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County Cuts a Deal With Employees

contracts_sjpg380(We erroneously implied that TMEA employees were in negotiations this year. As it turns out, this is just a reopener on scheduling for the yard employees. Sorry for the confusion-ed.) The news is finally out and it isn’t as bad as some thought. Orange County Employees Association, the largest public employee union in the county, has announced the mediator’s proposal and is recommending the employees accept. The union has been in negotiations for nearly two years over wages and benefits.

Last year, the County got serious, making threats against the employees and running a successful campaign to paint rank-and-file workers as living generously on the public dole. Saying that a 2.7 at 55 benefit was unsustainable, county management also attacked the sacred peace officer pillar by forcing deputies into paying their own way on pensions. The hyperbole rose in the latter half of last year.

OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino, finally countered with a website that cracked open the real issues and problems in Orange County – the Supervisors themselves. The website, www.therealocsupervisors.com, shows a video outlining the corruption and pay-for-play policies that have become de rigeuer in county politics. The video also ran on local TV stations in front of thousands of Orange County taxpayers.

Both the website and ad have had an apparent effect on negotiations. Late last year, the county said they would tender their “Last, Best and Final offer”, meaning exactly what it says, to the union. As the deputies and management unions had already either settled or had terms imposed, the county believed they had the upper hand. That, of course, was before Berardino’s campaign. When the county did make their final offer, it sparked some fireworks and a criminal investigation. Union members soundly rejected the county offer. For several weeks there was no communication until the impasse triggered state-mandated mediation.

A few weeks ago, after both sides met with the mediator, it was clear, according to sources, that an amicable agreement would not be reached. Using his authority as a mediator, a recommended resolution was sent to both sides. The Board of Supervisors discussed the proposed agreement and voted in closed session to accept.

Today, Berardino sent an email missive to union employees.

With that in our hearts, last week your OCEA Bargaining Team and the County met with a neutral third-party mediator pursuant to state law in an effort to reach an agreement to prevent the County from imposing its Last, Best and Final Offer. After a day of hearing from both OCEA and the County, the mediator used his authority to issue a “mediator’s proposal,” which includes a 1.25% base salary increase (effective first pay period after adoption)  and a one-time  1.25 % lump sum cash payment (effective first pay period in April 2014).

Terms of the agreement also change aspects of the health benefits most employees receive and will result in slightly higher costs for many rank-and-file employees. Employees are now being asked to vote on the proposal this coming week. OCEA has recommended approval.

Most employees in the county have not seen a raise in nearly seven years. The original proposal from the Board was another two years of austerity with no real end in sight. The news of even a small raise has been welcomed by the rank and file. OCEA management is expecting approval with implementation the first week in April.

We have pointed out before that OCEA contracts with the Tustin Municipal Employees Association for negotiations and representation. Perhaps seeing this, Tustin employees will see past the rhetoric of the city council and City Manager Jeff Parker’s office as they negotiate again this year. It is time for Parker to loosen the purse strings and reward the hard work of more than just a few management cronies by offering a reasonable wage increase and stop further erosion of benefits for the rank-and-file.

Not Just No But, HELL No!

Credit: The Liberal OC

Credit: The Liberal OC

Union Rejects County Offer

The doors on the Orange County Employees Association had barely closed at the end of Friday’s business day when the word went out by phone and email that members of the county’s largest public union had overwhelmingly turned down the Board of Supervisors’ “last, best and final offer”.

The rejection comes at the heels of the slim acceptance by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, who voted to approve a contract that forces deputies to pay their fair share of county retirement costs.

OCEA Spokesperson, Jennifer Muir, said that county employees saw the offer for what it was – an attempt to bully them into accepting a bad deal against threats that, if they didn’t accept, politicians on the Board of Supervisors would make it worse for them in the future.

The Board of Supervisors proposed these cuts at the same time as they accepted a pay raise for themselves—a raise that just showed up on their paychecks and was awarded retroactively to July.And it happens at the same time as they continue voting to approve multi-million dollar contracts to their campaign contributors.

Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach, a career politician with an eye on Federal Office, both said the offer was warranted by the $73 million dollars in property tax disputed by the state last year. Moorlach stated, “We’re dealing with a situation where the state has made our budget gong forward very austere.

What was not lost on either side was the fact that county managers would receive a 1.25 percent raise after going through mediation following the county’s last, best and final offer to that group. Also receiving a raise this year would be the Board of Supervisors themselves, who got an automatic 1.4 percent raise as their pay is set to that of judges. Although it was Governor Jerry Brown who set that in motion, it is the county that will pay for their raises through the General Fund.

Moorlach quickly set about doing damage control by publicly announcing his effort to see if he could turn down the raise. However, it is not likely to erase the fact that, for years, he refused to give up his county pension, saying he would wait until the law was changed before he would give it up. At the time, Supervisors’ pensions were funded one hundred percent by the county.

