AFSCME press release
Inyo County Employees Association (ICEA), Local 315 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is officially at impasse with the County of Inyo. After bargaining for nearly 12 months and working without a contract for nearly 6 months, the union requested impasse mediation. Mediation took place Wednesday, but did not result in an agreement.
“While the union has had flexibility in our position, the County has failed to make a proposal that allows us to keep pace with other public sector workplaces,” explained Wendy Stine, a member of the AFSCME negotiating committee and employee of the County Sheriff’s Department in Independence.
Throughout the bargaining process, employees have voiced serious concerns about the County’s ability to recruit and retain experienced staff, thereby protecting strong public services. Many of the County’s numerous open employment positions have been posted for months.
The County’s latest proposal fails to keep pace with the Consumer Price Index, which is 2.7% for February of 2017, and which increased approximately 4% more than County wages over the past two contract periods.
ICEA represents the employees who support seniors and veterans, plow and maintain roads, abate mosquitoes, protect child welfare, deliver health services, analyze drinking water, inspect restaurants, run libraries, airports, parks and museums, care for lost animals, process garbage, manage wetlands, conduct local elections, plan for emergencies, respond to 911 calls, and keep the County funded in order to continue all these services.
Employee morale has deteriorated significantly over the past few years, due to significant reductions in staffing, and a perceived lack of respect and support for front line employees and the jobs they do. Even in those departments with appropriate staffing allocations, positions are often left vacant for more than six months, creating hardship on remaining employees and impacting service to the public.
Employees are also concerned about a growing disparity between the lowest paid and highest paid employees at the County. An analysis of wages over the past 23 years shows lowest paid classifications, which ICEA represents, increasing 46% and averaging 2% per year. In contrast, the highest paid Administrative classifications (not part of ICEA) have increased150% and averaged 6.5% per year.
For the next two years, the County is offering increases of only 1% per year, which amounts to just over 12 cents an hour for the lowest paid classification in the County.
There have been a number of positive advancements made during bargaining, many of which have to do with workplace fairness and the strengthening of input mechanisms for employees, but they cannot be implemented until a full agreement is finalized. “Employees still hope that this contract will improve fairness, and thus morale, at the County,” explained Janelle Kent, ICEA President and a Substance Abuse Counselor in Health and Human Services. “However, fair compensation is an essential component to recruit and retain competent employees. We need to be planned for and properly supported, in order to provide proper support to the public.”
“Our financial analysts believe the County is fully capable of supporting a fair wage increase for its employees. Employees see a plan for a very expensive new consolidated office building. But we have not seen a credible plan to staff that building, in light of the chronic vacancies that plague the County, and the minimal wage increases on the table,” reported Chris Wickham, the Union’s Chief Negotiator.
Prior to impasse, County employees held rallies in both Bishop and Independence, as well as taking other action to inform Administration of their concerns. Now that mediation has been completed, employees will take their concerns directly to the Board of Supervisors.
The Union will be holding a Town Hall Meeting and invites the Board of Supervisors,
member of the media, and members of the community to join with employees in
attending. The Town Hall Meeting will take place at the Jill Kinmont Booth Great
Room, 166 Grandview Dr. in Bishop, on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 6 pm.