County employees take their case to the public

By Deb Murphy

Members of an Inyo County employees union went back to the bargaining table Thursday in an attempt to break an apparent impasse in its year-long contract negotiations.

Details of the negotiations have been publicized through a series of press releases, from both the union, The Inyo County Employees Association, Local 315 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the County. But Monday evening, the ICEA held a public meeting with personal stories from union members and a financial analysis by AFSCME’s labor economist.

Inyo County Supervisors were invited to the town hall meeting, but none attended. The meeting room at Jill Kinmont Boothe School was filled with more than 60 residents, Inyo employees and representatives from the union.

In March of last year, the ICEA negotiators’ asked for a 4-percent cost of living adjustment and retention of the County’s policy to allow employees to “sell back” a week’s worth of unused sick leave. The County started with a 0.5-percent increase for the next two years with a 1-percent COLA in the third year of the contract and no sick leave sell back.

The parties hit a wall with the union ending up at a 2-percent increase per year for three years and a modification of the sick leave policy that would keep it intact once a 350 sick-leave hours had accrued. The County’s stance: a 1-percent COLA for two years with a 2-percent increase in the third year. The County’s sell-back policy offer, 600 sick-leave hours, would take nearly five years before an employee could use the sell-back bonus, according to chief negotiator Chris Wickham. A 1-percent raise for the lower-paid union members would amount to a 12-cent an hour pay hike, Wickham said.

The 250 to 260 employees in the ICEA include service providers in the Department of Health and Human Services as well as road maintenance, mosquito abatement, environmental health, restaurant inspectors and library, airport, parks, animal control, waste management, wetlands management, dispatch and election workers. According to Wickham, the last raises were given in July 2015.

Labor economist Gary Storrs put to rest any argument the County couldn’t afford the ICEA’s offer. “The (financial) trends are positive,” he said at the end of his presentation. “The revenues are up, expenses are down. This is inconsistent with an argument the County can’t increase pay. The evidence indicates this county has a lot of fiscal flexibility.”

Based on audited financial statements from fiscal years 2013-2015, Storrs said the County’s unassigned, or contingency, funds were 40-percent of annual expenditures at the end of fiscal year 2015, far above the recommended 17-percent level.

Recruitment and retention were big issues for employees who made statements at the meeting. An H&HS employee talked about doing three jobs because of unfilled positions. “We’re service workers,” she said, “at the bottom. We’re not asking for the moon. We’re trying to do this for the future, for the entry-level jobs.”

An employee at the County’s Parker House for  crisis placements was demoted to keep costs down. “We’re just asking to be paid what we’re worth,” she said.

Many of the speakers referred to the tourist-based economy and higher cost of living in the County, a cost that exceeds the 2-percent increase the union has asked for.

A member of the Behavioral Health Department reminded the audience she “served the under-served. “This is not all about the money. It’s about keeping services for the under-served up and running.”

The final speaker suggested audience members check out the County’s website (http://www.inyocounty.us/EmployeeBenefits.html) for a run-down of salary ranges.

 

 

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15 Responses to County employees take their case to the public

  1. Philip Anaya April 14, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    A 2% cost of living for three years and the sick leave buy back after 350 hours is reasonable and acceptable to myself and most probably to other tax payers . What is not reasonable is the length of time that has passed to reach a settlement with our dedicated Inyo County workers . Lets get this settled as soon as possible

     
  2. Tinner April 14, 2017 at 4:51 pm #

    PAY THEM the 4% ALREADY!!!

     
    • Truth April 18, 2017 at 10:23 am #

      Are you asking them to pay 4% each year of the contract?

       
  3. Allen Berrey April 15, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    The County employee unions treated Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy like a bargaining chip – abandoning his holiday in exchange for their own personal time off.

    In my opinion, that is reprehensible; especially so when we recall that Dr. King was in Memphis in support of a sanitation workers’ strike when he was murdered.

    Happily, the Board of Supervisors showed great leadership and decency by unilaterally (i.e., without waiting for the unions to agree) making Marin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday in Inyo County.