Both Nelson and Moorlach, the only Supervisors to respond to the union’s rejection, neglected to say the $72 million dollar property tax dispute they blamed for the no-raise offer, was the direct result of the Board’s failure to mitigate the dispute despite legal counsel to the contrary.

From a Voice of OC article:

When the county officials financed the billion-dollar bankruptcy in 1995, state officials allowed them to send a portion of their vehicle license fees directly to bond holders. But in 2007, when the county refinanced its debt, the legislative authorization for the special license fees was not included.

Despite warnings that the authorization should be quickly reestablished, county legislative leaders, lobbyists and staff did not act. The intercept, as its known, was not addressed in any subsequent county legislative platform or by the county’s main lobbyist, Platinum Advisors.

The general consensus at OCEA is, the real problem is the sour relationship the Republican Party keeps with the state legislature. Indeed, more than one Orange County Republican legislator has suffered the wrath of an unkind Democratic majority. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a former Assemblyman, was forced into an office in the Capitol that is so small it is often referred to as “the doghouse”.

OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, was succinct in a written statement to union members. Saying corruption investigations and “pay-to-play tactics” caused the Board of Supervisors to target county workers who stood up to them and exposed corrupt practices. “It’s just like last year, when the Grand Jury issued reports about the “culture of corruption” in Orange County Government. The Board responded, he said, by attempting to cut their pay.

In his message, Berardino called for a cleanup of the corrupt practices and said that union members will stand with the Grand Jury and law enforcement agencies in cleaning up the county.

Berardino is also the subject of an assault investigation by the Santa Ana Police Department. County negotiating officials allege Berardino threatened and pushed a negotiator at the last bargaining session when the County’s ultimatum was delivered. Santa Ana Police are not forthcoming with information. OCEA says that no assault occurred and the County is grandstanding to bolster its position.

The next step for union members, who have not seen a raise in more than seven years, is mediation. If mediation does not result in a satisfactory agreement, arbitration will follow. A final resolution could be as much as a year off.

Leave Me Alone, I’m In Denial – Again

See-no-evil-Hear-no-evil-Speak-no-evil-Star-Wars-Stormtroopers3I hope everyone enjoyed National Night Out at the District in Tustin. The annual event is put on by public safety around the country. Many cities in The Real OC, including Tustin, enjoyed a different view of the police and fire departments that serve our community. We are fortunate to have one of the finest of each to protect and serve.

Since there were no official meetings at the city level this week, we thought we would discuss an issue of pressing concern at the county level, where it is getting to be a regular thing that the Orange County Board of Supervisors have trouble admitting fault.

The Republic machine that runs most of Orange County just doesn’t seem to get it.  It seems every time local government gets into trouble, they don’t want to admit they had any part in it.  From the multitude of sexual harassment suits to the CalOptima debacle, the Orange County Supervisors always seem to find a way to blame others for their stupidity. When Carlos Bustamante was finally outed for his, shall we say, interesting management techniques, the public discovered what the rank-and-file employees of Orange County government knew all along. Yet, the OC Supervisors played the blame game and wound up using Tom Mauck as cannon fodder.

The Board of Supervisors continued to blame others for their poor oversight when the Grand Jury issued a couple of reports questioning their ethics and management of CalOptima, even when faced with the facts. John Moorlach, who refuses to lead by example, complained when the Grand Jury did its job. And, Todd Spitzer, in a holding pattern for Tony Rackauckus’ job (and, consequently, the Jury’s potential boss), was indignant that anyone, let alone the Grand Jury, could find fault with the BoS.

Through all of the bad publicity the Board of Supervisors has undergone lately, one important issue seems to have fallen out of the public’s eye. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal except it is worth $76.5 million dollars. That’s the amount of money the state will withhold from Orange County in property tax unless they can come to some sort of agreement.

And, as usual, the Board of Supervisors wants to lay the blame on someone else. The only trouble is, they couldn’t. So, they went into denial mode.

Back in May, the Voice of Orange County outlined the problems the county ran into when they refinanced bankruptcy debt. At the time, Orange County still received vehicle license fee money from the state to help with the remaining debt. In 2005, however, supervisors sought a reduction in costs and, in so doing, they inadvertently eliminated their access to the VLF. Actually, that’s not quite true. Many sources claim the county was aware of the faux pas but chose to ignore it, hoping no one else would notice.

That worked until this year when the folks working on Governor Brown’s budget caught up with the money and took it back. That resulted in a court case that everyone except the Supervisors knew the county would lose.

After ignoring the problem and keeping the money, then losing in court, the Board of Supervisors, now faced with the facts, is finally ready to make a deal with the state. Only trouble is, the state may not be willing to deal. And, of course, the supes have said that, if no agreement can be reached, others will pay for their mistake.

“Bridging the $76.5 million reduction would require a combination of labor reduction, revenue assumptions and non-labor cuts (e.g., services & supplies, equipment, capital projects, etc.),” reads a memo being distributed by county Chief Financial Officer Frank Kim.

