Union Leaders Assail Supervisors for Backtracking on Negotiations Promise

A meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. (Photo by: Norberto Santana Jr.)

Leaders of Orange County’s largest public employees union angrily confronted county supervisors Tuesday, accusing them of trampling on workers’ rights by going back on an agreement to suspend a controversial ordinance so overdue labor negotiations can start.

In a July agreement on ground rules for negotiations, the county’s negotiator stated that supervisors had “decided to suspend” the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance – which was largely invalidated by a judge – and that a set of different, mutually agreed-upon rules would replace it.  The workers’ contract expired more than two months ago.

But then last week supervisors decided in closed session, without any public debate or explanation, to reverse that decision. This came despite a recommendation from County Counsel Leon Page to suspend the ordinance, known as COIN.

“I am so profoundly shocked, disappointed, and angered by this board’s recent action to walk all over the rights of county employees,” said Lezlee Neebe, board president of the Orange County Employees Association, which represents about 12,000 county employees.

“You have repeatedly told us, even sat in front of our board of directors, saying you wanted to work with us…If any county employees behaved in this way, we’d be fired.  This is a mockery of justice.”

In all, nine of the union’s board members addressed supervisors in public comments during Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.  None of the supervisors addressed the critiques.

Among other things, COIN requires public disclosure of offers and counter-offers on labor contracts, a more detailed financial analysis of proposed agreements and the posting of proposed agreements 30 days in advance of voting on their approval.

Supporters say it gives residents a better chance to weigh in on proposed labor agreements and helps prevent taxpayer costs from escalating due to benefit increases for workers.

Labor groups, meanwhile, argue that it singles out employees but not the private contractors who finance supervisors’ political campaigns and account for more than half of the county’s spending.  And they argued – so far successfully – that COIN’s passage last year violated requirements to meet and confer with employees under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.

The most dramatic exchange Tuesday came when OCEA General Manager Jennifer Muir refused to stop speaking after being told her three minutes were up.

Each of the supervisors sent a “message that your politics are more important than these people, more important than the law, more important than…integrity and ethics,” Muir said as Chairman Todd Spitzer banged his gavel, called the meeting into recess and stood up to walk away.

“No ethics! Where [are] the ethics?” Muir exclaimed as Spitzer stood up, tried to speak, and then walked out of the chambers.  “Every single one of you has the responsibility to stand up and call for a vote!”

Her union colleagues then started chanting: “Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!”

As Muir continued, the remaining supervisors – Shawn Nelson, Lisa Bartlett, Michelle Steel and Andrew Do – stood up and walked out of the room.

“Now you are running away from your county employees.  You’re running away from them,” she concluded, facing a set of empty supervisors’ chairs.  “Stand up and do the right thing.  Face them. They’ve earned that much.”

(Click below to watch a video of the confrontation.)

When the supervisors returned, Spitzer said he had followed the proper meeting protocol by calling a recess and stepping away from the dais.

“Just for the record, we’ve had extensive workshops” on how to conduct meetings, he said.

Spitzer then accused Muir of trying to be someone she’s not: Nick Berardino, the longtime OCEA leader, known for his often confrontational style, who recently retired and handed the reins to Muir.  If someone is new to their job and wants to be someone else, Spitzer said, “I would suggest they be their own personality.”

Supervisors have yet to respond publicly to the workers’ critiques, which were first raised last week after the board decided to keep COIN in place.

In June, a judge with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board ruled that key parts of COIN had to be repealed because supervisors illegally imposed the requirements without giving workers a chance to negotiate first.

The county appealed the ruling, but said in late July that they planned to suspend COIN as part of the ground rules agreement with the union.

(Click here to read the July agreement between the county and union.  The plans for COIN are on the third page.)

Then, in early August, the supervisors’ top attorney warned them that the county could face further legal liability by keeping COIN in place, given that the union could claim the county was improperly delaying negotiations.  Page urged supervisors to suspend the ordinance until a final ruling on its legality.

“Actions taken by the County in accordance with the COIN ordinance remain under attack and do expose the County to potential liability,” he wrote in his staff report.

“Suspension of the Ordinance’s provisions is a matter of urgency.”

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • OCservant_Leader

    These hypocrites! OC Board of Supes!

    They hate bloated bureaucracys – except when it’s their own worthless hires…they hate pensions for anyone – except themselves and their family..,they say they are there to serve the public…but their only resource to accomplish that is (public employees) and they just walked out on them.

    These politicians just shown how much they HATE the public servants who work for them.


  • John Claxton

    Now we know he probably went to his car and got his gun and handcuffs before returning because Miss Muir was talking in a threatening tone and Chairman Spitzer was afraid of his safety and that of his colleagues. He’s a hero in his own mind.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I don’t have any sympathy whatsoever for the unions. As an employee, I went to my own union (AFSCME) and even appealed to OCEA for help, when my whistleblowing for corruption and embezzlement was being punished. I was written up on false accusations, denied promotions and transfers, and had my entire career destroyed, while the unions did nada to stop it. The reason was that the unions all had little deals with the BoS and management. Management at SSA handpicked the idiot teams who took over at AFSCME, thus removing the most effective leaders that group ever had. In the aftermath of the rigged election, AFSCME’s new team of rear kissers tanked all of the grievances, and “forgot” to follow through on hearings to protect members from false accusations. I personally called Ms. Muir, begging for someone, anyone, to help me. She couldn’t be bothered. Now Spitzie and his band o’ sleazes are ignoring her? Well played, Toddikins, well played. Someone might actually think you have some stones, pal. They are all so corrupted and vile, not one of them could possibly do anything for the good of the people they serve. This is just their stepping stone to bigger things.

