Riverside County supervisors next week are slated to unilaterally impose terms of a collective bargaining agreement on Service Employees International Union, Local 721, despite objections from union leaders, who took the county to court in an attempt to halt the process.
The Board of Supervisors 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 supervisors to suspend action based on unresolved claims filed by the union with PERB.
The injunction was voided by the California Fourth District Court of Appeal on Nov. 2, setting the stage for Tuesday’s hearing.
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 bargaining sessions that took place between September 2016 and July 2017.
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” 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 will still be available, but generally they will be 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 collective bargaining agreement. Some pay differentials will be realigned, 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.
The union has blasted the county for its $40 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 contract, which is nearing an end, was characterized by SEIU as “wasteful spending,” achieving little.
Union higher-ups argued the county could have netted better results internally — and afforded to pay employees more.
Tony Butka, appointed by the PERB to mediate negotiations, recommended in May that the county retroactively grant 2 percent across-the-board wage increases, and then another automatic 2 percent hike in the current 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 launch pad to career advancement elsewhere.
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 and imposed terms of a contract after the 2,500-strong bargaining unit refused to accept the county’s final offer.
The board on Tuesday also will consider whether to impose an LBFO on the Laborers International Union of North America, Local 7777.