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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.

Nick Plays Hardball

Credit: The Liberal OC

Credit: The Liberal OC

We recently reported on the progress, or lack thereof, of the Orange County negotiations with employees represented by the Orange County Employee Association. After two year, the county finally gave the ultimatum of the “Last, Best and Final” offer to OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino. That generated an alleged response that was less than cordial.

Shortly thereafter, OCEA took to the airwaves with a new commercial and a website that would hopefully enlighten the public on the issues at hand.

Berardino has also issued a number of essays to OCEA members regarding the negotiations and what will happen next. Today, he sent out this missive, explaining that Mediation Day is here:

Dear OCEA member,

As you know, OCEA members recently rejected the County’s last, best and final offer, standing together against the Board of Supervisor’s attempts to threaten and intimidate us into taking a bad deal. The next step in the negotiations process is to go to mediation, where an independent third-party professional will work with the County and OCEA in an attempt to help us reach an agreement. We are scheduled to be in mediation Tuesday, Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, we continue to stand together against the corruption and culture of intimidation that has been poisoning our County for far too long. We truly believe that nobody—not taxpayers or County workers—will be treated fairly here until all the issues laid out by the Orange County Grand Jury last year are resolved. It is wrong that the Board of Supervisors attempted to cut the Grand Jury’s pay in retaliation for standing up for transparency and accountability, and it’s wrong that they’re doing the same to us. We stand with the Grand Jury and with our community to clean up this County.

Nick goes on to promote the website and the association’s Facebook page.

In addition, we were treated to former OC Register Reporter and current OCEA Spokeswoman, Jennifer Muir (always a pleasure) facing Rick Rief on SoCal Insider. The video shows Muir not pulling any punches while Rief tries to “guide” the conversation. In the end, Muir gets her point across and an apology from Rief for trying to mute the discussion.

The video is only about 5 minutes but very interesting:

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.