El Dorado County, employee union reach impasse in wage talks | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County, employee union reach impasse in wage talks

MacKenzie Myers
Mountain Democrat

El Dorado County employee union members address the county Board of Supervisors about stagnant wages.

EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. — For the first time in nearly 15 years, El Dorado County and its largest union of employees have reached an impasse in their negotiations.

The county's contract with the El Dorado County Employees Association Local No. 1 (EDCEA) is not up until 2020, but EDCEA director Jere Copeland said these negotiations focus specifically on wages.

This much was evident earlier this month at the Board of Supervisors meeting, where EDCEA members showed up in bright red shirts and carried signs, a follow-up to the board meeting that about 80 members attended for the same purpose on June 26. One employee's sign claimed that the only raises the county has given since 2008 were 5 percent pay increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and $2,400 in one-time money given out in 2017. El Dorado County did not confirm those figures.

At the meeting, EDCEA members were joined in solidarity by members of an associated but separate union, the United Domestic Workers, made up of caretakers negotiating a contract with county In-Home Supportive Services.

Alison Ehlers, a county mental health clinician, approached the podium and listed off names of county Behavioral Health Department employees who she said have left their positions in recent years for higher pay elsewhere. Those who have stayed behind are taking on extra work to cover for those who have left, she said. When asking her superiors about the situation, Ehlers said she's told that the county is a "training county" or that it's dying.

"If that's true, it breaks my heart and it makes me wonder: How does that make good business sense?" Ehlers said, addressing the board. "If we're a training county, we're spending over a half million dollars a year just training the people who've already left us.

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"And if we're a dying county," she continued, "were you elected to be leaders of a dying county? Are you proud to be supervisors of one of the lowest-paying counties in the area?"

Well over a dozen people spoke about the issue at the meeting. Some spoke up as residents who use and depend on county services, while others addressed board members as county employees.

Maria Rosas, a property transfer technician for the county, said she and her peers are not looking to get rich off county jobs, but want to be able to make ends meet as costs for rent and gas continue to rise.

"Being a county employee, it's embarrassing when I need to utilize public assistance," Rosas said, adding that she has been at her job for more than 20 years.

The county responded to inquiries but was unable to provide comment by press time Friday, though county spokeswoman Carla Hass has said in past coverage of the negotiations that neither party is allowed to publicly discuss details of the talks.

Monday morning, Hass forwarded an email from county Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton, which clarified the county's surplus as it relates to employees' pay. At the meeting, speakers mentioned a $45 million surplus in the county's budget and asserted the extra money could go toward employee wages. Ashton said in his email, sent countywide on Sunday, that the surplus money is primarily intended for reserves, as a way to prevent future debt for things like road repairs, economic uncertainties, capital projects and CalPERs payments for retirees' health benefits.

The already-unfunded CalPERs costs are increasing, Ashton noted, and the county has agreed to pay for a $50 million public safety facility, which will also soak up funds. Ashton cited specific agenda items and Board of Supervisors meeting dates where employees could find further information about their concerns.

In negotiation proceedings headed toward impasse, Copeland said the union is required to meet once more with the county in a final attempt to work out contract language on their own. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 28. If no decisions are reached, the parties will have to bring in a state mediator who will help them reach an agreement.

Ehlers said Tuesday that, as of the previous week, three more employees planned to leave her department.