A labor union’s request to block Riverside County from unilaterally imposing terms of a contract on its members was granted Friday, forcing the county to go back into negotiations with the collective bargaining unit.

“This is a major victory for Riverside County workers who have gone more than 18 months without a contract and endured hostile, unlawful behavior from an employer dead-set on silencing their voice,” said Service Employees International Union, Local 721 President Bob Schoonover. “I’m pleased that, because of this ruling, we look forward to returning to the bargaining table, with the county being required to act in good faith.”

According to county Executive Office spokesman Ray Smith, Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters’ decision to grant the preliminary injunction barring imposition was done in deference to the Public Employment Relations Board’s desire to resolve more than two dozen unfair labor practices complaints.

The PERB, which sought the injunction on behalf of SEIU, is scheduled to hold an administrative hearing to review the complaints on Aug. 9. Smith said the 2018-19 fiscal year budget approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday will not be impacted by the court’s decision.

The board, on the recommendation of the Department of Human Resources, was set to impose terms of the county’s “last, best and final” offer to SEIU at its July 17 meeting.

During a May 8 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.

The attorney emphasized that the county made concessions during the 40-odd bargaining sessions that took place between the fall of 2016 and last August. According to Zappia, Local 721 members, who number over 7,000 and include clerks, accountants, nurses, technicians and social workers, received 7-8 percent straight salary increases every year of the last four-year collective bargaining agreement, which expired in November 2016.

Zappia said members received, on average, “a staggering 43 percent to 49 percent increases in compensation” over the four-year span. He also pointed out that the average SEIU member’s “compensation, benefits and perks” presently amount to over $106,000 per year, and that many in the senior salary grades are 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 would still be available, but would average about 2.71 percent per worker.

SEIU negotiator Ryan Hudson contended that the county’s team had engaged in “attacks on rank-and-file workers” and had created a “hostile” work environment for SEIU members, including discharging nurses who participated in a pro-union rally last fall.

The union has blasted the county for securing a $41 million contract with Netherlands-based professional services firm KPMG, which was hired to find ways of improving efficiencies and lowering costs throughout county government.

“The allocation to the KPMG contract is yet another example of wasteful spending and a lack of transparency and accountability to the public,” according to an SEIU statement. It noted that in the two years since the KPMG contract was cinched, “the county has not reported any cost savings.”

According to SEIU officials, the money that went for the KPMG audit and operational planning could have been dedicated to resizing salaries and benefits.

Tony Butka, appointed by the PERB to mediate negotiations, has recommended that the county retroactively grant 2 percent across-the-board wage increases from Jan. 1 to June 30, and then another automatic 2 percent hike in the next fiscal year, along with a 1 percent bonus for county nurses, whom he said are difficult to recruit and have been using the county as a launchpad to career advancement elsewhere.

Unilateral imposition of provisions in the memorandum of understanding is not a bar to further negotiations. The board declared an impasse with the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association last October, imposing terms of a one-year contract after the 2,500-strong bargaining unit refused to accept the county’s final offer.

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