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County of Sonoma, California

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Labor Relations

Labor Negotiations Updates

labor negotiations collage

The County of Sonoma is committed to providing accurate and timely information to Labor in negotiations, and to the public regarding negotiations within the allowable legal framework in a way that does not jeopardize the Labor-Management relationship.

During the 2015 – 2016 negotiations with all the bargaining units, the County’s objectives are to balance the need to be a well-managed, fiscally prudent organization that appropriately meets the service needs of the community with the need to be an employer of choice that retains an engaged workforce and attracts well qualified talent.

What’s New

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted January 21, 2016

The County and SEIU are continuing to meet on issues remaining in dispute.  Earlier this week, the County requested impasse mediation assistance from the State Mediation and Conciliation Service.  A State mediator contacted the chief negotiators for both parties, and we are in the process of scheduling a date. 

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted January 15, 2016 (2nd post)

The County and SEIU met briefly on January 15, 2016.  The County understood this to be a continuation of yesterday’s impasse meeting to clarify positions on all areas in dispute and to discuss next steps in the impasse procedure.  The County’s evaluation of SEIU’s latest proposal reveals that it is approximately 0.8% higher than their proposal from December 16, 2015.  Although SEIU is not in agreement that the parties are at impasse, SEIU’s package proposal from January 14, 2016 did not represent significant progress on major economic issues. The County recognizes that SEIU has withdrawn many proposals and we look forward to a comprehensive proposal that will bring the parties closer to reaching agreement.

According to the County’s Employee Relations Policy, mediation is the next step in the impasse procedure. The parties had a positive experience in pre-impasse mediation and the County is confident that mediation will help both sides move closer together on the major economic areas where we are currently apart. The County is hopeful that the mediation process will result in an agreement. The County is in the process of contacting the State Mediation and Conciliation Service to request a mediator.

The County updated the costing of SEIU’s last two proposals as reflected in the chart below:

  December 16, 2015 January 14, 2016
Term 18 months 18 months
COLA

4% January 2016
3% March 2017

4% January 2016
3% March 2017

Health Insurance Dollar equivalent of 85% of Kaiser HMO coverage in 2016-17 plan year (Estimated at 3.9%) Dollar equivalent of 80% of Kaiser HMPO coverage in 16-17 and 17-18 plan years (Estimated at 3.4%)
Pension Cost Share Legacy employees to pay 2/3 of pension cost share in exchange for benefit allowance Legacy employees to pay 2/3 of pension cost share in exchange for benefit allowance
other Economic items Additional proposals totaling approximately 1.4% (although for some of the remaining proposals, the cost is undetermined) Additional proposals totaling approximately 2.8% (although for some of the remaining proposals, the cost is undetermined)

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted January 15, 2016

Following 31 meetings with SEIU, the County sent a letter declaring impasse in negotiations for a successor MOU. In accordance with the County’s Employee Relations Policy, the County issued the attached impasse letter, explaining the County’s statement of position on all 82 disputed issues. The parties met on January 14, 2016, in an impasse meeting to review the position of the parties in a final effort to resolve such disputed issues prior to mediation. The parties signed two tentative agreements regarding improved orthodontia coverage and extra help medical benefits. The Union presented counter proposals regarding junior steward shadowing, flex time arrangements, state of the workforce presentations to the Board of Supervisors, borrowing of sick leave for new employees, the placing of a link to the SEIU website on the County website, the addition of Cesar Chavez Day as a County holiday, and the overtime sign up process for employees in the Sheriff’s Department. The Union also provided a new economic counter proposal. A comparison of the Union’s January 14, 2016 and December 16, 2015 proposals follows:

  December 16, 2015 January 14, 2016
Term 18 Months 18 Months
COLA 4% January 2016
3% March 2017
4% January 2016
3% March 2017
Health Insurance Dollar equivalent of 85% of Kaiser HMO coverage in 2016-17 plan year Dollar equivalent of 80% of Kaiser HMPO coverage in 16-17 and 17-18 plan years
Pension Cost Share Legacy employees to pay 2/3 of pension cost share in exchange for benefit allowance Legacy employees to pay 2/3 of pension cost share in exchange for benefit allowance
other Economic items Additional proposals totaling approximately 1.32% (although for some of the remaining proposals, the cost is undetermined) Additional proposals totaling approximately 2.4% (although for some of the remaining proposals, the cost is undetermined)

