Valley News -

Contract with union ratified despite concerns about costs

 

Last updated 3/26/2019 at 2:37pm



RIVERSIDE - The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 26 approved a two-year collective bargaining agreement with one of the largest labor unions representing Riverside County workers, gaining concessions that will net savings, but not enough to prevent "many people'' from being laid off when the next recession hits, one supervisor warned.

The previous four-year collective bargaining agreement with Laborers International Union of North America Local 777 ended in the fall of 2016, and since August 2017, the 7,200-member bargaining unit, which represents building maintenance workers, code enforcement officers, surveyors, office assistants, and others, had been deadlocked in talks with county Executive Office negotiators.

The board in December passed on an opportunity to impose the county's last, best and final offer on LIUNA, potentially netting a fiscal year savings of $3.38 million. The current 24-month contract, which takes effect next month, was ratified on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Jeff Hewitt dissenting.

"Riverside County is in trouble,'' Hewitt said. "There's an impending recession, and our fiscal woes will be magnified when it comes.''

Hewitt said he respected the board more when it chose in 2017 to impose contract terms on the Riverside Sheriffs' Association, and then impose last December on Service Employees International Union Local 721 -- all in the interest of holding down payroll expenses.

He said declines in home sales, consumer spending, and capital outlays point to a recession on the horizon, and the LIUNA contract would leave no financial cushion.

"The last time the county was in a recession, there was a hiring freeze, the County Administrative Center was shut down on Fridays, and there were layoffs,'' the supervisor said. "We need to find a way to ride out the next downturn without impacting so many families. We need to make it so that not so many people will be laid off.''

Board Chairman Kevin Jeffries agreed that "major layoffs'' would likely be unavoidable in the event of a long-term recession.

"But it was a painful process to get here,'' Jeffries said. "We need to make this deal (with LIUNA) and go on to bigger fights. We can't put the burden of controlling spending on employees. There are going to be some monumental financial challenges coming.''

He said concessions will be sought from all the collective bargaining units to mitigate a $300 million spike in annual pension obligations predicted within 10 years.

The total cost of the LIUNA contract is estimated to be $9.8 million between now and April 2021, according to the Department of Human Resources. An official said about $3 million in concessions were secured under the new agreement.

The county's last, best and final offer would have limited LIUNA members to a "step,'' or merit, salary increase once a year, at a rate of 2.71 percent. However, the agreement approved by the union's membership last week and affirmed by the board today will automatically move all members into a category that makes them eligible for a 4 percent increase annually.

The contract additionally mandates that the county increase premium subsidies for members' health insurance plans by $50 to $200 a month, depending on the size of the worker's family.

The agreement further creates a "special time bank'' that grants employees the ability to use 40 paid hours for any purpose, including extra holiday time. There would be no "cash out'' value to the banked time, however, and it would have to be expended during the 24-month term of the memorandum of understanding, or forfeited.

The LIUNA compromise does not provide annual cost-of-living adjustments. But if a new agreement with SEIU makes COLAs available, then LIUNA members would be entitled to the same hikes.

Administrators noted that the average total compensation for a LIUNA-affiliated employee is just under $64,000 a year.

"LIUNA members have received, on average, a 45 percent increase in compensation over the past five years, with a base wage increase of approximately 41 percent,'' the HR department stated in documents posted to the board's agenda.

 

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