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Nearly 11,000 Orange County workers are now slated see their first significant raises since the Great Recession, after county supervisors unanimously ratified a new labor deal Wednesday.
The deal, which covers two-thirds of the county workforce, calls for an immediate 4.5-percent salary increase, followed by 2.5 percent raises in July 2016 and 2017.
The workers, who are represented by the Orange County Employees Association, would also receive three $500 payments between January 2016 and December 2017.
“I’m very supportive of this deal,” said supervisors’ Republican Chairman Todd Spitzer.
Addressing employees, he added: “We value your work, we know how hard you work. We want you to be proud of working in this county.”
Even supervisors who have been very critical of public employee costs in the past – such as Republicans Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel – were strongly in support of the deal, calling it a fair increase after major sacrifices by employees in the wake of the Great Recession.
“This is what I think is the appropriate, fair deal for now,” said Nelson, who motioned for the deal’s approval Wednesday.
“We have the lowest pension formula in the state of California,” he added, noting the 1.62-percent-at-55 formula agreed to years ago by the general workers.
“We’ve done the heavy lifting” to start fixing the county’s unfunded employee liabilities, he added.
The new deal covers hundreds of different county job classifications, like mental health nurses, district attorney investigative assistants, and veterans claims officers.
Its approval came on a unanimous 5-0 vote, with Supervisor Andrew Do participating by phone from Las Vegas.
OCEA General Manager Jennifer Muir, who led the union’s negotiating team in the six months of bargaining, said the deal would spark a much more collaborative environment at the county.
“We have a huge opportunity today, where we can move forward” on opportunities “to cut cost, improve efficiencies” and save money on healthcare while helping employees be more healthy, she said.
The contract sets up working groups for employees to collaborate with management on ways to make the county run more efficiently and reduce taxpayer costs – such as by reforming the county’s annual leave rules.
There was a possibility of the vote being delayed two weeks, until the new year. Spitzer argued for the delay, saying that while he supports the deal points, the public should have more time to digest the deal. The deal points were released by the county about a week before Wednesday’s vote.
“In my opinion, if this is a good deal, then it will be a good deal in two weeks,” Spitzer said.
But his colleagues saw it differently.
“We already almost agreed with this raise,” said Steel. “I don’t think it’s really fair for [employees] that they have to wait another two weeks to get a raise.”
There was one public commenter who opposed voting on the deal Wednesday.
Kathy Moran, a former aide to then-Supervisor John Moorlach, was critical of the timeframe for the public to digest the deal points.
She said she didn’t have a problem with the salary increases, but doubted the employee efficiency discussions will be yield any results and said that the public hasn’t had enough time to review the deal.
“I think it was done very poorly, in which you gave very little notice to us,” said Moran.
But to supervisors like Nelson, a week was plenty of time to review a straightforward deal.
“Is there anybody in the room that doesn’t understand what the raise is? 4-and-a-half [percent raise]. 2-and-a-half [percent], 2 and a half [percent]…This isn’t a real tricky formula,” he said.
“Today’s the time to vote on this deal,” he added. “The deal points [are] pretty tight. There’s not a lot of moving parts.”
OCEA members went nearly five years – beginning in July 2009 – without any across-the-board raises. In March 2014, they received a raise of 1.25 percent, and then a one-time 1.25-percent bonus the following month.
The agreement before that, from July 2007 through June 2009, increased salaries between 2.5 percent and 5 percent.
The new contract runs for about two and a half years, through late June 2018.