Battle Over County’s Labor Contracts Is Heating Up

After watching the Orange County Board of Supervisors grant interim CEO Bob Franz a raise last month because of his expanded workload, the county’s social services eligibility workers want the same kind of treatment.

“You considered a raise for the CEO because of his overworked burden that he had for three months. We have been overworked for five years,” said Sandra Fox, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2076. She made the statement during county supervisors’ most recent public meeting, where numerous workers showed up in protest.

Fox's statement came against the backdrop of the so-called Super Bowl of labor negotiations, with contracts for all of the county's major unions up for renewal this year.

Board Chairman John Moorlach often speaks in glowing terms about the AFSCME local, which represents just over a thousand social service eligibility technicians working at the county who have gone without a raise for the past five years.

Moorlach has especially high regard for the union because they refused to accept the 2.7@55 pension enhancement negotiated with the county’s general workers in 2004. That deal catapulted Moorlach into the supervisors race for 2006, which he won largely on the platform that the pension enhancement was a bad deal for taxpayers and workers.

“Know that your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed by this board,” Moorlach told Fox earlier this month in public session.

However, the message from county supervisors as contract negotiations continue is that there’s no room for raises.

Fox gave a forceful response to this message at last week's supervisors' meeting. “We have been serving our constituents for the last five years on our breaks, our lunches … because that’s what we do,” Fox said.

“We were the only ones that did not get a raise when everybody else did. We did not take the 2.7@55. We did not have a medical retirement grant,” Fox said. “This bargaining unit has sacrificed more than any other county employee throughout.”

It’s time, Fox told supervisors, “for a well-deserved raise.”

Fox argues that eligibility technicians are saving the county large sums by handling two large legal settlements over how benefits are handed out. She also notes that the error rate for food stamps are at historic lows despite a human tidal wave of need facing public workers.

Yet supervisors Vice Chairman Shawn Nelson said raises are probably not in the future. Both Nelson and Moorlach indicated that total compensation for each unit will have to be reigned in.

“I don’t have a pot of gold,” Nelson said in an interview after the board meeting. “Total compensation includes wages and benefits, and if their total compensation is behind, then I’m in favor of equalizing them. Yet I know their total compensation has gone up.”

They have a pension, which has become more expensive, and their health care costs have gone up, Nelson said. AFSCME workers still don’t pay the full employee share of their pension, he added.

“If anybody deserves fairness, it’s them,” Nelson said, “but it will have to come out in the numbers.”

Labor leaders like Fox are increasingly focusing on the differences in approaches to unions based on job group and are calling supervisors hypocrites.

In her message to workers, Fox noted that “the county is saying, as always, there’s no money, but we know that’s not true because we see our managers at the upper end of the administration reclassifying themselves and getting a raise. Everybody still has their bonuses and car allowances.”

Fox isn’t alone. At last week’s meeting, Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association,  also lambasted county supervisors over a perceived double standard on labor negotiations, contrasting the closed nature of negotiations over the county’s multimillion-dollar computer services contract.

He called on supervisors to publicly discuss their deliberations and disclose campaign finance connections to the computer contract.

Berardino also recently released numerous emails from a public records request showing preferential treatment for county supervisors’ aides on county jobs.

Many labor leaders also continue to await the outcome of the county managers’ union contract, which remains stalled over supervisors’ demand that managers pay more for their pension benefits.

Managers recently rejected the county’s most recent contract offer, and the two sides are now locked in mediation.

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