The Union withdrew the following 23 proposals:

  1. Additional Release Time For Steward Training
  2. Longevity Premium
  3. Premium Pay For Non-Statutory Overtime
  4. Premium Pay For Non-Statutory Overtime Worked On A Holiday
  5. Vacation Cash Out
  6. Vacation And CTO Buyback
  7. Two New Steps To Salary Scale
  8. Contracting Out Notice
  9. Restrictions On Management Input To Evaluations
  10. Restrictions On Evaluations By New Supervisors
  11. Comp Time Off Cash Out
  12. Fatigue Time
  13. Deferred Comp – County Match
  14. Roll Hourly Cash Allowance Into Salary
  15. Supervisor Special Assignment Pay
  16. Weekend Premium Pay
  17. County Contribution For Employee Waive Of Health Coverage
  18. Conversion Of Sick Leave To Vacation
  19. Donation Of Sick Leave
  20. County Lease Or Sale Of County Land Conditioned On Percentage Of Low And Moderate Income Units Be Allocated For County Employees
  21. Retirement Cola Actuarial Study
  22. 360 Evaluations
  23. All Classification Studies Be Completed Within 3 Months

The County is in the process of evaluating the impact of these developments on impasse. The parties meet again on January 15, 2016. The next step in the impasse process is mediation, followed by advisory fact-finding if requested by the Union in accordance with requisite timelines.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted December 17, 2015

The County and the Union met in negotiations again on December 16, 2015. The County presented a new proposal to add two new HMO medical plan options effective June 1, 2016.  Both new plans offer comparable plan designs to the currently offered Kaiser HMO plan and both medical plans being proposed will cost less than the Kaiser Permanente $10 Copay medical plan. One of the proposed medical plan options provides significant savings in medical insurance premiums. A comparison of the cost of the newly proposed medical plans with the County’s proposed healthcare contributions for the 2016-17 plan year reveals that the County’s proposed contribution for medical care will cover 90% of the cost for the one of the newly proposed medical plan options. Under the County’s proposal, employees with family level coverage who choose to enroll in this newly proposed HMO medical plan will have the bi-weekly premium cost reduced to $75 per pay period as compared to the current employee cost of $696 per pay period. In response to the County’s proposal for a 32-month package with an increase of 9.5% (0.75% of which is one-time money), the Union counter-proposed an 18-month package with a 12.75% ongoing increase to compensation.

As a result of the parties’ respective positions, the County is initiating the impasse procedure. Under the County Employee Relations Rules, impasse means that the County and Union have reached a point in negotiations where their differences remain so substantial and prolonged that further meeting and conferring would be futile. Under the County’s impasse procedures and state law, the impasse procedure involves several steps, including an impasse meeting, mediation, fact-finding (if requested by the Union), and ultimately, if the parties are still unable to reach agreement, Board determination.

The initiation of impasse procedures follows a long negotiation process of approximately 26 meetings dating back to July 2015. The parties have tried numerous approaches to reach agreement, including pre-impasse mediation and lengthy meetings, some of which have gone late into the evening. The County has substantially increased its proposed economic package during this process in a sincere effort to reach an agreement with SEIU, and endeavored to explore creative options for resolution.

The County’s 32-month proposal includes the following:

  • One time lump sum payment of $715, plus cash out of the remainder of County’s contribution to the HRA for the 15-16 plan year.
  • 3% COLA the pay period following March 1, 2016
  • 3% COLA the pay period following July 1, 2017
  • An increase to the County’s contribution for medical insurance to the dollar equivalent of 75% of Kaiser HMO, effective June 1, 2016, (with another increase effective June 1, 2017) encompassing conversion of the County’s current HRA contribution to a County contribution for premiums. This is valued at 2.5% of salary. The County’s proposal results in an average increase of 16% in take-home pay for employees enrolled in family level health insurance coverage. See the above update whereby with the County’s new proposed plans, the County’s proposed amount will cover 90% of a comparable HMO in the 2016-17 plan year.
  • Benefit enhancements of an additional 0.25% of salary, including improved dental, vision, life insurance, reimbursements, premium pay.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted December 9, 2015

The County and the Union met in negotiations again on December 9, 2015. The County presented a proposal for a 32-month term (expiring June 30, 2018) with the following terms:

  • One time lump sum payment of $715, plus cash out of the remainder of County’s contribution to the HRA for the 15-16 plan year.
  • 3% COLA the pay period following March 1, 2016
  • 3% COLA the pay period following July 1, 2017
  • An increase to the County’s contribution for medical insurance to the dollar equivalent of 75% of Kaiser HMO, effective June 1, 2016, (with another increase effective June 1, 2017) encompassing conversion of the County’s current HRA contribution to a County contribution for premiums. This is valued at 2.5% total compensation. The County’s proposal results in an average increase of 16% in take-home pay for employees enrolled in family level health insurance coverage.
  • Benefit enhancements of an additional 0.25% total compensation, including improved dental, vision, life insurance, reimbursements, premium pay.  

