County Strikes Deals with Union Groups

Agreements, Which Must Be Approved by Supervisors, Include Firefighters Deferring Wage Increases

Pending approval by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Santa Barbara County has reached agreements with multiple bargaining units that will save the county more than $2.5 million for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins today, July 1.

An agreement with Fire Fighters Local 2046, which represents roughly 194 county employees in the Fire Department, would extend the union’s contract for one year — to 2014 — and defer several scheduled wage increases over the next two years for a grand total savings of more than $3.9 million over three years.

The firefighters — who ratified the agreement — have agreed to delay a 2.5 percent wage increase they already delayed once in December 2010. They won’t receive that increase until June 2012. A 2.5 percent wage increase scheduled for September would be put off for a year, and three more wage increases of 3 percent each spread out over 2012 and 2013 will all also be delayed a year. All of these scheduled increases were already stalled in concessions made by the union in June 2010.

The fire concessions will save the county $1.48 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year and $1.7 million in 2012-2013.

The Engineers and Technicians Association (ETA), which represents roughly 129 employees, saw its contract expire on June 26. But a proposed memorandum of understanding, which would run to June 2013, would save the county $842,025 in each of the two years of the agreement.

As part of the proposed deal with the ETA — which hasn’t yet notified the county of ratification by its members — the union will rescind and permanently eliminate a 2.5 percent wage increase and a $20 per pay period increase in unit cash benefit allowance. Also eliminated will be employees’ ability to cash out up to 40 hours of accrued vacation leave each year, as well as the ability to use paid sick leave to compute overtime. Members will also participate in a week-long furlough each year.

Finally, a group of 67 confidential employees in 16 different county departments — who are not represented by a union but are in classes similar to those in SEIU Local 620 — will have a previously adopted increase in wages and benefits rescinded. The decision is not negotiated, but rather adopted by a board vote. This employee group was originally supposed to get a 2.5 percent wage increase in April 2010, and an increase in $20 per pay period in cash benefit allowance scheduled for July 2010. Both increases were deferred until last week, mirroring concessions from labor organizations with similar deals.

The county would save roughly $203,000 in 2011-2012 if the board agrees to the elimination of the wage increases.

The supervisors, anticipating some labor concessions, used $1.6 million to adopt the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. According to Human Resources Director Jeri Muth, any savings beyond that amount could be allocated by the board however they wish. Should the board approve these three deals, the $1.6 million would be covered, with approximately $929,528 left over to dole out.

But with the state budget finalized Thursday, the trickle-down effect means the supervisors — who just finished closing a $72 million county budget gap — could find themselves cutting services and personnel soon.

The county continues to negotiate with other labor groups, Muth said, which could lead to more concessions.

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