Mediator needed to resolve county-union dispute |

Mediator needed to resolve county-union dispute

Gregory Crofton, Tribune staff writer

Negotiations between the county and a labor union came to an end Friday after final offers from both sides were rejected

A state mediator will be called in to resolve deadlocked contract negotiations between El Dorado County and the union which represents more than 55 percent of the county’s workers.

If the mediation process fails, El Dorado County Employees Association Local 1 could strike, but the group says it has never gone on strike and will only do so as a last resort.

The mediator should be able to break the impasse, but because of the upcoming holidays, the mediation process probably won’t begin until January, said Heidi Weiland, executive director of the employees association.

“I don’t know the statistics, but it is rare for an agency not to do what a mediator recommends,” Weiland said.

Weiland represents more than 1,000 county employees who work in general service jobs and professional service jobs. They include administrators, employee trainers, engineers, therapists and supervisors.

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The union’s four-year contract expired in October. The employees are asking the county for: a 4.3 percent increase in wages to keep up with cost of living increases; to continue to provide 100 percent of health care benefits; and to change how sick leave is administrated.

The county has not offered union members any wage increase and wants each employee to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health care starting July 2004, Weiland said.

Supervisor Dave Solaro said he has been advised not to comment on the negotiations, but did say the county has outstanding employees and hopes to see a resolution in the near future.

El Dorado County Employees Association is one of three unions that represent county employees. The sheriff’s deputies are four years into a six-year contract with the county. The contract the county has with its operational engineers expires in March.

The deadlock between the county and more than half of its employees comes as El Dorado County faces up to a $12 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2004-05, which begins July 1.

The amount of the deficit depends on whether the Legislature provides counties throughout the state with funds to compensate for revenue they were to receive from a vehicle license fee hike. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the fee hike last month as his first order of business.

Complicating matters further is that counties, under state law, cannot run deficits. Part of the solution may lie in a reorganization proposal that will be discussed by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. It would merge 14 departments into six and cut at least 29 jobs.

The reorganization could save up to $2 million over time. The county is expected to tap emergency funds and use other cost saving measures to address the rest of the anticipated deficit, said Laura Gill, chief administrative officer for the county.

El Dorado County had a $285 million budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year and did not run a deficit, said Bob Toscano, assistant auditor/controller for the county.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at