The State Worker

State engineers OK contract that requires they pay for retiree benefits

A Caltrans bridge engineer walks the main cable of the Bay Bridge.
A Caltrans bridge engineer walks the main cable of the Bay Bridge. Bay Area News Group

California’s state engineers union has overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract with the Brown administration that requires its members for the first time to contribute to retiree medical benefits.

A union spokesman said that of approximately 4,300 ballots counted Wednesday, 97.2 percent voted for the agreement, which also includes a total 7 percent in raises over the next two years. The contract is retroactive to to July 2 and expires June 30, 2018.

The deal with the 13,000-member Professional Engineers in California Government represents a win for Gov. Jerry Brown because the union agreed to start paying a percentage of salaries toward retiree medical care and other post-employment benefits. The contract incrementally increases the percentage employees kick in, starting with 0.5 percent in July 2017, culminating with 2 percent of pay in 2019, a year after the new pact expires.

The state will match the employees’ contributions to the retiree-benefits fund.

Engineers hired Jan. 1, 2016 and thereafter will have to work longer to qualify for retiree health benefits, according to the ratified contract’s terms. The future hires also will receive a smaller state subsidy for their insurance premiums when they retire.

Brown has said that he wants similar changes in other labor agreements because the state faces an estimated $72 billion in long-term retiree medical costs. Unlike pensions, the government has set virtually nothing aside to defray the projected costs of those future bills, which are rapidly growing.

Most state labor groups will negotiate contracts next year. Managers and supervisors are excluded from bargaining, but the state generally imposes terms on them similar to those negotiated for the unionized employees they manage.

Unions representing craft and maintenance workers and correctional officers are working under contracts that expired last summer. The state scientists’ contract expired at the same time, but after union negotiators came to an agreement, the rank and file soundly rejected it.

Those unions are continuing to talk with the administration, although the Legislature won’t be able to approve funding for any agreements until lawmakers return in January. Contracts for more than a dozen bargaining units expire next summer.