The parties plan to meet again on Wednesday, December 16, 2015.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted December 4, 2015

The County and SEIU met on December 4, 2015. The County had previously provided a concept for an agreement at the last bargaining session on November 30, 2015. SEIU provided the County with a response at 3:10 pm on December 4, 2015. The parties had a previously agreed to ending time of 4 pm on December 4, 2015. The County is working on a counter proposal to present at the next meeting on December 9, 2015.

To clarify the County’s November 30, 2015 concept for an agreement. The concept includes salary and benefit enhancements of 5.5% spread over 3 fiscal years. This includes:

  • 3% COLA effective March 1, 2016
  • 2.3% COLA effective July 1, 2017
  • 0.2% for enhanced benefits and other economic proposals over the term of the proposed contract

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted December 1, 2015

The County and SEIU have met 24 times and negotiations continue. The parties are in the process of exchanging concepts for a potential agreement.

On November 30, 2015, the County presented a concept for a 31-month agreement with a 9% increase in total compensation paid within the first 20 months. This includes:

  • An increase to the County’s contribution for medical insurance to the dollar equivalent of 75% of Kaiser HMO, effective June 1, 2016, encompassing conversion of the County’s current HRA contribution to a County contribution for premiums. This is valued at 2.5% total compensation.
  • The County’s health insurance proposal results in an average increase of 16% in take-home pay for employees enrolled in family level health insurance coverage.
  • Salary and benefit enhancements of an additional 5.5% total compensation, and
  • A one-time lump sum payment equivalent to 1% total compensation.

The parties plan to meet again on Friday, December 4, 2015.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted November 21, 2015

The County and SEIU worked late into the evening last night in an attempt to reach agreement over a successor MOU. Although the parties have not yet reached a deal, both parties made meaningful movement and plan to continue negotiations on November 30, 2015, after the Thanksgiving holiday.

On November 13, 2015, in recognition of the fiscal challenge faced by employees with multi-party health insurance coverage under the County’s current contribution method toward healthcare, the County proposed to contribute a fixed dollar amount for healthcare based on level of coverage for active employees enrolled in County health insurance plans. The proposed amount for 2016/17 plan year, in combination with conversion of the current County contribution toward a Health Reimbursement Plan, is for a fixed dollar amount equal to 75% of the premium cost for the Kaiser HMO plan. This is generally consistent with the approach of many California counties to health insurance coverage for employees.

Member Savings - Impact of Proposal to Salary chartThe County’s proposal has a major impact on take home pay for SEIU-represented employees enrolled in family coverage, with the lowest paid increasing take home pay by $900 a month, or almost 24% of their monthly wages. Even the highest paid SEIU members who only cover themselves and one other person will see an increase of about $490 a month, or 5.4% of their monthly wages. In addition, the County offered to increase the County contribution for the 2017/18 plan year to maintain 75% of the premium cost for the Kaiser HMO plan based on estimated premium increases. This chart (PDF) shows the impact to employees in more detail.

The County continues to propose wage increases and numerous other benefit enhancements over a two-year period. However, as aptly described in the Press Democrat editorial this week, the County is cognizant of the need to balance competing demands for limited resources, including homeless services, affordable housing, firefighting, road maintenance, contracts with other labor groups including in-home care providers, and the need to continue paying down pension debt. The editorial can be found at:

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/4789113-181/pd-editorial-striking-a-balance

As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful for the employees of Sonoma County and appreciate all of their hard work to provide important services to our community. We are confident that we can reach an agreement that recognizes the good work of our employees and represents sound fiscal management for our community.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted November 18, 2015

The County is aware that misinformation has been circulated about the collective bargaining process with SEIU, and we wish to provide information to dispel rumors.

Rumor: The County’s proposal will make health care more expensive for most employees.