County labor leaders have already sent out mass notices warning workers about potential cuts and where the pain might be felt.

During a meeting with the OCEA Bargaining Team, Kim offered three scenarios to OCEA members. One was that the County would lose the $76.5 million in VLF. The second scenario would have them lose the VLF but convert a special property tax set aside that Senator Lou Correa secured in 2009, into an ongoing replacement fund. The third scenario was just as dire: The county keeps the VLF but loses the property tax set aside.

Of course Kim, who also appears to be in denial, didn’t mention the likelihood of the state thumbing their nose at the county and keeping everything.

In a missive to employees, Berardino laid out the BoS strategy to lay the responsibility of getting out of the mess by taking it out on labor.

OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, is not taking it lying down. Berardino, who appears to be the only one who saw the potential for failure during this episode of the BoS drama, told the Supervisors that it would be unfair to continue to place the burden of resolution on the backs of the rank-and-file employees of the county.

The County predicts they could bridge the revenue loss with labor reductions, revenue assumptions and other non-labor cuts, however any specific and direct impacts are not currently known. We told the County again, as we’ve said many times before, working families did not create the bankruptcy and the fallout from the bankruptcy must not fall on the backs of working men and women!!

Berardino further points out that the blame lies squarely with the Board of Supervisors who, even though they were aware of the cuts, directed then Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom (who has since left for cooler skies to the north) to act as if nothing had happened. Talk about denial.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel. The $50 million dollar deal Senator Correa cut for Orange County in 2009 has now become a key bargaining chip in the game.

“What we thought should have been a step toward a bit of gravy is now just a struggle to get back to where we were,” Correa said. “Without that $50 million, we’d be nowhere. There would be nothing to negotiate.”

The deal Correa is attempting to work out, however, will only return the county to the original status quo and will still leave the county with budget cuts to deal with, some permanently. And, while the county said they are not looking at layoffs to bridge the funding gap, Nick Berardino is not likely to take them at their word.

Neither are Department Heads, some of whom are scrambling to meet with their employees to reassure them -or warn them- of budget issues. Most departments have cut to the bone as it is and, while employees have been able to maintain services, that is not likely to last should layoff occur.

So, while the Board of Supervisors fiddle, it is the public that could get burned if a deal can’t be reached. Senator Correa, who has come to the aid of the county many times before, describes the negotiations with the state as a “painful process”. We agree. Good luck, Lou.

The OC Supervisor’s Embarass Themselves

squirm firm oc“You’re here to help us, not embarass us nationally.” That’s the words from Orange County Supervisor, John Moorlach, as he lashed out at the Orange County Grand Jury for their latest missive dinging the Board of Supervisors for massive mis-management of CalOptima. Two scathing reports caused the Fair Political Practices Commission to initiate an ethics investigation into the handling of the organization by the Board.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

I can also say it is shameful the way the Board of Supervisors reacted. Although any reader of Our Town Tustin knows I have little regard for the Orange County Grand Jury, it never surprises me how the, so-called, Republican Leadership continues to deny corruption and, when denial fails them, lashes out at those who speak the truth.

PBS SoCal televised the ranting supervisors in the video above. Each supervisor took a swipe or two at the Grand Jury. But, it was Todd Spitzer, future District Attorney and, presumably the Grand Jury’s boss, who actually had the gall to infer that Orange County has no corruption. News flash, Todd, Orange County is about as corrupt as can be and no amount of denial by you or your corrupt cronies on the Board can allay the belief of the voters here in the Real OC.

Supervisor Janer Ngyuen, saying the report “demoralized” her and her family as well as “the 500 employees who work at CalOptima”, was laughable in her defense of a situation that she clearly manipulated to garner favor wtih her constituency when she was appointed as the Board’s representative to the organization. I have news for her, the 500 employees of CalOptima were probably laughing their collective asses off when they saw this video.

Grand Jury Foreman, Ray Garcia, says he stands by the reports. “The only thing I will say about the corruption thing is, you  ought to read the corruption thing. It’s a chronology of four decades of malfeasance, misfeasance and downright crime.”  Unlike us, Garcia says he was surprised on the backlash from the ethics commission suggestion. Of course, we’re not.

This video shows one thing: the Orange County Board of Supervisors have shamed themselves, more than any report or investigation possibly could. Instead of whining about this, as Shawn Nelson and poor, little hurt Janet Nguyen did, they should be taking an honest look at themselves and how they have acted during their tenure. From failures to identify and rout out sexually criminal behavior to how they have treated the employees in general of this county, they have led among Republican leaders in this county to hide the truth from the public. And now that they have been called on it, all they can do is scream and yell at the messenger.

The investigation will take a year or more. In truth, I don’t expect much to come of it. Ann Ravel, the chief of the FPPC is a milkweed at best. She has never outed any politician, Republican or Democrat for a substantial infraction and I don’t expect her to do much more than pay lip service to this. It is refreshing to see this out in the open, however. And it is fun to watch the worms squirm.

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