12:23 AM PDT on Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Members of Riverside’s largest employee union have agreed to a proposed new contract that creates a lower pension tier for new hires and requires current workers to pay a small amount into a retirement health care fund.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents workers such as librarians, parks and recreation and code enforcement employees, is the third employee group to agree to two-tiered pensions. Firefighters approved a new contract in January, and management and executive employees, who do not have a union, agreed to benefit changes shortly afterward.

The police management and employee unions and utility workers, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, do not yet have new agreements with the city, but Riverside officials said they hope to reach similar deals with those groups.

Last week, more than 800 members of SEIU Local 721 voted, with 94 percent in favor, on a two-year contract that would take effect July 1. The City Council still must vote on the agreement, which city officials estimate would save $107 million over 20 years.

“I think that it was the right thing to do and it was fair,” said Lisa Muñoz, a fire safety inspector who headed SEIU’s negotiating team.

The contract does not include raises, and it requires current employees to make a small monthly payment to a retirement health care fund — typically less than $10 per paycheck, according to information from the city.

Once the contract is in place, new hires would pay the employee contribution to their pensions — 8 percent of the employee’s salary — that the city now pays. Pensions would be calculated from the average of an employee’s three highest-paid years; currently the calculation is based on the single highest year.

The new contract also includes a provision requiring the city to meet with the union and consider alternatives before laying off workers.

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