Joe Nelson, The (San Bernardino County) Sun
Posted: 12/24/2011 06:11:58 AM PST

San Bernardino County’s imposition of labor terms on a law enforcement union could have longstanding ramifications on its relationship with the bargaining group.

On Tuesday, the county’s probation corrections officers, deputy coroner’s investigators and welfare fraud investigators, comprising the Special Peace Officers bargaining unit of the San Bernardino County Safety Employee Benefits Association (SEBA), voted unanimously to accept labor terms proposed by an arbitrator in October.

The vote came after the unit had rejected three previous contract offers – two by the county and the final being by the arbitrator in October.

On Dec. 13, the Board of Supervisors took its most aggressive action to date with a labor union, giving the bargaining unit an ultimatum: Accept what the arbitrator offered in October or the county would impose its “last, best and final offer” from June, which would mean a 14 percent cut in pay and benefits.

It gave the unit no choice but to accept, in the union’s mind, the lesser of two evils.

SEBA President Laren Leichliter said the county’s actions will have a strong impact on its relations with SEBA.

Under the leadership of former SEBA President Jim Erwin, the union’s endorsement of a candidate for public office often tipped the scales heavily in favor of that candidate.

Erwin, whose political savvy and negotiating skills elevated SEBA to its most powerful status in the county, declined to comment.

“We’re not happy they imposed this on us,” said Leichliter. “If that’s the way they’re going to play, then of course we have to take that into account. Will it affect our political campaigns? Yes!”

Supervisors Neil Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt opposed the county’s imposition of the labor terms, which was avoided Tuesday after 72 percent of the bargaining unit’s members who voted chose the arbitrator’s offer from October.

Derry said he believed such an imposition was a bad precedent for the county to set, and he felt there was still room on the negotiating table.

Greg Devereaux, the county’s chief executive officer, said the county’s severe budget crisis is leaving the county no choice but to make such choices.

The county is looking at a budget deficit of more than $120 million over the next five years and still has to trim its current budget by more than $50million. The alternative: layoffs.

“I think it’s unfortunate, but I think the majority of the board understands the severity of the county’s financial condition, and the choice becomes pretty simple,” Devereaux said. “The choice becomes are you going to ask employees to participate and give up some of their compensation to pay for their own portion of retirement…or are we going to reduce the number of employees and the level of service?”

To read entire story, click here.