Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/06/2011 08:04:27 PM PDT

San Bernardino County officials Wednesday disputed allegations from a union that the county is breaking the law and acting in bad faith in its negotiations over a new labor agreement.

In a claim filed Tuesday with the state Public Employment Relations Board, the San Bernardino County Public Attorneys Association accused the county of essentially forcing the union of mostly deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders to agree to the same concessions reached with the county firefighters union.

Andrew Lamberto, the county’s human resources director, said similar concessions are being asked of all the county’s labor unions in order to close a $46.6 million budget hole, maintain a quality level of public safety and avoid layoffs.

Negotiations for a new labor agreement between the county and the county public attorneys association began in January but hit a snag in April after the county reached a labor agreement with most of the county’s 344 firefighters, comprising San Bernardino County Professional Firefighters, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 935, according to the claim filed Tuesday with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

The firefighters union agreed to pick up the full amount of the county’s contribution to their retirement – 7 percent – and take a 2.5 percent cut in their annual raises.

But the firefighters union did so on condition that its contract stipulate that the county’s other unions agree to the same concessions, referred to as a “me too” clause.

Now, the county is forcing the attorneys association to agree to the same concessions or face cuts to the district attorney’s budget of $2.1 million and $1.1 million to the public defender’s budget.

That would likely result in layoffs from both offices and an increased threat to public safety, said John Thomas, a deputy district attorney who is president of the attorneys’ association.

“They’re not negotiating with us. We’re the ones giving them the proposals and they’re not giving us anything,” Thomas said.

He said county officials pointed out to firefighters that the hours they work overtime can make up for the additional seven percent they are paying into their retirement. But salaried employees such as prosecutors and deputy public defenders, Thomas said, don’t have that luxury.

Bob Windle, the county’s chief labor negotiator, said negotiations with the attorneys association are ongoing, and there are a lot of proposals unique to the union that are still on the table.

The “me too” clause in the firefighters’ contract only means that should another union subsequently agree to a more attractive concessions package with the county, then the firefighters’ union, and any other union that has already signed a labor agreement with the county, would be eligible for the same concessions, Windle said.

Lamberto said the county has another meeting with the attorneys union scheduled for July 14.

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