False: The County has proposed significant increases to its contributions toward healthcare. These proposals increase county contributions to premium costs for all SEIU employees and result, for example, in an approximately $1,000 increase per month in take home pay for employees enrolled in family level coverage for the County’s Kaiser HMO plan in 2016.

Rumor: Sonoma County proposed a zero percent wage increase for county workers this year.

False: Employees represented by SEIU received a 2% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in July 2015. In addition to the healthcare proposal which will increase take home pay during the year, the County is proposing a 2% COLA in July of 2016.

Rumor: The County’s salary and benefits are below market as compared to other comparable agencies.

False: On average, classifications represented by SEIU are paid 4% higher than the market average in total compensation. As noted total compensation includes salaries and benefits and Sonoma County employees enjoy a comprehensive set of benefits. For example, employees who entered the Sonoma County retirement system (or a system with reciprocal benefits) before January 1, 2013, enjoy a 3% at age 60 pension benefit, the most expensive, non-safety pension formula available to public sector employees. This is a more valuable (and costly) pension benefit than the large majority of other public agency employees in California.

Rumor: The County is not bargaining in good faith and has implemented austerity measures and accumulated massive reserves without bargaining with the Union.

False: The County has met with the Union 22 times, exchanged volumes of data and multiple proposals, and has made significant movement toward an agreement in its proposals to the Union. State law vests the power and obligation to enact a county’s budget in the County’s Board of Supervisors. Making financial decisions related to the establishment of a budget is inherently within fundamental managerial policy and prerogative. The County has no duty to meet and confer with unions under state law about the need to reduce the budget or the establishment of reserves.

In an effort to explain County finances, the County has provided SEIU and the public with a complete listing of all the County reserves. The majority of County reserves are dedicated for specific purposes. The County does maintain a general reserve of unrestricted cash for emergency purposes. Currently this reserve has a balance equivalent to approximately 11% of annual General Fund revenues. As explained to SEIU and the public, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) recommends maintaining a minimum of two months (or 15%) of General Fund operating revenues or expenditures as a level of cash reserves in the General Fund. The County maintains a target of 15% for these cash reserves, and is working toward this goal with one-time funds as they have become available. The county does not propose using any of these reserves which are one-time funds to pay for any on-going costs.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted November 13, 2015

The County and SEIU have met 22 times and negotiations are continuing. Neither side has declared impasse.

The County proposed a 21-month agreement, with an increase in the County’s contribution to medical insurance to the dollar equivalent of 75% of the Kaiser HMO premium, effective June 1, 2016. This encompasses conversion of the County’s current HRA contribution to a County contribution to premiums. In addition, the County proposed salary and benefit enhancements up to an additional 2% compensation in the 2016-17 fiscal year, for a total increase of approximately 4% in total compensation over 21 months.

  • For employees enrolled in family level coverage in the Kaiser HMO plan, the County’s proposal means that employee’s out of pocket monthly contribution in plan year 2016-17 will be reduced from the current $1392 to $492. This results in an employee savings of approximately $900 per month, and $10,800 per year.
  • For employees enrolled in two-party level coverage in Kaiser HMO, the employee’s out of pocket monthly contribution in plan year 2016-17 will be reduced from the current $837 to $348. This results in an employee savings of approximately $489 per month, and $5,868 per year.

The County’s proposal also increases the County’s contribution to single employee coverage so that the employee’s out of pocket costs remain stable.

In addition to numerous other proposals including enhancements to dental, vision, life insurance and employee assistance benefits, the County proposes to double its match to the Housing Assistance Program. This program assists eligible County employees in purchasing a home in Sonoma County.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Wednesday, November 18, 2015.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted November 12, 2015

  • The County and SEIU have met 21 times and negotiations are continuing. Neither side has declared impasse.
  • The County and SEIU participated in voluntary pre-impasse mediation on October 28, 2015, October 30, 2015 November 6, 2015 and November 9, 2015to help both sides work towards reaching an agreement.
  • Pre-impasse mediation has concluded. The County and SEIU are continuing negotiations. The next negotiations meeting is scheduled on November 13, 2015.
  • The County and SEIU have a shared interest in addressing health care costs and have exchanged proposals that include increases to County contributions.
  • SEIU voted to authorize a strike and has received strike sanction form the North Bay Central Labor Council.
  • SEIU has not notified the County of a strike date.
  • No unfair labor practices have been filed by SEIU.
  • The County is committed to bargaining in good faith with SEIU in order to achieve an agreement that is acceptable to both parties.
  • In light of the strike vote by SEIU, the County is also preparing for potential job actions by putting plans in place to maintain essential services in the event of a strike.
  • Additional updates will be posted after the next bargaining session on Friday, November 13, 2015