    By showing such profound disrespect for Martin Luther King Jr., these unions and the well-paid, well-benefitted public employees they represent forfeited any sympathy I may have had for them.

    Thanks.

     
    • Pedro April 15, 2017 at 9:27 pm #

      Allen,

      Does your office smell of red herring? If Inyo County had not waited 30 years to declare MLK Jr. Day a holiday, and hadn’t drug out this contract negotiation, there would be no need to bargain.

      Maybe the union forgets King was in Memphis to support an AFSCME strike. But maybe you forget he was there to push for safety, human decency, and wages that would support a family without food stamps. Economic justice fuels social justice. Got to wonder if he would be the first to bargain away a holiday in his name.

      “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.” MLK Jr.

      “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” King

       
  4. Jane April 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Many ICEA employees have felt strongly in recent years that Inyo County should be honoring MLK Day, and you are correct that Dr. King was in Memphis, honoring a picket line of striking AFSCME garbage workers, when he was assassinated.

    At the beginning of last year’s bargaining in the spring of 2016, the Union proposed MLK Day as a holiday. The County agreed to our proposal. Once we arrive at a final contract and it is ratified, the goal is to have this as part of our agreement.

    The Board did not “unilaterally” give the holiday, as it would have violated labor law to implement it without a final union agreement. With the agreement of the Union, the Board did grant the holiday this January, in spite of the fact that the agreement was not yet finalized, because we recognized it as a mutual interest.

    Regarding the compensation of Inyo County employees, you might check the Inyo Register article this morning, which includes the following statement from an employee who is, incidentally, not even one of the lowest paid: “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.”

     
    • Inyo Citizen April 17, 2017 at 8:47 am #

      The Union argues that the County doesn’t care about its employees with the following example: An employee quit a private sector job that had no benefits to take a job with the County that has good benefits AND the same level of pay…

      This is comical. The Union thinks the public will be sympathetic to this? Seriously???

       
      • Truth April 18, 2017 at 10:29 am #

        Perhaps you are missing the point that if you are receiving the same level of pay and qualifying for Medi-Cal, you are actually coming out ahead if you take the job where you aren’t paying for health insurance premiums or a percentage of your health care costs?

         
  5. Bob Miller April 16, 2017 at 5:38 pm #

    Jesus Christ…

    dedicated county employees.. dedicated to their retirement. I have zero sympathy.

     
    • T-Bone April 17, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

      If I can’t have it, neither should you!

       
  6. BobK April 17, 2017 at 9:22 am #

    Bob: I’m dedicated to my retirement. What’s the problem?

     
  7. Earl Duran April 18, 2017 at 7:05 am #

    Social Security has not had a COLA for a long time, suck it up.

     
    • Truth April 18, 2017 at 10:21 am #

      Not true, in the last 20 years, Social Security has had a COLA every year except 2009, 2010, and 2015.

       
  8. Laura B April 18, 2017 at 8:19 am #

    As the employee that was quoted I would like to clarify, I AM dedicated to my career with the County and my future. I am also dedicated to being able to pay my bills today and provide for my family. I am grateful every day I have a job to go to and benefits for my health and future. We are only asking for a fair cost of living adjustment. Minimum wage increases and inflation affect our wallets the same as yours.

     
  9. Philip Anaya April 18, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    @Bob M

    I wrote the words “dedicated Inyo County workers” to indicate that these folks are our neighbors, friends and family and they are hard working and there is progress in their wakes each and every day. Their efforts, whatever they do, are being directed by administrative oversight and if there are differences and unresolved disputes between management and workers then that will be accompanied by negativity in the workplace. The longer this all plays out that negativity only increases. While in any dynamic between folks there is a mutual responsibility for the health of that relationship it is easy to feel authority and respect in the workplace when you control the purse strings, thus it is management who must take a greater share of responsibility and provide to its workers an environment where each and every individual feels respected and part of the team. Stringing out negotiations is a problem to both management and the workers but it is an even larger problem for the folks like the rest of us who benefit from their efforts. Many of us want our County Leadership focused on these beneficial efforts and having every person of our Inyo County Team being on the same page .

     

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