Press release (from June 2)
Inyo County Employees Send Resounding Message With “NO” Vote
Inyo County Employees Association voted down Administration’s “Last Best and Final” offer yesterday with 18.75% voting to accept the offer, and 81.25% voting to not accept the offer. Participation in the vote was high. The Union, Local 315 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), will now continue fighting for a fair contract.
ICEA, which represents the majority of the County workforce and its lowest paid employees, has been bargaining since April of 2016 and working without a contract since October. Employees’ last increase was a 2% increase in July of 2015. ICEA has been holding informational rallies and picket lines since December.
Union members have expressed serious concern about the County’s ability to recruit and retain experienced employees, and the negative impact this has on services to the public. Last week, the County had 32 open positions, the overwhelming majority of which were in the ICEA bargaining unit. Employees report that skilled employees leave the County to work for DWP, CalTrans, or other agencies where they believe they have a better future.
The Union is also concerned that the lowest paid employees at the County are struggling to make ends meet, and that increases in minimum wage will increase private sector competition with service provider jobs. According to Laura Boyer, an Office Tech I in Social Services, “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.”
The Union recently reviewed the County’s 2016 Audited Financial Report, and characterizes the County’s financial condition as strong, and sufficiently flexible to provide fair cost of living increases.
According to AFSCME Financial Analyst Gary Storrs:
“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.”
The difference between Administration’s offer and the Union’s proposal of 2% annually is comparably miniscule. According to Administration, the full cost of 1% for the bargaining unit is $187,000, and the general fund is responsible for only 47% of that amount. The Union’s last proposal was less than the current Consumer Price Index of 2.7%. The Union also indicated its willingness to eliminate an existing benefit worth approximately .4%, in order to get to an agreement.
The Union calls on the Board of Supervisors to reconsider its position, and instruct the Administration Bargaining team to return to the bargaining table.
Here are some of the many reasons employees have shared about their decision to vote “no”:
“I voted no because fair wages equals a healthy workforce equals a healthy community.
Please support our delivery of services to the most vulnerable in our community by supporting those who deliver the services!”
-Merry Brown, Substance Abuse Supervisor, Health and Human Services
“I voted no because I feel we deserve more for the hard work we do! We are all just trying to get by to make ends meet and give the community the best service we can.”
-Margaret Mairs, Program Services Assistant II, Lone Pine Senior Center
“My vote against the county’s last, best and final offer is simple, the purpose of a COLA is to counteract the effects of inflation. The county’s offer does not adequately do that. “
-Yvonne Freeman, Integrated Case Worker III, Social Services
“I voted no because at our salary rates, 1% means less. We work really hard, and we are the ones that keep the County running.”
-Alejandro Ortiz, Heavy Equipment Operator II, Independence Roads
“I voted no because asking for a 2% COLA is not unreasonable considering the Consumer Price Index says the cost of living has gone up 2.7%!”
-Sam Nelums, Prevention Specialist, Health and Human Services
“I voted no because the offer from the Board of Supervisors is insulting, the area we live in according to the numbers provided by the Board has a cost-of-living increase that is almost triple the offer that was presented to us. This union represents the lowest paid employees at the County. These are the people who need the cost of living increase the most. How can you expect quality employees to stay with an organization that refuses to pay them what they are worth?”
-Kaleb Hanson, Office Technician III, Social Services
“I voted no because protecting animal welfare is stressful enough without also having to stress over how to stretch my paycheck to cover the cost of living in this expensive area.”
-Katie Bird, Animal Control Officer, Sheriffs Department
“I voted no because the County is in good financial condition, because other counties and agencies are getting real COLA’s despite the CalPERS issues, and because there is no good reason to deny us a real cost of living increase.”
Patricia Snyder, Legal Secretary III, Probation Department
“I voted no because I don’t feel upper management is concerned with our daily struggles of staffing shortages and increasing work loads. Upper management is applauding themselves with salary savings, while their employees struggle.”
-Paula Riesen, Road Department/Building & Maintenance, Account Technician III