County’s Bill for Years of Labor Negotiations Becoming Expensive

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After several years of using a professional negotiator to deal with the county’s unions during labor talks, one member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors is beginning to get sticker shock.

Earlier this week, as supervisors considered a $350,000 increase for the negotiation services of Bruce Barsook with the law firm of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, which would bring the total amount to over $1 million.

The request to move the item found an unusually quiet reception.

Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Janet Nguyen didn’t second the move to approve the contract after Supervisor John Moorlach moved for approval.

Instead, Nguyen and Spitzer had a small side chat on the dais.

Eventually, Supervisor Pat Bates seconded the motion, and the contract amendment, which pushes the total price tag over the million-dollar mark, was approved.

“I’m sick of it,” Spitzer said when reached by a reporter. “I’d rather put that into employee salaries.”

County Supervisor John Moorlach sees it differently.

“I’m real pleased with Liebert Cassidy,” Moorlach said. “The extension of additional fee … it’s pretty much a given that the contract talks have been going on so long.”

Outsourcing labor talks to an outside attorney is something that a 2011 county performance audit recommended in a scathing audit of the Human Resources Department.

“Having someone independent handling the negotiations has been working out well,” Moorlach said. “It’s something I advocated early in my tenure here. We’re still finding areas where we were not represented very well by our Human Resources director in past negotiations.”

Moorlach doesn’t see a problem with the fact that most of the offers accepted by the labor groups negotiating with the firm have had to be imposed or triggered lawsuits, such as the action filed by the county attorneys association.

Moorlach said he did expect that the “Super Bowl” of labor talks — because virtually every union at the county has their contract up — would be over by now, especially with many board members beginning to concentrate on elections.

He sees the delay and the contract increases as a “sign of the times,” given that there’s no money for raises but instead demands that public workers pay more into their pensions and health care.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.

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