10:04 PM PDT on Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BY DUANE W. GANG and DUG BEGLEY
STAFF WRITERS
dgang@pe.com | dbegley@pe.com

Negotiations between labor unions and Riverside County moved from the bargaining table to the Board of Supervisors chambers Tuesday.

Union members showed up en masse to oppose lesser pension benefits for future employees, a change that the board approved in concept five months ago.

And Supervisor Bob Buster asked for a review of a board policy about labor negotiations after he learned that Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Benoit held private meetings with employee unions in August and September.

Supervisors in April agreed on a 3-2 vote that discussions of wages and pension changes should happen only through the formal collective bargaining process.

With only three supervisors in attendance Tuesday, discussion of that issue was delayed until Oct. 4. Supervisors Jeff Stone and John Tavaglione were absent.

NEGOTIATE CHANGES

Between 75 and 100 union members showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to oppose the second-tier pensions that county leaders say are a financial necessity.

In April, supervisors approved a proposal that would provide a benefit of 2 percent of salary for each year of service at age 60 for general workers and 2 percent at age 55 for sheriff’s deputies and other public safety employees.

Currently, general employees receive 3 percent at 60, and public safety personnel receive 3 percent at age 50.

But the Service Employees International Union Local 721 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 777, two of Riverside County’s largest employee groups, contend any pension changes, even for future employees, must first be negotiated.

Union members said they felt that supervisors — notably Buster — have implied the workers have lavish salaries and retirement deals. They showed up Tuesday to debunk that impression, SEIU spokeswoman Tracy Silveria said.

Many workers told stories of living paycheck-to-paycheck and shopping at thrift stores to stretch family budgets because of a 5 percent wage cut.

“People are losing their homes, or on the verge of losing their homes,” said Angela Herrera, a 17-year county employee.

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