduction in the rate of (annual salary) increases (to net) a significant amount of savings'' to the county.

Zappia said the composite value of the compact sought by the union would be $1.5 billion -- a major drain on the budget.

According to Zappia, Local 721 members received 7-8 percent straight salary increases every year of the last four-year collective bargaining agreement, which expired in November 2016.

He also pointed out that the average SEIU member's "compensation, benefits and perks'' amounted to more than $106,000 per year, and that many in the senior salary grades were receiving pay and benefits that are "18.32 percent higher than (public employees) in the five surrounding counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura.''

Under the county's last, best and final offer, yearly raises will still be available but generally capped at 2.71 percent per worker.

According to the Executive Office, the county's LBFO eliminates the county's obligation to fund short- and long-term disability coverage and drops some medical subsidies that existed under the previous contract. Some pay differentials will be adjusted, and funding for work-time "union education'' sessions will be eliminated.

The Executive Office estimated that imposition of the LBFO will net roughly $1.28 million in savings in the current fiscal year.

Art Pulasky of the California Labor Federation said earlier this year that the county's dealings with Local 721 had spawned 34 unfair labor practices allegations to the PERB, and SEIU negotiator Ryan Hudson contended that the county's team had engaged in "attacks on rank-and-file workers,'' creating a "hostile'' work environment for union members.

A unilateral imposition of provisions in the memorandum of understanding will not be a bar to further negotiations. The board declared an impasse with the Riverside Sheriffs' Association in October 2017, imposing terms of a contract after the 2,500-strong bargaining unit refused to accept the county's final offer.


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