With contract expired, Sacramento County, labor union still talking

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 8:31 am

About 70 percent of Sacramento County's 10,000 employees have been working without a labor agreement for almost seven weeks.

The county and labor unions are discussing salary increases sought by employees, as well as who should pay for rising health care costs, according to leaders involved in contract talks.

County negotiators started meeting with representatives of 23 unions and other employee associations in April and May. They were not able to reach agreements before their contracts expired on June 30.

The county has been forced to make budget cuts the last five fiscal years and expects an essentially flat budget this year.

Union representatives say they understand the county continues to face tight budgets, but contend that the administration's bargaining tactics have made matters worse.

Specifically, they blame Robert Bonner, who in February became the county's labor relations manager. Bonner replaced Steve Keil.

"It doesn't seem like he knows what he's doing," said Kathy O'Neil, who represents social service employees as a chapter president for Service Employees International Union.

"They're not negotiating – they're just saying what they want," she said.

Bonner called the criticism unfair. He said he and other county negotiators have engaged in a dialogue with labor leaders about the needs of both sides.

"We want agreements as soon as possible," he said. "We're not looking to drag this out."

The contracts that expired June 30 will remain in effect until new ones are approved, he said.

O'Neil and other union leaders declined to talk about sticking points in specific terms, as did Bonner.

However, O'Neil and Ted Somera, head of the county's largest union, United Public Employees, said they are seeking a reasonable cost of living increase. The county hasn't been open to their offers, they said.

Bonner would say only that salary increases are being discussed.

O'Neil and Somera also said the unions are concerned about an increase in health care costs and want the county's assistance to keep employee costs down.

Bonner said the county plans to keep health care agreements the same – with the county paying 80 percent of costs, and employees paying 20 percent.

Somera said the county is being tight-fisted with its employees at the same time it's spending a lot of money on expensive building renovations.

The county spent $1.5 million earlier this year to renovate the Community Development Building, which houses county planning and development services.

"It's a question of priorities," Somera said.

Bonner said he could not respond to Somera's criticism because he didn't make the decision about the renovation. County administrators defended the work earlier this year, saying it was needed for employees and customers.

Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.

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