10:00 PM PDT on Saturday, September 17, 2011

BY DUANE W. GANG
STAFF WRITER
dgang@pe.com

The Riverside Sheriff’s Association has challenged the pay cuts imposed on deputies by Riverside County supervisors earlier this year and wants the county to seek voter approval for lower retirement benefits.

If successful, the association’s lawsuit would reverse a 10 percent reduction in total compensation and award deputies back pay. It would be a financial hit to the county and complicate supervisors’ efforts to reduce future pension costs.

County officials are relying on the 10 percent reduction — and lower pension benefits for deputies hired after June — to save about $28 million over the next year.

In its lawsuit, the association contends the county did not follow its own labor-relations rules, and the 10 percent reduction should be overturned.

The group also argues that voters must decide whether to allow lower pension benefits, as required by Measure L. The measure, backed by the association, received a majority of votes last November, but it trailed the competing Measure M that was supported by county supervisors. The county contends Measure M is in effect because it received more yes votes.

In May, the county declared an impasse in the contract talks, a move the association at the time vowed to challenge. In June, deputies started receiving a 10 percent overall reduction in compensation — lower pay and health benefits and increased employee retirement contributions.

In addition, the contract created a second tier of lower pension benefits for newly hired deputies.

The association contends the county failed to negotiate in good faith before declaring an impasse in the labor talks and retaliated against the union for engaging in protected political activity, according to the lawsuit.

Measure L and Measure M dealt with what authority the Board of Supervisors has over changes in retirement benefits. The association’s lawsuit contends both are in effect and any changes should go before voters for approval.

‘Sham process’

Association President Pat McNamara said Thursday the organization wants to see the county ordered back into “good faith negotiations” and “not the sham process that led to the county’s manufactured impasse and imposed conditions this past May.”

In the lawsuit, filed Aug. 12, the association says the county refused to consider the association’s proposals to save the county about $27 million. The county also did not follow its own employee relations policies before declaring the impasse, the lawsuit says. For instance, a formal fact-finder should have been called in, according to the lawsuit.

At the time the county declared an impasse, county Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier said the decision came after five months of negotiations. The association’s proposals did not save as much as advertised, she said.

County spokesman Ray Smith said Thursday that the association’s lawsuit is under review by county attorneys. “After the review has been completed, the county will determine how to respond,” he said.

L vs. M

Measure L, backed by the association, was on last November’s ballot and would require any increase or decrease in public-safety pensions to go before voters for approval.

But Measure M, supported by supervisors, says the board retains the power to lower benefits. Both measures received a majority vote, but Measure M received more yes votes — 261,972 compared to 230,552.

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