Between June 1 and July 2, 15 state employee bargaining units’ contracts expired. So far, only one of them has come to an agreement with the governor.
This round of negotiations is particularly sticky because California Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to chip away at nearly $72 billion in retiree health benefit obligations over the next 30 years by getting state employees to contribute from their paychecks. With certain units, that strategy hasn’t gone over smoothly.
International Union of Operating Engineers representative Steve Crouch said while the union agrees with the concept of pre-funding retiree benefits, it disagrees with the amount of money that should be taken out of workers’ paychecks.
“These workers are finally trying to get back on their feet again,” Crouch said. “They were hoping to see an improvement in standards of living, but with this you give in one hand and take from the other.”
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A tentative deal struck with IUOE-represented bargaining Unit 12 failed to ratify with union members earlier this month. The maintenance workers’ contract expired in July 2015.
Ann Lyles, chief negotiator for psychiatric technicians’ Unit 18, said the retiree health benefit tradeoff is “truly of concern” to unit members. She added there is “no way” their negotiating team wants to reach a tentative agreement that they won’t be able to ratify.
“Unless they balance (retiree health benefit contributions) with other things, this is not going to be attractive to members,” Lyles said.
The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association represents the only unit with an expired contract to strike a deal thus far. Unit 7 is made up of about 7,200 employees including game wardens, food quality inspectors and investigators. Their deal gradually increases salaries by 8 percent and increases contributions to retiree health benefits to 4 percent of pay over three years. The agreement is pending approval by the Legislature.
Even though Unit 8’s contract does not expire until 2017, Cal Fire Local 2881 is back at the bargaining table to try to get higher wages. Union representatives said the wages are not competitive with local departments.
Overall, the Brown administration remains in negotiations with 16 out of 21 total bargaining units.