Employees will start paying 3 percent of their salary toward pension costs on Dec. 1 after negotiations reach an impasse

BY DUG BEGLEY
STAFF WRITER
dbegley@pe.com

Published: 22 November 2011 04:00 PM

Riverside County on Tuesday imposed pay and benefit changes on 5,800 employees, after months of negotiations between county officials and the union representing the workers failed to produce an agreement.

County officials announced the decision Tuesday, one day after members of the Service Employees International Union Local 721 overwhelmingly rejected the county’s latest contract offer and authorized union leaders to order a strike.

The union has not said whether a strike is planned, but county Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier said preparations are under way to ensure vital services continue. SEIU members include nurses, 911 dispatchers and many other types of workers.

Union officials said Tuesday afternoon they believed that negotiations were not at an impasse, although they were prepared for a protracted battle.

Under the terms imposed by the county on Tuesday, employees with more than five years of service will begin paying 3 percent of their salary toward pension costs starting Dec. 1. The percentage would jump to 8 percent by 2013. Currently, employees contribute 8 percent toward their pensions for the first five years; after that, the county pays for it.

Existing employees will retain their pension terms, which pay at least 90 percent of their salary if they retire at age 60 with 30 years of service. Future employees will receive a pension based on 2percent of their annual pay, multiplied by their years of county service.

“We need pension reform, and we had to do something and negotiations were going nowhere,” Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Buster said. “It is clear the union did not want to come to an agreement.”

To help close an estimated $80 million budget gap, the county imposed pay cuts and pension changes on the Riverside Sheriff’s Association in May; the union has sued to reverse that action. The 10percent reductions already are being made to deputies’ paychecks, Olivier said.

Earlier this month, supervisors required all management employees — including elected officials — to begin contributing 4 percent of their pay to their pensions starting Dec. 1. That jumps to 8 percent on July 1. Non-union workers also will have to begin paying more of their retirement costs over the next three years. The changes affect about 1,300 people.

County officials earlier this month proposed giving employees covered by SEIU merit raises of 2.71 percent starting in fiscal year 2012-13 to ease the burden of covering part of their pension costs. That was not included in the terms imposed Tuesday, which are in effect until the fiscal year ends June 30, Olivier said.

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