AFSCME press release
Response to Inyo County’s Press Release about Inyo County Employees Association Negotiations
Inyo County Employee’s Association, Local 315 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, has been bargaining for a contract with Inyo County since March of 2016. The parties are at impasse, due to a lack of agreement on wages. The County is proposing increases of 1, 1 and 2, and the Union is proposing a total of 6% over the life of the contract. The cost of 1% according to the county is $187,000. The Union is concerned that public services are being compromised due to recruitment and retention concerns.
On June 1, 2017 after being asked by Administration to do so, the Union presented the County’s full 32-page May 12 offer to its members. 18.75% voted to approve, and 81.25 % voted to reject the offer. Employees have offered many reasons for which they voted down the offer, but concerns mainly focus on the rising cost of living (2.5% this spring) in our tourist economy, and the inability of the County to recruit and retain employees at current salary levels.
Since our vote, County Administration has not yet been willing to return to the bargaining table. The Union has indicated its willingness to continue bargaining to reach an agreement.
While we are not going to reply to much of the County’s release, several points require response:
Regarding past increases and our wage structure:
Approximately half of employees did not receive any equity adjustments, including Heavy Equipment Operators, Office Technicians, and many hard to fill Health and Human Services positions. Approximately 60% of ICEA employees are at range maximum (Step E), meaning they no longer get step increases, so the negotiated annual increase is all they get. ICEA employees do not receive longevity adjustments until year 10, whereas Deputy Sheriffs, who settled their MOU, get them immediately after Step E, year 6 for most employees.
ICEA represents the lowest paid employees and the largest bargaining unit in Inyo County. Our lowest paid employees make $25,668, or $12.34/hour. A 1% increase for these employees is 12 cents an hour and $249/year. In contrast, the CAO listed salary is $169,788, $81.62 per hour. A 1% increase is 81 cents/hour or $1,697/year. The Union proposed a flat rate rather than a percentage for this reason, which Administration rejected.
According to entry-level employee Laura Boyer, “After paying into my retirement and health insurance each month I bring home the same amount I did at a job where I qualified for Medi-Cal. “
Regarding budget and overall package:
The Union is providing documents (below) prepared by our financial analyst, which demonstrate the County’s unusually high unrestricted to restricted fund ratio. This ratio is used a standard to determine strength and flexibility, and to evaluate the viability of things like wage increases. Additionally, these documents demonstrate a pattern in which the County projects a deficit but ends up in the black, thus adding to considerable general fund reserves. The Union does not advocate for irresponsible spending, but is confident the County has the funds to sustain CPI based cost of living increases, without layoffs, and that this is clearly a matter of priorities. Administration continues to add new positions, like the recently posted Deputy Director of Information Services, which has a maximum salary of $97,104. Range maximum for the recently hired Director of Information Services is $160,452. We suspect the new Director can manage this department without a Deputy since this is a department with only seven people working in it. This one Deputy position would pay for a greater than .5 % increase for every ICEA member. The County would obviously not be proceeding with this hire were there were any true financial crisis.
Many decisions regarding the CalPERS situation are beyond the County’s control. However, during the time we have been bargaining, the County opted to pay off its accrued liability at a more accelerated rate than required in order to save money in the long term. While the County was in the process of making this decision, the Union expressed its concern that employees be kept whole with rising cost of living. We would all like to pay extra on our mortgages, if we are lucky enough to have one, but we only do that once our basic expenses have been met.
Regarding how Inyo County’s staffing and package compare to other Counties:
According to ICEA President Janelle Kent: “Due to geography and the very rural nature of our population, CA’s second largest county obviously requires more staff than smaller counties with higher population density. In terms of the dollar amount spent per employee, this affirms our point that in this tourist economy; it takes more to recruit and retain the necessary employees.”
Regarding damage to the community:
According to President Kent: “Our friends and neighbors have been aware of issues being swept under the table at the County for a very long time. The only way these issues are going to get resolved is by our continuing to lift our voices until the County makes a commitment to work through the problems. The first step in doing this is for the County to return to the bargaining table to negotiate with its employees.”
Update on the Finances of Inyo County, California
Gary Storrs, Labor Economist
Report for AFSCME Council 57
April 26, 2017
Inyo County, and in particular its general fund or main operating fund, continued the recent trend of positive financial performance in fiscal year 2016. A healthy surplus meant that the general fund retained a very high ratio of unrestricted funds to total expenditures. Moreover, although the county apparently claims that some unrestricted funds are unrestricted in name only, its own audit shows that a very substantial share of its unrestricted funds were “unassigned” and flexible.
The general fund’s revenues in fiscal year 2016 (which ended on June 30, 2016) were $53.7 million, slightly above the budgeted figure. The fund’s expenditures, however, were only $51.3 million, dramatically below the budgeted $60.5 million, and producing a $2.4 million surplus. Significant transfers from the general fund to other county funds reduced the bottom-line surplus to $1.7 million, which remains a strong 3.3% of fund expenditures, far better than breaking even. Overall, the general fund performed $9.3 million better than its budget, which projected a deficit.
The general fund’s unrestricted portion at the end of fiscal year 2016 was an extremely high 53.7% of the fund’s spending. This compares extremely favorably to a Government Finance Officers Association benchmark which calls for unrestricted funds to be at least two months (16.7%) of spending. The GFOA benchmark clearly considers assigned funds to be unrestricted, and indicative of financial health. Inyo County had a high ratio of unrestricted funds to spending.
Moreover, even if one accepts (for the sake of argument) that only unassigned funds truly indicate financial flexibility, Inyo County’s unassigned funds at the end of fiscal year 2016, totaling $23.0 million, by themselves still constituted an extremely strong 44.8% of expenditures. At any rate, the GFOA and bond rating firms clearly consider all unrestricted funds at least somewhat available, to the extent that the designation is not set in stone, or it would be restricted.
Summary of Findings Based on Fiscal Year 2016 Audit
- Inyo County’s main operating fund, the general fund, realized a surplus in fiscal year 2016, even after transferring money to other county funds. The budget had projected a large deficit.
- Inyo County’s unrestricted fund balance was extremely high relative to the fund’s expenditures. Even if only the unassigned subset is counted (which is decidedly not the way benchmarks such as the GFOA’s are used), the general fund’s rainy day fund was significant.
- Although funds other than the general fund are used to pay some ICEA members, the general fund’s health is the best and most relevant overall financial indicator. The fund’s healthy surplus and its cushion of unrestricted (or even unassigned) funds show its financial strength.