Officials say the county’s second-largest union rebuffed a last offer. Pay and benefit changes could be imposed on 6,000 employees

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

Published: 15 November 2011 07:55 PM

As they seek remedies for a budget gap in the tens of millions, Riverside County supervisors are finding themselves increasingly at odds with the unions representing employees.

The county declared an impasse Tuesday in its ongoing contract talks with Service Employees International Union Local 721 – the second time this year that officials did not reach a negotiated agreement with an employee group.

The impasse declaration is the first step toward imposing pay and benefit changes on SEIU, which represents about 6,000 county workers ranging from clerical staff to nurses and 911 dispatchers. It is the county’s second-largest union.

The county wants employees to begin paying 8 percent of their salaries toward their own retirement, similar to the plan supervisors approved Tuesday for themselves, other elected officials, managers and workers not represented by a union.

SEIU spokeswoman Tracy Silveria said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon that the union had not yet received the impasse notice.

“However, we do not believe we have reached an impasse in these contract negotiations and intend to demand that the county return to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith,” she said.

The gap between county income and spending is expected to reach $80 million in the coming year without major cuts. To help permanently align expenses with declining revenues, county officials are counting on employees picking up their own retirement contributions.

While they are asking unions to agree during ongoing contract talks, the supervisors have shown they are willing to impose those terms if they feel the negotiations will not bear fruit.

In May, the county imposed terms on the Riverside Sheriff’s Association that included requiring deputies to pay 5 percent toward their pensions this year. The association is challenging the move.

In a news release Tuesday, the county said it presented its final offer to SEIU on Nov. 7 after meeting 34 times with union negotiators. The county’s offer would save $23.6 million over the next three years, according to the county. Savings this year are estimated at $5.5 million, county Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier said.

The county contends that SEIU’s offers would have cost money. According to the county, one SEIU offer would have cost $177 million over three years while another would have cost $60 million.

“Somehow they did not take our word that we actually needed reductions,” Olivier said in a telephone interview.

Silveria said it is unfortunate that the county is using “scare tactics and improper imposition to wrest concessions from its employees.”

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