Workers, county deadlocked
December 10, 2003
By Gregory Crofton
Tribune staff writer
The employees who lined up to speak seemed mad, sad and determined all at the same time.
Dozens of workers deadlocked in negotiations over a new contract from their employer, El Dorado County, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that they’re disgusted the county won’t pay them a fair wage, and that county services are suffering because qualified employees are leaving for higher paying jobs.
Of the 16.5 positions at the South Lake Tahoe office, 13 have been vacated in the last three years because of more attractive offers elsewhere, said Sandra Branton, a program coordinator for the county’s mental health department.
“We need to recruit and retain quality staff if we want to provide quality service,” Branton said. “Staff at South Lake Tahoe has left either to make more money or so they could buy a new home.”
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The El Dorado County Employees Association, Local No. 1, which represents 55 percent of the workforce, and a negotiator hired by the county, reached an impasse last week over a new contract.
The union, which represents more than 1,000 employees, has been working under a day-to-day contract since their four-year contract expired in October.
“I do see our negotiations have hit a brick wall,” said Dyann Jackson, an employee who works in emergency services at the public health department. “(Supervisor) Helen, (Baumann) as you gaze around not looking at the speakers it shows you don’t care. We need to have our points listened to.”
The workers are asking for a 4.3 percent raise and to keep full health benefits. The county, facing an estimated $12 to $15 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2004-2005, has offered no raise and wants employees to pay 20 percent of their health benefit costs starting in July.
The employees without a contract include office assistants, civil engineers, librarians, public health nurses, social workers and property appraisers. With negotiations at a standstill, the union has called on a state mediator to resolve the issues. That bargaining session is expected to begin in January.
The county has promised to form a labor negotiation team in the hope it can avoid conflict with the two other unions it deals with. Those unions, for operational engineers and sheriff’s deputies, supply the other 45 percent of the county workforce. Two years remain on the deputies’ six-year contract. The operational engineers contract expires in March.
The county’s budget, $285 million for 2003-2004, is headed for a deficit because the state may not provide counties with funding that it typically gets from the Vehicle License Fee program. The budget crisis stems from money the county owes to CalPERS, the state’s public employee retiree fund.
The county budget will remain in limbo until the Vehicle License Fee issue is resolved by the Legislature, which likely won’t happen until January.
“Unfortunately we’ll have to make decisions without knowing for this year and put something together for next year,” said Bob Toscano, assistant auditor-controller for the county. “We’ll have to make our best guess.”
Of the county’s $285 million budget, $164 million comes from the general fund, drawn from taxes and fees assessed by the county. The other $121 million or so is comprised primarily of state and federal funding for things like county roads, public health, mental health, capital outlay and community services.
The county is set to have a budget workshop on Jan. 26, but it has already begun reorganizing its service departments to save money and improve efficiency. Supervisors on Tuesday approved a merger between the social service and community service departments.
It takes effect Jan. 24. The decision will amount to about $50,000 in savings a year and create a manager position at Tahoe for the first time.
“It’s probably true to say no one has to leave the organization when all is said and done,” said David Hill, interim director for the social services department. “The main thing is efficiency. I think it’s going to be an improvement in service for both former departments in the sense the staff and programs will cooperate with each other more than they did before.”
John Litwinovich, director of the community services department, will head the new department.
Also Tuesday the board approved a merger of the elections department with the recorder-clerk’s office, which eliminates the registrar of voters position on Jan 9. In addition, the board approved a change that puts human resources, information technology, and purchasing and contracts under the charge of the chief administrative officer.
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org