Published: 20 December 2011 08:50 PM

Riverside County supervisors on Tuesday warily approved a four-year deal with a union covering various lawyers, setting the stage for a larger face-off with the county’s largest union next year.

County negotiators reached an agreement with the Riverside County Deputy District Attorneys Association on Dec. 13, according to a report prepared for the supervisors. The four-year agreement covers 381 employees in the district attorney’s office as well as public defenders and some county counsel staff.

Workers next month will start paying 4 percent of their salary to cover pension costs, and pay an additional 4percent beginning in January 2013.

To offset the added pension costs, employees will get three across-the-board raises; 1.5 percent in September 2012, 2.5 percent in July 2013 and 3 percent in August 2014.

First District Supervisor Bob Buster, a longtime critic of the power that unions exert on county finances, voted for the agreement despite fears it would push other salaries up. If wages for rank-and-file workers increase, so do management salaries.

“I think we have done something here that we are going to regret,” Buster said.

Salaries for management and even elected officials such as the sheriff and district attorney are normally set at least 5 percent higher than their subordinates, said county Human Resources Director Barbara Olivier.

The deal with the district attorneys’ union was the best possible outcome, Olivier said. The union won a lawsuit reinstituting raises that had to be considered in the deal. But, Olivier said, it was also vital the union agreed to the pension payments.

County officials expect tense negotiations next year with the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 777, the county’s largest employee union covering more than 6,200 county positions.

Buster and Olivier said they did not expect negotiations with LIUNA to be successful, as the union has already stated it would not accept the pension contribution plan. Both said they expected to impose labor terms on the union, unless a deal could be reached. That would force the concessions on workers but also set off a protracted contract fight that could lead to strikes or court action.

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