Additional negotiations

  • In addition to SEIU, the County is currently in negotiations with three bargaining organizations, SCLEA (Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association), DSA (Deputy Sheriff’s Association), and DSLEM (Deputy Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Managers)

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted October 12, 2015

The County and SEIU have met eleven times over the last three months in their effort to reach an agreement on a new MOU. The parties have submitted all initial proposals and some counter-proposals, exchanged considerable data, and are working toward a successor agreement.

The estimated cost of SEIU’s opening proposals exceeds an annual cost of $70.1 million within the first year of the agreement, equivalent to an approximate 39% increase in total compensation. On October 7, 2015, SEIU provided a counter proposal for an eight month contract that the County is currently costing.

The County counter-proposed an increase of approximately $9.1 million spread over a four year term, equivalent to a 5% increase in total compensation. As the numbers demonstrate, there is a significant gap between the cost of the County’s proposals and the cost of SEIU’s opening proposals.

SEIU has suggested that the County’s General Fund balances, which totaled $111.5 million at the end of FY 13-14, could be used to fund their proposals. However, this number included $31.8 million in the General Fund Reserve for emergencies, as well as $79.7 million that the Board designated for other specific purposes.

The General Fund Reserve currently has approximately $49 million (11.5% of annual General Fund revenues), which is short of the Board of Supervisors’ target of a 15% for General Fund Reserve.

Even more importantly, however, the General Fund reserve is one-time money. Any funding source used for ongoing increases in salary and other forms of compensation must come from ongoing revenue. The County’s proposals are based on projected increases in ongoing revenue and taking into consideration other Board priorities.

The County will continue to provide updates as bargaining continues.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted September 3, 2015

The County and SEIU have met six times in bargaining for a successor (new) MOU, and continue to exchange information and initial proposals.

The current MOU between the County and SEIU included a 3% reduction in salary and benefit costs. This was necessary due to reduced revenues from the recession and to meet long-term fiscal stability goals by reducing base compensation on an ongoing basis. To achieve this reduction, the parties agreed to the following changes:

  • Elimination of Hazard Pay by the end of the MOU;
  • Elimination of Supervisory Leave;
  • Increased employee pension contributions, elimination of employer paid member contributions (EPMC) and lower benefit tiers in accordance with the Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA);
  • Elimination of County contributions to the Deferred Compensation Program;
  • Payment of hourly premium pay only for hours worked as opposed to all time in paid status (including paid leave)
  • Consolidation of standby and premium rates, and elimination of certain premium pays; and
  • Elimination of pensionable compensation for holiday time, vacation and sick leave cash out.

Even with the 2013 reductions, SEIU-represented employees are well-situated in the labor market. On average, SEIU-represented benchmark classifications are above the average total compensation when compared against employees of comparable agencies, which include City of Santa Rosa, and counties of Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Contra Costa, Solano, Alameda, Sacramento, San Mateo, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz. The County has proposed a package with an overall increase to compensation.

The County continues to respond to numerous information requests and provide data relevant to proposals in an effort to reach an agreement in advance of the contract expiration.

The County will continue to provide updates as bargaining continues.

SEIU Labor Negotiations Update-Posted August 20, 2015

The County commenced bargaining for a successor Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021. The current MOU expires October 31, 2015. The County and SEIU have met four times, and have exchanged initial proposals.

The County proposed a package with an overall increase to compensation. The Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) provides a standard that all employees (including legacy employees who became members of the retirement system before January 1, 2013) pay 50% of the normal cost of pension. Consistent with County’s pension reform goals, one of the County’s key negotiation interests is that legacy employees increase employee contributions toward pension over a three year period to meet this standard. Currently, General (non-safety) employees pay an average of 8.93% of salary toward pension, which is 1.71% less than 50% of the normal cost. This does not include the previously negotiated employee contributions toward unfunded liability, which expire in 2024, for retroactivity of enhanced pension benefits.

The County has responded numerous information requests from SEIU in an effort to reach a successor agreement in advance of the contract expiration.

The County will continue to provide updates as bargaining continues.

Posted July 24, 2015

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