  • Steve W.

    Nice shot from Spitzer at Jennifer Muir. She’s out of her league.

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      Spitzer’s “shot” as you term it was obnoxious and sexist. It was a sad little attempt to put Muir in her little girl place. Quite offensive. The comment was unprofessional and no leader with any common sense would make such a ignorant and obtuse remark. Muir is who she is and the idea that she was “channeling” Nick is just stupid. Calling her our of her league indicates to me a measurable of insecurity with women who challenge men.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Spitzer is trying to pretend he is an actual man, and that he can bully any female who dares to oppose him. I suppose that in the boy’s locker room it makes him ‘cool’ and makes her look out of her league. But let’s make no mistake about it, Spitzer is no man, he is no leader and he barely rates as a human being. He is scum, pure and simple.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Todd Spitzer’s snarly comment to Ms, Muir suggesting that she is attempting to emulate Nick B. shows clearly his small minded, vindictive and petty personality. Is that the best response to her concerns he could muster? How pathetic. The mass walk out of the BOS is a major middle finger to the rank and file. What a bunch of thin skinned, cowards – wimps. We are all in real trouble when it comes to County of Orange leadership.The County of Orange has become a joke, a miserable pathetic circus seeped in arrogance and ignorance. Frankly, this is frightening. How far do they think they can push people?

    • Jacki Livingston

      They got away with it with you, Kathleen. They got away with it with me. They get away with it because no one from the public or the press will really hold them accountable.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        Yes, the VOC did cover my story but in the bitter end, the county will pull every dirty trick in the book to prevent employees from exposing the truth. It’s what they do and it is a priority. I saw it first hand – the lies, misrepresentation, deceit, manipulation of the truth, favors to entice people to have “favorable” recall. Everything. What is amusing is that everyone who lied and fabricated for the county is gone – all under unfavorable circumstances.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Yes, every dirty trick. Then, they will go to Worker’s Comp court, where the judge was a client of Spitzer’s, who he helped when she was the victim of a horrific crime. Of course she doesn’t recuse herself, as she should. Because, you see, she was assigned by Spitzer’s wife, who assigned her own self to the case for three days, just long enough to give her hubby all of the confidential information that he was not allowed to have. Then, when they browbeat you into accepting their lousy offer because they have harassed and destroyed you, they will not keep up their end of the deal. No, they will violate every single agreement. They will block you from getting any job, anywhere. But, the downside, for them, is that will so much time on your hands, you have time to go through every file, every email, every letter and every report. And you have time to copy those. Then you have time to hand them out in public places, free to anyone who wants them. Because, you see, a beaten dog will bite back, right to the end.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Wow, that is horrible. Sounds like a incredible conflict of interest.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Ya think?

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            It’s how they roll. And they have the utter gall to say the pledge and pray before each BOS meeting. Hypocrites and cowards – total disgrace.

          • Jacki Livingston

            If I committed the crimes they do, and was as corrupt as they are, I would pray, too…pray no one ever found out about it.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Well,those of us who have a soul and a sense of right and wrong don’t have to worry about it & we sleep well. Then there are the sociopaths and narcissists and we know why they are……they don’t care, feel or every worry – it’s all about them. But there is always Karma.

          • Jacki Livingston

            I guess Jennifer should consider herself lucky he didn’t go out and get his gun and handcuff her, eh? We all know how scared Toddy gets whenever someone challenges him.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            He resorted to sexist sarcasm. What a baby.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Todd has never been able to cope with anyone who has bigger balls than he does. Maybe I should send Jennifer a serrated knife…

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            and a pacifier and a blankie

          • Jacki Livingston


  • octaxpayer

    If its not obvious by now the BOS does not care for the employees. They only care about how to further there careers. Employees need to learn they will only get a few nibble carrots once in awhile. Yes, the old timers are set for retirement, but new employees have no more befits than anywhere else. The County will keep using and drain them economically and there spirit . No wonder employees just give up and do the very minimal to no work.
    I found that leaving was the best thing for me and my family. I found you can be at a place that respects you, where bonuses and raises do come, and benefits are better. I know one thing nothing will change for the better at the County. Its only the illusion that they are doing something special. As a tax payer I have lost all respect for government and even change my party affiliation mainly due to the experience I have seen from the OC-BOS.

    • Jacki Livingston

      You got lucky, to leave and find a new job. They have sandbagged me for every job I have applied for, blackballing me so bad, I can’t get a job doing anything.

  • the714

    The OCEA contract expired two months ago? That’s nothing. OCMA’s contract expired 19 months ago and the negotiations still aren’t concluded.

    • octaxpayer

      OCMA is a joke sort of like HR. Why even bother contributing to them.

  • David Zenger

    Flea circus.

  • Jeffrey Dickman

    With no meaningful raise in 7 years for its members, coupled with increases in its employees benifit contributions, the Board must appreciate the vigor with which OCEA will press its points.

    We’ll see if our County Board will lead by working with its staff and their representatives or shrink.